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Sep 26, 2017

Meira conference reveals opportunities and challenges in the region

Commentators say much to do on certain practices, but others say the region is really improving

The Middle East Investor Relations Association (Meira) conference in Dubai last week heard from an impressive array of speakers who highlighted the numerous opportunities and significant challenges the region faces from an IR perspective.

The event, which was attended by more than 170 IR professionals from the region, heard a number of investors noting that the Middle East needs reliability from the region’s capital market companies, including – most importantly – more and better communication, pointing to the vital importance of IR in boosting the region.

When asked to cite two things that need to improve in the Middle East for investors, speakers cited more consistency across the region’s markets and improved access to management – a clear lesson on the latter for IR professionals in the region.

In turn, senior IROs spoke about developing the best IR in the region and the ongoing challenges of dealing with change and the unpredictable. One senior IR professional said: ‘As IROs, you need to keep your ear to the ground to understand what is coming.’ 

On a more structural level, one IRO advised that IR professionals always need to be prepared for the worst: ‘Get your act together on how you respond to crisis, because one thing you will all face at some point is crisis. That [means] having the right institutional structural approach in your organization to bring together all the people you need to make correct decisions.’ 

On a more negative note, there is much work to do regarding some company and market practices in the Middle East, warned a panel of investors. ‘Some practices come close to stretching the law and market manipulation,’ warned one forthright investor.

Connected to this and the challenges it poses for investor relations, a senior financial IRO commented: ‘You have to make painful observations in a very factual way and take the emotion out of it. Your management team needs to know the strengths and weaknesses of a particular case or situation.’   

But there were positive observations, too. The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia is making real progress on transparency and disclosure, highlighted an investor. There was also a stated mission to raise awareness of IR and corporate governance issues in the kingdom.

The IR implications of the potential MSCI reclassification of Saudi Arabia from a stand-alone market status to an emerging market was considered ultimately a good thing for the kingdom and the region as a whole in moving the market’s status forward.

Another positive development was that the Middle East is more engaged on ESG than the global average, according to the latest BNY Mellon IR survey.