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I am pleased to announce that the new Zimbabwe Stock Exchange Data Portal and website is now live.

My involvement in online investor relations in Zimbabwe over the past 5 years has been rewarding and the launch of the ZSE Data Portal the pinnacle of this journey. I look forward to taking our integrated communications services to more listed companies and want to urge investors to consider Zimbabwean listed companies as an investment opportunity. In the ZSE Data Portal stakeholders in Zimbabwe now have a comprehensive tool to make more informed investment decisions.

zse landing page on launch

www.africanfinancials.com has also joined hands with the ZSE to ensure that 100% of all annual reports released by Zimbabwean companies are not only viewable online, but also downloadable online for any investor, for free. This is a first for an African stock exchange and www.africanfinancials.com looks forward to similar relationships with other African stock exchanges lets sort out the basics.

Join my Linkedin Group “Zimbabwe Stock Exchange Investor Relations” to follow our Zimbabwean investor relations story

View the new ZSE Data Portal

Sign up for email alerts from the Zimbabwe Stock Exchange

Like the new ZSE Data Portal on Facebook

Follow the ZSE on Twitter

 

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In our African Online Investor Relations Survey conducted recently we asked 108 investors in African markets what their views were on information availability on companies listed in African capital markets. Participants were from 21 countries with South African and Kenyan respondents accounting for a combined 43% of responses. I am releasing summaries of the data and opinions received  over the next month or so, and will highlight key findings taken from some of the continent’s leading investors, business men and women regarding their experiences with digital investment information content and dissemination.

My  survey elicited opinions on 10 questions, ranging from the general standards of corporate governance in listed companies in Africa compared to their peers in more developed markets, as well as African listed companies’ efforts to use the Internet to promote investment in their shares, to whether African listed companies are putting enough information online for potential investors and whether social media can be used effectively to promote investment in African markets by linking companies directly with investors and stakeholders.

Question 01 – What is your view on the general standards of Corporate Governance in listed companies in Africa, versus their peers in more developed markets, for example the London Stock Exchange (LSE) and the New York Stock Exchange?

Over 75 percent of respondents believed that the general standards of corporate governance were inadequate, with 20 percent stating that standards in Africa are generally the same as their international peers.  Less than 5 percent believe corporate governance standards are generally higher than their international counterparts.

survey results q 1

Some believed that compromised standards of corporate governance in Africa are due in part to regulation still being in its infancy and a ‘new thing’ for Africa.  Others put it down to a difference in culture, whereby issues important to international peers may not be the same for African countries.  One contributor pointed out that while it was easier to think of standards as being low in Africa, one had to look at the more pronounced cases of investor losses due to poor risk management and malpractices in the west to form a different view.

Failure in business

One respondent, who had worked overseas in finance and banking believed South Africa was way more advanced in terms of financial control measures, and another commentator praised South Africa for its transparent corporate governance.

There was still the belief held of some companies that shareholders should be kept in the dark and not expected to be involved in the day- to -day operations.  Directors can arguably take advantage, therefore, of the almost non-existent shareholder activism, which adversely affects the minority shareholder.

According to some respondents, there was still a general reluctance to engage stakeholders by listed companies, which stems from the ‘old way of doing things’ and it was mentioned that the spirit of corporate governance and the spirit of democracy go hand in hand.  The more democratic a country is, the more likely its listed companies will have better corporate governance.

There was general consensus that most companies who have written corporate governance do not strictly adhere to it.  It was suggested that some companies do not ‘understand’ investor relations, with the exception of Kenya, where it is taken seriously as one of the pillars of Regulation for the Capital Markets. I personally disagree with this but it is recorded here to correctly reflect the diverse range of views received.

Fingers were pointed at a lax regulatory environment and weak commercial laws in Africa, resulting in shareholders not being actively involved in the overall insight and operations of the companies. This is a recurrent theme in my blogs where I contend that it’s the regulators that should spur the a giant leap to the 21st century information dissemination practices.quote

There was criticism of the standard of reporting and disclosure in Africa compared to international peers, which was seen as slow and inconsistent.  Some respondents commented that most companies with websites do not keep them updated and their news is eclipsed by the media.  The practice of executives disclosing non-public information to analysts and portfolio managers over dinner and in private meetings still exists which contradicts the fundamental tenet of treating shareholders equally.  In addition, it was mentioned that the lengthy tenure of CEOs, sometimes as much as twenty years, does not comply with corporate governance guidelines and family businesses that have gone public often struggle with the transition. Africa’s highly illiquid markets foment these latter-mentioned issues.

In conclusion there is, I believe a fundamental disconnect between oft-quoted and adopted standards of corporate governance and good shareholder communications practices in African markets. Codes are too general and need to be beefed up to tell listed companies what they should be doing when and how.

My involvement in www.africanfinancials.com, Africa’s largest portal of African listed companies’ annual reports is testimony to my belief that promoting investment into African markets has to start with action and not rhetoric. Africa’s regulators should follow suit. Africanfinancials.com is Africa’s largest portal of free online annual reports. If you would like to contribute annual reports to this initiative give me a call on +263 4 703182. 

Sign up to receive releases of African annual reports from www.africanfinancials.com

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I am, in principle, against the sale of basic investment information in African markets. There are caveats however to this, and that’s when the information adds value. This is the case for the CASE Handbook, a well-known regional publication on 4 regional sub-Saharan markets that has hitherto not appeared online.

The Central African Stock Exchange (CASE) 2012 HANDBOOK, is now available for download through their new simple but functional website and includes Botswana in addition to Malawi, Zambia and Zimbabwe. A total 130 companies are profiled, up from 110 last year (2011).

In our illiquid sub-Saharan equity markets, meaningful market statistics and economic insight is sometimes hard to find, but the CASE handbook addresses this dearth of information in a unique way to provide a well-rounded snapshot of the 4 markets it covers.

Aurelius, the Romanesque commentator in the 2012 Handbook, provides his analytical insight to many of economic and financial markets, including:-

  • “Think out the box” economic indicators – the fuel consumption of each country in litres (you try and find that anywhere else), the Hard Boiled Egg Index (aka Burger Mac Index internationally), the number of entries into the Kariba International Tiger Fishing Competition etc. Off-the-wall ways of measuring economic (and social) activity should you view official economic statistics with disdain.
  • Full broker and registrar contact details: the 544-page handbook lists stockbrokers and custodial services in the four markets and, of course, is intended to inform rather than advise potential investors of company prospects in the year ahead.
  • Aggregated historical financial data on the listed companies with little-published liquidity statistics on their share trading.

The publication is well supported by sponsors which is testimony to the quality of its content and distribution.

The pdf version costs $60 through Paypal.

