Site inspection: the best in IR websites

Jun 01, 2009
<p>How does your IR website stack up against the best in our test?</p>

Keeping investors’ attention has always been tough. They tend to spend only three minutes reading an annual report before losing interest, according to research by German consultancy Strichpunkt. This led IR magazine to begin testing annual reports two years ago, to see which could effectively convey their company’s investment story in just 180 seconds.

Using 10 of the same issuers, the test has now been adapted for the internet to find out which websites allow the quickest access to a company’s story and key bits of financial data. Each site had just three minutes to make its mark on our panel of judges.

1st » WPP (UK)
The global communications group was tipped to win from the start after finishing first and second in IR magazine’s previous annual report tests, and it didn’t disappoint. WPP’s website is the only one to receive two 10-out-of-10 scores from the judges.

Some websites rely on content, others on style. WPP excels at both and combines them exceptionally well. The group also gets praise for its comprehensive contacts list, which includes details for finance director Chris Sweetland. The online annual report is specially designed for the web and is made available in a compressed version for fast access.

‘A masterful agglomeration of technique, style, thoughtfulness and strategic use of the channel.’

2nd (joint) » Cadbury (UK)
Coming in joint second place is confectioner Cadbury. The panel praises the company’s story exposition, with information on the group, the brands, the annual report and the company’s Fairtrade commitments all linked to from the home page. 

If anything, there is too much detail, with one panelist complaining of ‘information overload’ on the IR front and the need to ‘hunt down’ specific pieces of data. The pretty graphics and colorful design that greet you on arrival belie a site which is stuffed full of text and financial information.

This means nothing is left out, with Cadbury ticking all the boxes when it comes to content.

‘It has all the items you need, such as contact details, an annual report in HTML, annual meeting information and dividend history,’ a panelist states. 

‘Cadbury focuses on the social and environmental issues that matter to long-term success.’

2nd (joint) » Johnson & Johnson (US)
The healthcare products company ties with Cadbury in second place. Its IR page benefits from linking directly to the company’s drugs pipeline, taking the debate beyond basic financial data such as dividend dates and helping investors ‘to understand the fundamental drivers of the business’ future success,’ according to one judge. 

Criticism is leveled at the site’s interactive features, however, like the menu bar that expands distractingly when the mouse moves over it. ‘I don’t need the screen to rearrange itself whenever I move my cursor,’ says one of our panelists.

4th » Thomson Reuters (Canada)
This site breaks down operations well for such a large and diverse company, but the judges find much of the information is ‘very sales-oriented’ and doesn’t really help investors understand how different products contribute to revenue and earnings.

Thomson Reuters redeems itself, unsurprisingly, through the site’s technical elements. The company offers a multimedia annual review that combines portions of the annual report with movies and other online features.

5th » ThaiBev (Thailand)
Too clever for its own good – that’s the verdict of one panelist after visiting the site of this Asian beverages company. The graphics that load for each section of the website look nice but slow down the whole process and make the experience ‘pretty frustrating’.

ThaiBev’s score is marked down further because of the presence of out-of-date information on the website’s events calendar, which at the time of the test had nothing listed beyond early March 2009. Overall, however, the content is strong.

6th » Wienerberger (Austria)
The Viennese brick maker is using its website to tackle the financial crisis head-on, and this honest approach impresses the judges. The lead item on the corporate site is a news piece addressing liquidity concerns, while the online report makes the downturn ‘the big story,’ says one of our panelists.

Wienerberger loses marks for its content, however – not because items are missing, but rather because too much information has been made available. ‘Blurbs on the company and its strategy stretch into hundreds of words, which is surely more than the average investor can be bothered to read,’ comments one judge. ‘I’m sure everything you need is there, but I don’t feel like tracking it all down.’

‘Top marks for facing up to the construction sector meltdown.’

7th » Danske Bank (Denmark)
The panel heaps praise on this Danish bank’s IR contacts page, which features six people – from IR assistant Karina Sørensen to CFO Tonny Thierry Andersen – and provides an office number, a mobile number and a personal email address for each one. One judge enthuses: ‘There are even pictures – and they’re smiling!’

