NIRI 2016: certification, politics and tech in the spotlight
The first day of NIRI’s annual conference coincided with the San Diego Rock ‘n’ Roll Marathon, a run where bands play along the course to support participants. IROs arriving at the Manchester Grand Hyatt mingled with medal-clad runners returning from the course. At least one IRO arrived early to take part, a bold move given the three days of busy conferencing that lay ahead.
While the conference had no specific theme this year, certain topics featured prominently. Professional development was a big focus, following the recent launch of NIRI’s IR certification. Politics also came up frequently, with speakers pondering the potential economic shocks that might result from a Brexit vote or a Donald Trump presidency. In the services showcase, tech innovations could be found at a variety of booths. One of the most intriguing tools, developed by German firm TonalityTech, scores your corporate literature and offers advice on improving its readability and tone.
Sunday afternoon started with workshops on modeling, governance and crisis management, followed by the IR Global Summit, which focused on how to take investor outreach beyond your home market. California’s ‘June gloom’ – the cloudy skies that mark this time of year – had burnt off by early evening, just in time for post-summit drinks by the boat-lined harbor. Some of the conference sponsors threw a party on the opening night. The hottest ticket had to be the Ipreo/NYSE event held on the runway of the USS Midway, the decommissioned aircraft carrier moored just a short walk from the hotel.
Monday began with a blast of energy from keynote speaker Peter Ricchiuti, professor of finance at Tulane University, who crammed his lively talk full of economic predictions, stock market observations and jokes. One myth he was keen to bust: having a Democrat in the White House is bad for stocks. He pulled up a graph showing stocks have done much better under Democratic presidents. For example, during Barack Obama’s first term, the S&P 500 rose 101 percent. ‘If Obama is a socialist, he isn’t a very good one,’ Ricchiuti laughed. He also warned against excessive curbs on immigration, noting that 40 percent of Fortune 500 companies were started by immigrants or their children.
Political and economic risks were probed further in the next session, a Q&A with Bloomberg editor-in-chief John Micklethwait, who joined the firm last year after nine years as editor-in-chief at the Economist. Micklethwait began by discussing his view that we live in a 20 percent world, an idea developed when he noticed that a number of significantly disruptive events, like Trump winning the US presidency or the UK voting to leave the European Union, were being offered odds of 5/1 at the bookmakers. While not probable, such outcomes were now clearly possible, he said. ‘These are not normal things,’ Micklethwait told IR Magazine in an interview straight after his session. ‘If Donald Trump came in there would probably be a very vigorous trade confrontation with China. He’d build a wall with Mexico. He would start to do some fairly substantial things.’
Professional development took center stage on Tuesday morning when the first holders of NIRI’s Investor Relations Charter (IRC), a new IR qualification developed over several years by the association, were brought up in front of the audience. The first round of exams took place in March and now 61 IR professionals can add IRC to their titles. IR Magazine caught up with one of the new charter holders – Rob Bradley, vice president of investor relations at LogMeIn – during the conference. ‘I think it’s really exciting that NIRI is setting a standard for investor relations,’ he said. ‘I thought it would be very additive not only for me but also for my company.’
IR went from celebration to confrontation in the afternoon, however, when a new session pitted speakers against each other. In this US election year, the session asked IROs from small, mid and large-cap firms to take part in a hustings-style event to debate the best way to conduct different IR activities. Skirmishes took place over the optimum number of analysts and whether you should travel with non-covering brokers. The discussion highlighted that tasks like sell-side management and targeting can be vastly different for smaller and larger companies. The day ended with the traditional prizes giveaway in the services showcase, with lucky attendees picking up gifts ranging from stays in hotels to Go-Pros and Amazon Echoes.
Conference attendees who stayed on for the Wednesday morning enjoyed a talk from David Chaves, securities fraud program manager at the FBI, who discussed various insider-trading investigations and how the bureau had apprehended its targets. Part of the talk focused on cyber-crime, which Chaves said nobody was immune to. People are trying to hack you all the time, he said, and when your CEO visits other countries and uses foreign communications channels, he or she is even more vulnerable.
To highlight how committed some criminals are to obtaining financial secrets, Chaves told the story of a hedge fund infiltrated via a Chinese takeaway. Hackers had failed to access the firm directly, so they watched its employees and discovered one Chinese restaurant was particularly popular with them, explained the FBI manager. The hackers then placed malware on the restaurant’s PDF menu, knowing that soon one of the hedge fund employees would want to review his or her lunch or dinner options and download it.
With that session over, conference co-chairs Karen Fisher of OneRoof Energy and Paragon Offshore’s Lee Ahlstrom brought conference proceedings to a close. As is customary, the co-chairs signed off by revealing the location of next year’s event: Orlando, Florida.