Sign up to receive news of the launch of the 2013 edition here

Marcus Aurelius (LatinMarcus Aurelius Antoninus Augustus; April 26, 121 CE. – March 17, 180 CE.), was Roman Emperor from CE 161 to 180. He ruled with Lucius Verus as co-emperor from 161 until Verus’ death in 169. He was the last of the “Five Good Emperors“, and is also considered one of the most important Stoic philosophers. During his reign, the Empire defeated a revitalized Parthian Empire; Aurelius’ general Avidius Cassius sacked the capital Ctesiphon in 164. Aurelius fought the MarcomanniQuadi, and Sarmatians with success during the Marcomannic Wars, but the threat of the Germanic tribes began to represent a troubling reality for the Empire. A revolt in the East led by Avidius Cassius failed to gain momentum and was suppressed immediately.

Marcus Aurelius’ Stoic tome Meditations, written in Greek while on campaign between 170 and 180, is still revered as a literary monument to a philosophy of service and duty, describing how to find and preserve equanimity in the midst of conflict by following nature as a source of guidance and inspiration. Wikipedia

 

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Yesterday the SEC (Zimbabwe) and PAAB (Zimbabwe) held a seminar to highlight the extent of non-compliance with IFRS for published reports by listed companies in Zimbabwe. The SEC and PAAB have, following signature of an agreement to work together, formed a Monitoring Panel to investigate complaints and advise the ZSE in relation to ongoing compliance issues with IFRS, the ZSE requirements, accounting policies and the Companies and Securities Acts. In future, a fuller review process of annual financial statements and reports by the ICAZ and the Monitoring Panel  is under implementation.

What were the results?

The SEC did not mince words when Mr Tafadzwa Chinhamo, CEO, described as “not good enough” the results of a review of 40 listed companies’ published financial reports for the February March reporting season this year. The review was carried out by a technical team and presented by Graham Cheater CA (Z) an IFRS expert with Chartered Accountants Academy in Harare. His presentation is displayed below.

Zimbabwe’s hyper-inflationary environment rendered financial reporting meaningless as accounting technicians discovered the real challenges associated with implementing IAS 1, 21 and 29 in an environment where hyper-inflation could NOT actually be measured. Zimbabwe’s experience resulted in the accounting standards being amended.Zimbabwe will shortly announce a new corporate governance code after the previous code failed to garner broad-based support or traction.

The SEC attributes the fall in discipline in published reporting/press releases to the absence of capacity at the ZSE from 2007 and clarified that the SEC with the PAAB is acting to fill the gap in ZSE capacity until such time as the ZSE could resume its full role fully resourced. Kundai Msemburi, Head of Corporate Finance at the SEC described the ZSE capacity issue as “improving”.

Briefly, the results of the IFRS review for published extracts of financial reporting are as follows:-

• Only 6% of reports acknowledged that the responsibilities for the preparation of the accounting records were that of the directors – this fact is to be stated in the report
ZERO% of listed companies reported Headline Earnings Per Share, as required
50% of reporting companies said that the interim results were audited but gave no information on the audit report or the auditor
Not all companies reported a statement of cash flows and statement of changes in equity (12%)
62% had no notes or minimal notes by the Chairman / director’s highlights
63% did not report segment information

The overall conclusions are
• “Reporting entities do not display consistency”
• “Reporting entities appear to report what they want the reader to read, not what might be of use to the reader”
• “IFRS is NOT complied with”

The Zimbabwe reporting and investor relations environment is fascinating from the perspective of what can go wrong when a reporting framework is negated, corporate governance codes are not adhered to and the regulatory environment is weak. Remember however that in the hyper-inflationary period CEOs of listed companies were actually jailed for “illegally” increasing prices. This activity (being jailed), borne by management on behalf of shareholders, was not originally envisioned in any common law or regulatory principles in other countries (obviously). Directors and management had the role of protecting shareholder value, which in a hyper-inflationary environment, meant counting inventory in the morning and then “going for lunch” i.e. NOT selling any goods or services. It’s obviously taking time for the reporting and accounting sectors to get out the mindset that investor relations is just not that important.

Zimbabwe now finds itself 3 years post hyper-inflation, in a precarious state politically and desperately in need of recapitalisation and there’s no local capital available. The need to improve reporting and get back onto the investment horizon is palpable and the frustration of the SEC clear to see. The SEC appears to be using the whip to bring listed companies and their auditors into line with threats, “henceforth”, to suspend or de-list companies that do not present fully IFRS compliant reports – either press releases or full annual financial statements – to the ZSE.

The “brain drain” of accounting skills from Zimbabwe is the starting point for the accounting and auditing profession in addressing these concerns but so are the attitudes of listed company directors. The accounting profession may be the start of addressing some issues, but it is only when the practice of investor relations is fully appreciated, that Zimbabwe’s interface with the global investing public can be world class.

CBZ, a prominent listed Zimbabwean bank, “adopting electronic shareholder communications” by ceasing to post annual reports to shareholders, has taken a great leap forward in a regulatory environment where online standards to replace hardcopy reporting to investors have yet to be defined. Their motivation: to save money. So it’s not only the quality of reporting that is the issue on the table in Zimbabwe at the moment, it’s also the nature of the reporting link to investors, the owners of the business.

Dominic Jones , a world leader in online investor relations, has this opinion about the trends in African markets regarding de-linking the direct communications channel with shareholders:

“Scrapping requirements for companies to mail printed disclosure documents to investors is a global trend, but it has exacerbated shareholder apathy in every jurisdiction where it has been implemented. This is largely because regulators have failed to replace printed disclosures with suitable standards of online disclosures. Apathy and an uniformed investing public is, to my mind, the single worst thing that can happen in any market. It ultimately will lead to market abuses.”

The SEC using the whip on listed companies and the accounting and auditing profession may not seem to be palatable to some, but it is likely to have a very significant impact in a very short time – and forms just one step in many to get Zimbabwean companies back on the world investment stage, as they were in 1997. This is good news.

Interestingly there is a group of companies in Zimbabwe and surrounding stock exchanges that are using the online environment to comply with the core aspects of the responsible dissemination of information and these companies will lead the way in getting their reporting up to international standards all round.

A comprehensive array of Zimbabwean annual reports can be found online on www.africanfinancials.com

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Unlike Admiral Nelson, see the extract of the story below from Wikipedia, I have two eyes through which to assess the landscape, the corporate governance and communications landscape in Zimbabwe. And, unlike him, I am not ignoring what this investor relations landscape is telling me. In fact I am absorbing the fact that very few listed companies in Zimbabwe, if any, have disclosure committees. This can be attributed to the fact that that

  • legislation does not exist that requires them and
  • that listed company executives do not have to worry about this area of corporate governance because there is an absence of investors or stakeholders demanding accountability in this respect. Furthermore there is little or no commercial value to be had from taking an altruistic view.

