‘You’re on mute’: The data behind virtual earnings call mishaps

Jun 16, 2020
IROs contended with technical issues, muted microphones and disconnected lines last quarter, according to Sentieo

For many IROs, the most recent earnings call brought a wave of ‘firsts’: first time hosting the call from home, first time hosting it in a different location from the management team and first time asking the CEO to dial in personally.

Last quarter’s update brought an increase of heartfelt messages, pre-recorded statements, scenario analysis and mentions of ESG, but it also prompted an unprecedented wave of technical issues.

According to a query of the Sentieo database, the phrase ‘technical issues’ was mentioned in 134 earnings calls during May – representing a 60 percent increase on the previous quarter with the highest number of mentions (February 2015).

There were 49 mentions of technical issues during April and 21 in March. The average number of transcripts mentioning technical issues is 27 per month, based on a query running from February 2005 to May 2020.

Last month also brought mentions of ‘mute, muted, unmute or unmuted’ in 532 earnings transcripts, another record. The previous record was 448, which happened in February 2012. These words were mentioned in 217 transcripts in April and 157 in March. These terms tend to have a higher occurrence, though, with mentions in an average of 192 transcripts per month (February 2005-May 2020), according to Sentieo’s database.

The audio issues didn’t stop there. In May, there were 90 transcripts with the phrases ‘can’t hear’ or ‘cannot hear’ in them. These phrases appeared in 49 transcripts during April and 32 in March. The previous highest occurrence of these phrases was February 2019, when they showed up in 50 earnings transcripts.

For some, however, audio issues would have been the least of their concerns. In 97 transcripts last month, there was a mention of being ‘disconnected’. The previous high was 69, in May 2012.

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