Banks’ online reports wow critics

Jun 02, 2011
<p>SmithsRatings rankings of FTSE 350 include print reports for the first time</p>

SmithsRatings last week declared Rio Tinto this year’s overall winner for both print and online annual reports. Premier Farnell and Tullow Oil share the top spot for online reports and BAE Systems’ print annual is declared to be the best on paper.

The big surprise further down the rankings: traditionally staid banks are producing cutting-edge online annual reports.

‘The banks have had to raise their game in terms of communications and be more open, helpful, engaging, transparent,’ says Nick Smith, the man behind SmithsRatings and the managing director of Living Reporting, an annual and corporate responsibility report design firm based in London.

‘They’ve realized they have to exploit every single channel to engage their audiences, so an online report is essential and non-negotiable.’

By contrast, telecoms companies’ web reports fare badly. ‘They talk about the brilliant technological solutions they offer as businesses yet the quality of their online annual reports is poor,’ Smith notes.

Similarly, he finds the retail sector, which thrives on engaging with customers, doesn’t grasp the opportunity online reports present.

Ranking since 2004

SmithsRatings began ranking online annual reports in 2004 and this year began looking at print reports as well.

The rankings website, which lets visitors custom-rank companies by sector, size and judging criteria, covers the UK’s top 300 companies with the rest of the FTSE 350 to be added as the last online reports trickle in.  

UK companies have been cutting their print runs, typically sending hard copies only to shareholders that elect to receive them.

According to Smith, however, that doesn’t mean a reduction in quality. Lloyds or Barclays may be producing stunning online reports but they still produce fine print materials, too.

Smith is fascinated by the way printed reports have started to adopt website features such as a tabbed format or links between different sections in the form of page references.

Resurgence of video

Another trend is the resurgence of video in online annual reports. Around 2007-2008, video was a ‘must-have’ feature, Smith says. In 2009 ‘it dropped off a cliff’, with SmithsRatings observing a 27 percent decrease in the use of video and noting that no one had been using it effectively anyway.

‘Now it has really come back into play, and it’s beautifully produced, quality stuff, really enhancing the whole brand experience,’ Smith adds.

One of SmithsRatings’ headline findings is that online reporting has continued to creep up, with 44 percent of FTSE companies producing an online annual report compared with 39 percent last year.

‘Next year we’ll see the tipping point with more than 50 percent of companies doing an online report,’ Smith predicts.

SmithsRatings judges only HTML or hybrid online reports and doesn’t rate PDF or PDF-like reports, or even count them as online annuals. ‘If your online annual report is a PDF derivative it gets a big zero,’ Smith writes on the website.

‘Why? Well, for a start they are – without exception – lazy, A4 portrait ‘brochure-ware’. Nor are they fully searchable, helpfully navigable, legible, Disability Discrimination Act-compliant, intuitive or usefully interactive… the list goes on.’

Soft-spoken and gentle in person, Smith can clearly unleash a caustic side both on paper and online.

Sign up to get stories direct to your inbox
logo-black logo-black