So a recent study by Corporate Counsel.net was interesting to me because it highlighted the extent to which our African markets differ from those in First World markets. Here is the brief overview from Corporate Counsel.net:-

Survey Results: Disclosure Committees

We have posted the survey results regarding the latest disclosure committees trends, repeated below:

1. Back in mid-2008, we conducted a survey on disclosure committees (here are the results) – we are now canvassing to see if practices have changed. Our company:
- Has a disclosure committee – 96.7%
- Doesn’t have a disclosure committee (if you check this box, you are done) – 3.3%

2. Our disclosure committee has:
- More than 10 members – 32.1%
- Between 8-9 members – 39.3%
- Between 6-7 members – 21.4%
- Between 4-5 members – 7.14%
- Has less than 4 members – 0%

3. Our disclosure committee has the following types of members:
- CEO – 27.6%
- CFO – 75.9%
- Controller – 86.2%
- General Counsel – 86.2%
- Securities Counsel – 82.8%
- Compliance or Risk Management – 41.4%
- Investor Relations Officer – 72.4%
- Internal Auditor – 55.2%
- Officer from a Business Unit – 55.2%
- Other – 55.2%

4. For our disclosure committee:
- Someone takes minutes of meetings – 72.4%
- We don’t keep minutes of our meetings – 27.6%

I fail to see on the horizon a catalyst that will enable us to catch up with the First World in this key area. Disclosure Policies need disclosure committees to manage them. This issue matters because in the absence of checks and balances on proper communications practices investors raise their risk profile of investing, require a higher return and this increases the cost of raising capital.

On a slightly different note, In South Africa there is supposed to be a direct communications channel between investors and Disclosure Committees, by law. I don’ t see these channels. A secure website link to the Chairman would be way forward I guess.

Thanks to Wikipedia.org for the text below. Please donate to them….

On the morning of 2 April 1801, Nelson began to advance into Copenhagen harbour. The battle began badly for the British, with HMSAgamemnonHMS Bellona and HMS Russell running aground, and the rest of the fleet encountering heavier fire from the Danish shore batteries than had been anticipated. Parker sent the signal for Nelson to withdraw, reasoning:

I will make the signal for recall for Nelson’s sake. If he is in a condition to continue the action he will disregard it; if he is not, it will be an excuse for his retreat and no blame can be attached to him.[170]

Nelson, directing action aboard HMS Elephant, was informed of the signal by the signal lieutenant, Frederick Langford, but angrily responded: ‘I told you to look out on the Danish commodore and let me know when he surrendered. Keep your eyes fixed on him.’[171] He then turned to his flag captain, Thomas Foley and said ‘You know, Foley, I have only one eye. I have a right to be blind sometimes.’ He raised the telescope to his blind eye, and said ‘I really do not see the signal.’[171][172] The battle lasted three hours, leaving both Danish and British fleets heavily damaged. At length Nelson despatched a letter to the Danish commander, Crown Prince Frederick calling for a truce, which the Prince accepted.[173] Parker approved of Nelson’s actions in retrospect, and Nelson was given the honour of going into Copenhagen the next day to open formal negotiations.[174][175] At a banquet that evening he told Prince Frederick that the battle had been the most severe he had ever been in.[176] The outcome of the battle and several weeks of ensuing negotiations was a 14 week armistice, and on Parker’s recall in May, Nelson became commander-in-chief in the Baltic Sea.[177] As a reward for the victory, he was created Viscount Nelson of the Nile and of Burnham Thorpe in the County of Norfolk, on 19 May 1801.[178] In addition, on 4 August 1801, he was created Baron Nelson, of the Nile and of Hilborough in the County of Norfolk, this time with a special remainder to his father and sisters.[179][180] Nelson subsequently sailed to the Russian naval base at Reval in May, and there learned that the pact of armed neutrality was to be disbanded. Satisfied with the outcome of the expedition, he returned to England, arriving on 1 July.[181]

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We like to celebrate excellence, even though its not our own. Why? Because we understand the value of a decent website and we appreciate good work.

African website vendors are probably unable to replicate the quality of the Q4 products (perhaps they (we) can!) but for most African listed companies the 80: 20 rule applies. 80% of the benefits of going online are enjoyed from 20% of the effort. Examples? Timely info. Comprehensive info, push technology, alerts – get the basics sorted and then sit back and watch the benefits. Q4 is at the forefront of world class communications solutions and their best practice is there for us to learn from and to aspire to.

So the message to listed companies and regulators of African capital markets is: LOOK and see and digest what is happening elsewhere in the World! Lets take those best practices, apply them in our markets and actually put into place tools for enabling efficient and informed investor relationships and decisions instead of harping on with rhetorical cliches about Africa being the “last frontier” and full of potential. We’ve heard this for the past 25 years and to be honest its boring.

Lets hear about the African awards for best online websites! Not awards that are self serving but awards that are independently determined. Perhaps the African Stock Exchanges Association can pick this up……..

I suspect not.

This article below was released by Q4, a leading provider of online investor relations solutions including newsrooms, corporate and investor websites and strategic consulting. I have no financial interest in Q4, but what they highlight in their Q4blog triggers an awareness to investors and listed companies across the globe of the power of the Internet.


We’re pleased to announce that our long-term client, Agnico-Eagle Mines, has been awarded first prize in the electronic disclosure category of the 2011 Canadian Institute of Chartered Accountants (CICA) Corporate Reporting Awards (CRA) for their investor website: agnico-eagle.com.

This is the second year in a row, that Agnico-Eagle has been recognized at the CRA for their best practice IR website, securing an Honorable Mention in the electronic disclosure category in 2010 – with first place awarded to Potash Corp., a winner in the electronic disclosure category multiple times.

Companies eligible for the electronic disclosure award were judged on specific content relevant to investors, navigation and usability, innovation, overall effectiveness and IR website best practices. This year, companies were also evaluated on how well they integrated social media into their sites.

Agnico’s long-standing commitment to continually improve the investor experience on their IR website is focused on achieving a global standard in best practices. An additional goal is to limit the effort required to update site content.

The strategy for the site evolved from a comprehensive IR website best practice audit of the Agnico site conducted by Q4 and provided to both the client and their design firm, The Works. This document detailed key recommendations, which were adapted in the redesign. A strong collaboration between Q4, The Works and Agnico-Eagle throughout the design and development of the site helped ensure that all key communications objectives were met.