Beyond the contacts page, Danske Bank’s site offers a solid if unspectacular experience. Says one panelist: ‘This is perhaps the Danish style, as is often reported, but nonetheless greater inventiveness with design and more enthusiasm in the writing would help make the company a standout in the financial sector.’

‘While providing all the needed information in a good navigational capsule, the website and online annual report feel muted.’

8th » Procter & Gamble (US)
A Jekyll and Hyde website. The introduction to the company on the IR page receives good marks, but when digging deeper for information, things start to go wrong. One judge describes the experience: ‘There is a great story located on the IR page, which gives the company’s principles and describes its global operations. However, I had to search for some things, such as where the firm is located.’

‘Information must be dug out. The way the site is set up doesn’t feel very intuitive.’

9th » Berkshire Hathaway (US)
Warren Buffet’s site was always going to divide the judges, and has consequently ended up in second-last place. Our panelists are at once warmed by Buffet’s folksy charm and turned off by his site’s defiant minimalism.

Visitors to Berkshire Hathaway’s home page are greeted by 13 text links on a white background, which couldn’t look less inviting and reminds one judge of something from DARPAnet, the 1970s precursor to the internet. A few clicks later, though, up pops Buffet’s ‘Letter to Share-holders’, his hugely entertaining take on investment philosophy.

Intellectual arrogance is in evidence on this website, according to one panelist: ‘Not only are many segments available only as PDF downloads, but basic investor questions remain unanswered.’

10th » China Mobile (China)
Propping up the ranking this time round is China Mobile, perhaps not surprising for those who deal with Chinese websites on a regular basis and are familiar with their technical limitations. To be fair, China Mobile is better than many of its peers – the site does in fact load and has an English-language section – but many issues remain. ‘I was seemingly randomly directed from one part of the website to another, with new windows opening sporadically – it was not a pleasant experience,’ one judge says.

Unfortunately, the content is equally shoddy. On the opening IR page it looks like the latest annual report is from 2006, while the calendar section lists events from 2007. What’s more, the annual report is made available as a 5-megabyte PDF. It is segmented to allow easier reading, but there is no HTML version. ‘Inscrutable,’ concludes one panelist.

Methodology

We took a sample of 10 blue chips from around the world and asked our panel of five judges to spend three minutes investigating each one’s website. They were asked to mark each site out of 10 and also offer comments.

A company could earn up to three points for how well it conveys its investment story, three points for its IR content (such as contact details, annual meeting dates and dividend history) and four marks for how easy it is to navigate around the site. We added together the scores for each company to produce a ranking. This process was subjective and reflects the fact that the judges often had differing views. 

The panel

Tim Human is the London-based international correspondent for IR magazine.

Mary Lowengard is a writer and reader of annual reports and has written about IR for 20 years.

Delia Moore is IR manager at insurance firm Aflac, which was joint winner of the award for best IR website at the IR Magazine US Awards 2009.

Mike Reilly, a former Reuters journalist and IRO, teaches writing and presentation at Stony Brook University, New York, and provides website consulting services.

Mike Tuffrey, a trained chartered accountant, is a founder and director of Corporate Citizenship, a CSR consultancy based in London and New York.

The CSR perspective

Mike Tuffrey, director of CSR consultancy Corporate Citizenship, looks at how the companies handle CSR issues online

This is the year when issuers’ understanding of how the world around them affects the bottom line really ought to shine through. Most companies in the survey do have extensive CSR content on their sites, but which firms tell a genuine business story and which are just engaged in window dressing?

The best
Cadbury is the best this year, fresh from its divestment of beverages and focused on confectionery. Prominent on the website, in corporate reporting and in a separate micro-site are its responsible consumption and supply initiatives. Also up with the best is Johnson & Johnson, which deals with the essential issues individually, albeit under the rather cloyingly catch-all title of ‘Caring’.

The rest
Among the rest, one or two are embracing the language of sustainability. Procter & Gamble places issues like access to clean water and its revised sustainability goals prominently on its home page, but then disappointingly fails to set out how these issues are relevant to the company’s business strategy and commercial results.

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