What follows are some of the features that make Agnico’s site exemplar of best practices:

The Design

The talented team at The Works created a clean, progressive design that provides numerous ways for investors to easily navigate the site to not only find the information they are looking for, but to also ensure that they encounter the information Agnico wants them to see. For example, right from the home page the rotating images in the masthead highlight key content and events, and the drop-down main navigation prominently singles out one specific piece of content in addition to providing links to all sub-section information. The navigation also makes it easy for users to see where they are, where they want to go and how to make their way back. The site also brings key content forward by prominently displaying frequently sought information such as news releases and presentations, as well as providing lots of quick links:

Integrated Social Media Galleries

Agnico was interested in making their information more interactive and easily accessible – not just on their site, but in alternate channels as well. The multimedia galleries offer an extensive collection of Vimeo videos and Flickr photos, which Q4’s platform automatically pulls in from the social channels and integrates into their site. Some of these assets are also displayed elsewhere on the site in context with specific information:

Follow Us Page

The ‘Follow Us’ page on the site provides a number of ways to stay connected to the company such as email alerts, RSS feeds, Facebook, Twitter and Vimeo. In today’s multi-channel world, public companies must ’be where their investors are’ to stay connected. Prominently featuring ‘Follow Us’ as a universal link in the site header makes it easy for investors to find this information:

Quarterly Report Summary Page

Agnico’s quarterly summary page provides an aggregate view of all quarterly related materials in a single page. It includes the press release, conference call, webcast, report and financials. Agnico also provides a brief video of their CEO, Sean Boyd who provides commentary on the quarter. (Much of the information in this video is scripted in advance of the earnings call and Agnico’s video production company Silverpoint is able to shoot and produce the video to ensure that this information is on the site on the day of their earnings call.) The right rail in this section is entirely driven by tags. So each time the company reports their quarterly results, the tag on this page (for example Q22011) is updated to the next quarter i.e. Q32011. To address Agnico’s goal of minimizing manual updates, Agnico touches the content once and the information automatically aggregates on the quarterly page (and other pages, such as the Investor Briefcase, Presentations etc.).

Interactive Financial Data

The interactive financial data also called the ‘operational database’ on the Agnico site, is an innovative investor service that gives analysts a full set of interactive quarterly financials and fundamentals. Provided by our partner, Virtua Research the financial database permits customized charts, excel downloads and the ability to share content from the model through email and social networks:

This award underscores the commitment and effort Agnico puts into continually making their IR website an integral part of communicating their story to investors. Congratulations from the team at Q4 to everyone involved!

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Rwanda’s ambitions to become a “cyber-island” in the middle of East Africa are well known. I downloaded the Bank of Kigali’s prospectus and quickly searched for the following words:-

“Internet” “Website” “Investor relations”

“Internet” comes up in reference to their internet banking services. “Website” and “investor relations” do not appear at all. I visited the corporate website and was pleased to discover an “investor relations” section which consists of some downloads. No email alerts.

There’s something special about an IPO. And that’s the ability to identify all the investors interested in the company at IPO (investor interest is at its highest) and to strike a secure two way relationship with them. Forever, thereafter. Each new investor that comes onto the shareholder register thereafter is known – through the company secretaries or share registrars.

So on the one hand you have listed companies paying thousands of dollars in generic advertising (billboards etc) to try to identify prospective customers and on the other hand, you have thousands of pre-qualified customers (they have invested in your company – they must be educated, have savings and are middle class) being ignored. The funny thing is you have their contacts details, in full. The only effort that is put into engaging these shareholders as prospective customers is through a few pictures in the annual report every year.

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With the political heat being turned on Zimplats, one of the largest platinum mines in the World, 10 per cent of the company was pledged to the “local community” according the local press here today (The Herald). This falls far short of the majority stake sought by the politicians, but that’s not my concern and I certainly do not condone what is going on on the broader political stage regarding indigenisation in Zimbabwe.

Employee share schemes in listed companies in sub-Saharan markets are usually immaterial financially, to the beneficiaries. There may be good reasons for this but I also suspect that it’s bit of a “smoke and mirrors trick” sometimes by managements to “tick a box” for political reasons. Executives can say that they have an “employee share ownership” scheme in the annual report and on the website, but actually there’s no material substance to it. Accordingly its generally forgotten in day to day shareholder communications and staff (or stakeholders) are the last to receive, or don’t receive shareholder communications. They are alienated and because the sums are small it does not matter.

Having been involved in a number of IPOs and employee “empowerment” schemes there is a trend in corporate Africa to pay lip service to stakeholder share schemes and so, from my perspective, if a community share scheme is to be put in place it should be done properly.

Take the Implats website as an example of online communications to shareholders (stakeholders) of Implats, the 87% shareholder of Zimplats. Here is the Zimplats website as a comparison. Zimplats is not listed on the Zimbabwe Stock Exchange. You can’t help get the feeling that a World class organisation such as Implats should possibly take its Zimbabwean corporate communications a little more seriously. Why the fancy website overseas and the basic one locally?

Zimplats is different.

There is big money involved in addition to the political agenda. There are serious sustainability issues involved here and the rest of the country and the World is watching. Whatever the outcome of the Zimplats empowerment saga, there should be tangible and modern and transparent communications tools to enable all recipients to actively play a role as shareholders. If not, the political rhetoric can be accelerated exponentially, on account of a few grumpy individual shareholders, who may feel that they are not being engaged appropriately. Perception is reality – so Zimplats needs to manage it down to every last shareholder. Peasant or not, illiterate or not.

Shareholder education programmes should accompany Zimplats‘ initiative to the extent that all of the beneficiaries understand fully their rights as shareholders. The Zimplats website should have an online investor relations section specifically for its community shareholders.

You may ask what use is a website to an employee or farmer in the community? Well there’s something call social media and mobile internet and many more things that make it easy to engage stakeholders – one-on-one.

With modern day communications tools it’s possible to convert an emailed shareholder notice into an SMS for onward transmission to any member of the Zimplats community share ownership scheme with a cell phone. This should be part of a proactive shareholder engagement policy of Zimplats. Such smss could be used to solicit feedback from the community at all times to understand their needs and concerns. Small cost, huge impact, positive perception. Get this sponsored by Econet.

The typical attitude of African executives is that peasant shareholders don’t count for much (they have the vote don’t they – just like you and me – we are equal?) and if an organisation is going to give (or have taken away) millions or billions of US$ worth of shares, then a few thousand dollars should be spent on ensuring that those peasant shareholders (or employees) are treated equally to any other shareholder. Through sms or otherwise, it does not matter: good corporate governance requires “reasonable efforts” to be made to engage shareholders. This quote from Standard Boardroom Practice, prepared by the Institute of Directors, London, revised 1971 is still appropriate (or perhaps more appropriate) in modern times:

“Although the process of encouraging shareholders to take an interest in the affairs of the company may be a rather slow one, directors should not be discouraged. It is their duty to make the maximum use of the methods open to them of keeping the shareholders informed.”

I do not want a community shareholder scheme to be part of a political game (which unfortunately it is) but whatever is put in place, should abide by the principles of the King III Report on Corporate Governance on sustainability in the community. And then have added to it progressive IR practices of the USA – to result in a progressive shareholder communications strategy, where every shareholder is treated equally.

It’s good corporate governance and it will ultimately add value to Zimplats and its community in the long run.

I do acknowledge that its early days for Zimplats and they could have plans on the communications side but I have no reason to believe that my ideas herein are going to be actioned. I hope they are.

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African listed company executives generally want nothing to do with smaller shareholders. Dealing with smaller shareholders who are ignorant and poor is costly and a “waste of time”. There’s another slant however. An innovative view that should be considered by any listed company given the way the Internet is changing this world. Please see the interesting article below on how to engage your shareholder base in a respectful manner.

These shareholders that are “irrelevant” and a “waste of time”  are human. They have feelings, emotions and can communicate with other humans about the way companies and brands treat them. This communication is enhanced by the new technological era to the extent that this communication can go global in seconds. In short companies cannot categorise shareholders as shareholders, they are people with many interests in the listed company in which they are a shareholder. Call them “stakeholders” people that are:-

  • Interested that the company is acting responsibly in the community – this is more important in Africa where the degree of difference in wealth is very high
  • Interested in the services and products offered by the company – Africa’s markets are competitive
  • Interested in their dividend – African retail shareholders are almost singly focused on their dividends
  • Interested in companies paying taxes and employing people – this is related to the first point above

The article below, on how listed companies in the USA use a free Google open forum to solicit questions from shareholders at the AGM is an innovative tool that could be used by listed companies in Africa to communicate with shareholders (stakeholders) responsibly. But there are some key questions on how to structure this interaction effectively. There are three key issues that a listed company executive needs to consider when structuring an initiative like this:-

  • Is the forum public or private?
  • Are forum participants identified or anonymous?
  • Is the forum limited to shareholders or anyone?

Here are the answers to how to structure your online shareholder forum (a summary of what Dominic Jones says below):-

  • The forum should be public
  • The forum participants should be identified
  • The forum should be open to anyone – shareholders are not identified as such, they are identified has humans interested in your company. Unclassified or tainted by perception.

Here are extracts of insight from Dominic Jones, world leader in online IR from the article below:-

“Small shareholders have no incentive to participate in the forum because they will perceive that anything they say will not be taken seriously. This is because everyone is classified by the size of their shareholding. They’re not people, they’re just a holding size. …………. it reflects their worldview where everyone is just an account. Social media, of which shareholder forums are one form, is about people interacting with people.”

How about anonymity?

“ anonymity is not conducive to serious discussion on forums. Usually, people who are anonymous have something to hide and are less accountable for what they say. It would have been much better not to show holding ranges and instead allow users to create a profile and identify themselves, if that is what they wanted. Anyone who chose to be anonymous would not be taken seriously by other participants

Check out Google moderator here. This is an excellent tool for African listed companies to combat the apathy in dealing with their shareholders. Think out the box, do something different and innovative that will double up as some seriously good PR.

But why should a listed company executive bother with an initiative of this nature?

  • Humans are human. They will hold the listed company in high regard – their corporate reputation improves, shareholders products and spread the word.
  • Foreign investors will appreciate this – they get to be heard – and get an excellent feel for what’s being said about the company. It is more than likely that they as foreigners have not had interaction with management and this may be a welcome channel to communicate
  • Its good corporate governance and will result in some good PR
  • The feedback that you receive might actually help corporate strategy

If you are in anyway skeptical about the foundation upon which this article is written then ask yourself why listed companies and corporates worldwide are engaging stakeholders directly with Facebook and Twitter etc.

Here is Dominic’s article below:-

Attributed to Dominic JonesIR Web Report‘s founder and an online investor relations consultant.


A GROWING number of companies are using the web to give their shareholders opportunities to pose questions to directors and executives at their annual meetings.

Since many shareholders are unable to attend meetings in person, the move by companies to use the web could help to reengage apathetic retail stockholders in the annual meeting process. At many U.S. company meetings last yearless than 5% of retail shareholder accounts participated.

Google Inc. (NASDAQ: GOOG) recently opened a forum for stockholders to submit questions and vote for other shareholders’ submissions. The most popular questions will be put to the board and management at the company’s annual meeting on May 7.

To filter the questions, the Internet giant is using Google Moderator, a free application that it has long used for internal meetings. The White House used the same application for a Town Hall with President Obama last month.

Google's shareholder meeting question forum uses Google Moderator
Anyone with a Google account is able to submit and vote on questions for the company’s annual meeting.

One of the least tech savvy companies, Warren Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway (NYSE: BKR.A, BKR.B), broke with tradition this year to include an Internet component for its May 2 annual meeting. The company asked shareholders to email questions to leading journalists, who will choose which questions to ask at the meeting. A draw will also be held for shareholders in attendance who want to ask questions.

In the UK, Barclays plc (NYSE: BCS) included a form in its online annual report for investors to submit questions to the company. They are alsoinvited to email questions to be asked at the meeting. Similarly, UK-based insurer Aviva plc (LON:AV) provides an online form for shareholders to submit questions for its upcoming meeting.

For several years, International Business Machines Corp. (NYSE: IBM) has invited shareholders to submit annual meeting questions online and thenpublished answers after the meeting. It is doing the same thing for its 2009 meeting on April 28Exxon Mobil Corp. (NYSE: XOM) has followed a similar process for the past two years, but does not post answers to questions online.

Barclays plc has integrated shareholder feedback into its annual report
`”Your View” is a main section in Barclays’ online annual report.

As we were first to report, this year Intel Corporation (NASDAQ: INTC) will become the first company to permit live voting at its annual meeting via the web. Shareholders will also be able to ask questions online during the meeting.

Last week, Intel launched a closed shareholder forum, which is built on the Investor Network platform of Broadridge Financial Solutions (NYSE: BR). I suspect Intel’s forum will be a flop because it is not public, because it demeans retail shareholders, and because it’s not clear what investors are signing up for.

Of all the approaches companies are taking, I like Google’s the most. It’s open, transparent and relies on the crowd to determine which are the most important questions. Best of all, any company can use the same approach for free.

Finally, let me just place on record that inviting questions from shareholders who are unable to attend the annual meeting is not new. Australian companies such as BHP Billiton and Commonwealth Bank have long included a printed question card with their meeting materials for shareholders to mail back to the company.

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In many strange ways our managed corporate website and investor relations services, already is consistent with leading online IR practices of the First World. See below. Our stock exchanges in Africa are inefficient in distributing information online for free and widely. Our listed companies do not use newswire services and our brokers (too many of them) are starved of market liquidity (to generate commissions) and under-resourced.

So really its corporate Africa that’s driving its own future (or should be). This is good news and an opportunity for listed companies to build direct influence and grow brand directly – and not rely on others.

The article below, by Dominic Jones, shows how corporate websites in the First World are becoming more and more effective relative to traditional newswire and regulatory news services. African websites (that we manage) are already at that stage (relatively) because of the stage of the development of our markets (undeveloped) and because we have leap-frogged technology to use the best and most efficient tools DIRECTLY for the benefit of our clients. The only significant challenge in Africa is the absence of awareness of the grey haired CEOs that are in control of the decisions. This will change over time.

Herewith Dominic’s article which makes interesting reading. If you are interested in leading-edge online thinking then I do recommend that you sign up to his website email alerts. Dominic’s approach taking on the established monoliths in the media world is very refreshing.

Attributed to Dominic JonesIR Web Report‘s founder and an online investor relations consultant.


STATISTICS from trackable links in company press releases suggest that even small companies’ websites are the most heavily used sources for financial disclosure information and that dissemination via PR wire services is mostly ignored by investors.

The public statistics bust the widely held misconception among investor relations professionals and securities lawyers that PR wire services are the most effective way for companies to achieve broad disclosure. They show that while PR wires distribute company releases to hundreds of different intermediaries such as a financial portals, there is little or no evidence that investors use PR wire releases.

bitly

The statistics also explode the myth that only large, widely followed companies’ websites can be used for disclosure under the US Securities and Exchange Commission’s (SEC) 2008 Regulation FD guidance, which states that postings on company websites can meet fair disclosure requirements if they meet certain standards, including that investors actually use the sites. The statistics indicate that even at small-cap companies, websites, email lists and social media accounts are the primary channels through which investors now receive investor relations information.

Disclosure dissemination practices fall behind

In the three years since the SEC issued its guidance on the use of company websites and blogs for disclosure, only a handful of companies have changed their disclosure practices to use their websites and SEC filings rather than PR wire services as the primary channel for their disclosures to investors. Those that have made changes include Google Inc., which no longer uses PR wires for its earnings releases, and small-cap BGC Partners, which uses an advisory release method to alert investors to full-text disclosures on its website.

The lack of progress towards so-called web disclosure is likely due to several contributing factors. US Stock exchanges still favor PR wire services in their rules and discourage companies from pursuing web disclosure, even though their rules do not expressly prohibit it. Nasdaq OMX owns PR wire service GlobeNewswire while NYSE Euronext offers subsidized press release services to its listed companies.

Another limiting factor is a general lack of awareness of new real-time web technologies among companies, their advisers and some web service providers. PR wire services have exploited this lack of awareness as they seek to preserve their lucrative disclosure dissemination franchises by sowing misinformation and creating doubt among cautious companies.

However, the biggest barrier to the adoption of web and social media channels for disclosure has been the widespread misconception in the industry that PR wire services are both the most effective means of disseminating disclosure information and that they meet companies’ disclosure obligations under Reg FD. Consequently, companies continue to collectively spend many millions annually on PR wire services even though SEC filings provide more certainty of compliance and many companies are in a position to replace PR wire distribution with website postings under the SEC’s 2008 guidance.

Click stats show where investors interact with company news

Now, publicly available information about investors’ use of links in news releases calls into question the effectiveness of PR wire service distribution and suggests that investors mostly access disclosure information directly from company websites, email alerts, RSS feeds and real-time messages on social media platforms.

The statistics are provided publicly by URL shortening services such as Bit.ly and Goo.gl. They enable anyone to view where investors are when they access and click on shortened links in press releases. The statistics these services provide are more reliable than the statistics that PR wire services offer to their clients because they are not affected by investors’ browser settings, non-human activity such as search bots, or by the format choices of the PR wires’ distribution sites.

Some companies use services like Bit.ly to shorten long links to webcasts and other information in their press releases so that the links don’t break when the releases are distributed in emails or posted on some websites. When investors click on these links the short link is decoded into the original long URL and a click is recorded by the shortening service. Anyone can access the click statistics for these shortened links by appending a + sign to the end of the URL.

Information recorded by the link shortening services includes referrer information, which is the location where investors viewed the release and clicked on the links. When the links are clicked on a public website such as Yahoo! Finance, the shortening service can easily track and record this information. However, if the link is clicked via a user’s email program, in one of a number of social media clients such as Tweet Deck, or if a user pastes or types the link directly into their browser, the referrer cannot be tracked and the click is recorded as a “direct” click.

For more than a year, we have been monitoring PR wire services for public company releases that contain links that have been shorted using the Bit.ly service. Unfortunately, very few companies shorten the URLs in disclosure releases using Bit.ly so examples are few and far between. However, in every case that we have looked at, few if any of the clicks can be tracked back to PR wire service distribution points, while company websites and direct access clicks from emails and the like are typically the most common referrers.

The finding that company controlled channels account for more click activity than PR wire service distribution holds true regardless of company size. This is an important point because it suggests that many more companies could be using web disclosure than was previously thought.

Below we provide information from three public company releases that included trackable Bit.ly links. Two are from small, lesser known companies and one involves Dow Jones Industrials constituent The Boeing Company (NYSE: BA)

Example 1:  State Auto Financial Corp

On April 28, 2011, State Auto Financial Corp (NASDAQ: STFC) issued a news released via Business Wire announcing a webcast of its upcoming annual meeting. The second paragraph of the release included a link to the webcast registration page that was shortened using Bit.ly.

According to a Google search, Business Wire distributed the release to scores of websites including the most visited finance portals such as Yahoo! Finance, MSN Money, MarketWatch, Barron’s, Reuters, Bloomberg and Morningstar.

State Auto Financial release April 28, 2011

According to Bit.ly, of the 116 clicks on the short link in STFC’s release only 3 clicks can be attributed to Business Wire distribution points, namely Yahoo! Finance (1 click), StreetInsider (1 click) and SNL.com (1 click).

STFC’s own investor relations website, which is hosted by IR website provider InvestQuest.com, generated 10 times as many clicks (34 clicks), while clicks from direct sources such as email, Twitter clients and manual browser entries generated 75 clicks, or 65% of the total. STFC provides an email alert utility on its IR website for news releases and SEC filings.

These figures appear to show that distribution of STFC’s release via Business Wire was largely a waste of time and effort and that up to 94% of the audience reacted to information received from the company’s own website or email alerts.

This suggests that STFC, which has a market-cap of $650m, is well placed to use its website and SEC filings to comply with Reg FD and to communicate its essential information to investors.

Bit.ly referrer stats for STFC
Bit.ly’s referrer statistics for STFC’s April 28 news release

Example 2: Sonus Networks, Inc.

On June 1, 2011, Sonus Networks (NASDAQ: SONS) issued a news release via PR Newswire announcing the date for its upcoming investor day in New York City. The release advised investors that they need to pre-register to attend the event and provided a Bit.ly link to a page on the company’s website where they can do that.

According to Google, PR Newswire distributed the release to about 144 finance and news websites, including Yahoo! Finance, Reuters, Business Insider, Barron’s and dozens of smaller news outlets.

Sonus uses a website from Shareholder.com that offers an email alert utility that distributes the full-text of releases to subscribers. The company also issued a message containing the bit.ly link on Twitter, where it currently has 487 followers.

bitly-sonusnr

bitly-sonustweet

According to Bit.ly’s click stats, the short link to the investo day registration page was clicked a total of 21 times, of which only 2 clicks can be attributed to PR Newswire partner Yahoo! Finance. More than 90% of the clicks appear to be from the company’s own web channels, including 15 clicks from email alerts and Twitter messages viewed in client software, 3 clicks from the company’s IR website and 1 click from the Twitter website.

Here again, there is negligible evidence that PR wire distribution is effective, with only one of PR Newswire’s distribution points registering clicks. The company’s own web channels appear to the primary way that investors get information from Sonus.

bitly-sonusstats
Bit.ly’s referrer stats for Sonus’ June 1 news release

Example 3: The Boeing Company

On December 20, 2010, The Boeing Company (NYSE: BA) announced that it was increasing production of its 777 aircraft. The release, which was distributed via PR Newswire, included a Bit.ly shortened link to a video about the 777 program. As the only link in the widely distributed release, it was very prominent.

Boeing posted the release on its website and also distributed the full-text to its email list subscribers.

bitly-boeing

According to Bit.ly, the release generated a lot of interest with a total of 1,757 clicks. Boeing’s own websites generated by far the most clicks, with a combined 917 clicks across three sites, or 52% of the total. Email and the like generated a total of 610 clicks or 35%.

PR Newswire’s own website accounted for 32 clicks or 2% while Yahoo! Finance accounted for 15 clicks or less than 1%. The bulk of the remaining clicks were made up of traffic from industry publications.

Overall, the click statistics suggest that up to 87% of people who are interested in Boeing receive their information directly from the company rather than from PR wire distribution sources.

Bit.ly referrer stats for Sonus
Bit.ly’s referrer stats for Boeing’s news release

Summary and limitations

These click statistics and others that we have reviewed provide strong evidence that PR wire distribution is not as effective or as well used as companies’ own website channels.

This has potentially important compliance implications for how companies and their legal counsel approach their disclosure dissemination practices. Reg FD places the onus on companies to ensure that any alternative channels to SEC filings they choose to use are in fact reasonably designed to result in broad, non-exclusionary distribution.

Of course, there are limitations to using click statistics. By definition they track only those instances where people actually click on a link. They cannot tell us how many times releases are read but people don’t click on the links. Nonetheless, on a relative basis it is clear that company channels are likely being read much more often than releases distributed by PR wires.

Another limitation is that it is impossible to know the source of the emails and other direct sources of clicks. In addition to company email alert utilities, PR wire services also may have subscribers who received these releases via email. However, the relatively poor showing of the PR wires’ own websites in the click statistic suggests that their own channels are not widely used for company disclosure information.

Finally, while they are consistent with a number of other companies we have reviewed, these results are for a limited number of companies and may not hold true in all cases.

Next steps for companies

To comply with their regulatory obligations and best serve the information needs of their investors, companies should seek to understand what channels their investors are using.

Shortening URLs in releases using Bit.ly is the best way to do this because Bit.ly has invested heavily in systems and technologies to provide accurate statistics. PR wires’ own statistics are not reliable and are unable to track all clicks. Additionally, PR wires may be overstating traffic because they are less effective at stripping out non-human web activity, such as search bots.

Once companies have better insights into how and where investors are using their information, they can make informed judgments about moving to a web and social media disclosure dissemination system coupled with SEC filings.

This may include adopting new procedures such as relying on SEC filings for compliance, and using company owned web channels and new real-time technologies to effectively communicate information to investors in the formats they prefer and through the channels they actually use.

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Zimbabwe has 74 listed companies and a well established printing industry and many design professionals that are well versed in designing annual reports. Another plus is there are a few individuals well versed in writing your annual report and project managing the whole process.

Costs of printing in Malawi or Zambia or Botswana can be extraordinarily high and there appears to be a cheaper option to get your annual report printed in Zimbabwe. But there are pitfalls. This blog provides a brief overview of the issues that you need to consider if you do want to get your annual report printed in Zimbabwe. My references to Malawi below may also refer to Botswana and Zambia as the case may be.

  • Obviously you need the foreign exchange to pay the printers and designers and approval to pay. Generally printers will charge 30% up front and then require payment upon shipment. This latter point has another side to it and that’s that RBM (Reserve Bank of Malawi) needs proof of the goods coming into the country before the bank is able to pay. So don’t think about cheating on any of the forms about quantities and values and ensure that the Zimbabwean printing company gives you credit.
  • Navigating your way around the customs duties gets more and more complicated the more people you speak to. So don’t speak to many people. Annual reports are “printed” material, “not for resale” and have “no commercial value” and so putting them on the airplane or truck from Harare to Lilongwe is hassle free, so long as this is repeated often. Ensure that the boxes are labelled “annual reports” “for shareholders”, “not for resale” and have “no commercial value”. If anyone tells you otherwise, ignore them.
  • Air Malawi charges about US$1.5 per kg air freight and 1000 average length annual reports including boxes will weight about 80kg. At National Handling Services,at the Harare International Airport, incredibly friendly staff (George) will use a typewriter, yes a typewriter, to type out your waybill accurately after you complete the Shippers Instructions for Despatch of Goods form. The latter form must state that the goods are not for resale and have no commercial value (repeated again). So your annual reports can be shipped as unaccompanied cargo to Lilongwe or Blantyre direct. One small snag is that you will need the shipment and the invoice stamped by the Malawian customs people for RBM purposes.
  • The Zimbabwe Government revenue authorities will charge VAT on the printing even though it’s for export. Because they can. Apparently it is possible to claim this back but I suspect that many barriers will be put in place to ensure that you can’t. If I find out any more about this I will update the blog.
  • Using DHL or a similar service to ship you annual reports to Malawi is also an option. BUT I strongly recommend striking up a relationship with an individual in DHL to explain what is happening. Both ways. You explain to them the latest with what’s happening at the printers and collection info – and they explain to you when, where and how they will get the reports to Malawi. They work over the weekends and have a number of options available to them. That said, my experience indicates that someone outside of DHL or your printer MUST project manage the courier and despatch process on a minutiae basis, because unless you see the bigger picture, the smallest detail can de-rail the process.DHL, whilst being a reliable courier service may not be in the loop regarding the last minute issues that are flying around between the printer and the company or the agent project managing the printing process.
  • It’s important to ask DHL whether the shipment is going on a commercial Ndege or DHL Ndege. The former has the risk of the Captain removing the load if the plane is too heavy – at his full discretion i.e there is never 100% assurance of delivery on a commercial flight.
  • The advantage of using Zimbabwe is that it is a days drive away from Malawi and there are a few Air Malawi flights a week, albeit unreliable ones. My point is that many plans can be made to get the annual reports to Malawi if things go wrong. So long as you stick to your timetable.
  • A warning about not sticking to your printing timetable. As you well know printers are at the end of YOUR chaotic timetable and project management process (if you can call it that) and so they take all the flak. They will likely add 20% onto the bill to compensate them for the hassle of you missing your timetabled printing time. Bear this in mind when doing your budget.
  • How much do Zimbabwean printers charge? You know, it’s kind of irrelevant. For a listed company its reliability and quality of print that is key. Your annual report is your company’s bible so don’t skimp. Nevertheless, for a good quality annual report 1,000 copies may cost anywhere between US$10,000 and US$14,000 and take 2 – 3 days to produce.
  • If these annual reports are to be posted to shareholders in Malawi or distributed in different areas, then I strongly recommend that the sorting into batches to be posted overseas, or regionally, by postal code, happens at the printers. You do not want the hassle of resorting all of the annual reports in your administration office as soon as they arrive. By then your timetable is so blasted out of the water anyway that you can’t afford the hassle.
  • So my key piece of advice is to provide plenty of time to get the annual reports to Malawi because each successive deadline that falls by the way side and each successive redundancy initiative that collapses, needs to be backed up by another one. If you know, or suspect, that your company will not stick to the timetable and project management associated with finalising your annual report, then use an outside consultant because they are not distracted by day to day management issues and they can shout at you when you are distracted.

Is it worth it? A few pointers:-

  1. - if you are a Malawian company already printing in South Africa – its probably worth it
  2. - if you are not happy with the quality of design work or the quality of printing its probably worth it
  3. - if you need assistance in writing your annual report then its probably worth it
  4. - if foreign exchange is not sacred to you then its probably worth it

I have written another blog about the pitfalls of writing your annual report which you may find interesting and entertaining.

African Is Cool offers annual report writing and annual report project management services. Our online annual report service is a highly professional alternative method to delivering annual reports in hardcopy as reports are delivered on mini CD. Here are 3500 annual reports that appear in electronic format – this same format can be published onto CD.

We also design, host and manage corporate websites on an ongoing basis . Here are our clients.

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Life is pretty easy in the First World. Good food, restaurants, lots of staff, public transport, good governance, rock concerts, high standard of living and all those things. In these environments reside pampered investor relations practitioners, ones that come up with nice, fluffy IR tips. Tips full of cliches. In Africa, however there are real men, dealing with real issues, fighting a fight that pampered IR consultants have forgotten long ago.

What’s the difference between between the two? I outline some soft annual report tips first, then the tips from real men, recommendations containing the stuff that counts in Africa.

Cliche 1: “Use one voice” – collaborate an effective report including contributions from a wide range of operating and reporting focuses. Ensure you pull together a document that speaks in one voice including all management and the information it reports. Deliver consistent messaging.

Cliche 2: “Shorten it” – Repetition isn’t needed. Give investors more of what is important, such as strategy, cash flow, acquisitions, and debt and market conditions.

Cliche 3: “Highlight the real and relevant” – Reflect the culture of your organisation, its purpose and values. Set a tone showing the true nature of your company such as straight to the point or quirky. Engage your audience with what you are thinking providing relevant information which allows for clear assessment of business performance and various segments.

Cliche 4: “Connect the facts” – Show your audience the big picture, put performance in context. Include your company’s goals and how you plan to achieve them. Your business model is important. Try Integrate genuine, meaningful reporting on important information to stakeholders and society. Mean what you say.

Cliche 5: “Use backbone” – Half or more of annual report content is non-financial information and narrative. Therefore provide a backbone by structuring it around four narrative elements: market overview, strategy, value drivers and performance.

Cliche 6: “Be creative and take risks”- dare to walk the narrow line between consistency and change. You can improvise or adapt narrative techniques or elements used by others so long as they fit your messaging platform whilst providing meaningful content.

Cliche 7: “A credible and memorable story is the goal”. You simply can’t afford to give a weak, confusing and complex message. You need a compelling story linking business strategy and key performance drivers.

Cliche 8: Build investor confidence with credibility.

Now then to the African situation, deep and darkest Africa. Here you get rugged, thick skinned practitioners that are tough and weather beaten. The sort that have to sleep next to the printing machine that prints the annual report to get the job done. The sorts of annual report preparation tips these African Annual Report cowboys come up with are as follows:-

Rugged African annual report tip 1. The final changes from the client are NEVER the final changes. So don’t get upset.

Rugged African annual report tip 2 The simplest of pieces of information required are sometimes the most difficult to get hold of. Like the ages of directors, logos of the audit company.

Rugged African annual report tip 3 Use a professional photographer throughout the year to accumulate a good portfolio of pictures – these may be used for your website, marketing material and annual report. Obtaining a professional portfolio of a few hundred pictures can take less than a day. But good photographers are like honest politicians in Africa: they are either hiding or dead.

Rugged African annual report tip 4 The most important part of any annual report is the profile of the director that’s reading it. If a director says they have “vast” experience in whatever they do. Don’t accept it. Only God’s influence is vast. Directors’ experience cannot be.

Rugged African annual report tip 5 What may seem to be acceptable pictures of corporate events for your annual report etc. will not be. Bad quality rules. Plus people die, get fired for stealing or may want compensation for appearing in your annual report. Consider each picture carefully before it is published in your annual report . Is what you are looking at broken or stolen, is the employee still employed ? What is in the background of the picture, a fence, a dead dog? Budget time for photo-shopping out all the little things that would be deemed to be inappropriate in investment circles.

Rugged African annual report tip 6 Without a high level person signing the annual content off, errors and delays will creep into (or remain) the system. The person doing the final review needs to be involved in the annual report preparation on a day-to-day basis. If these high level client employees treasure their weekends, or have a family or a hobby, forget them. Hand it to the FD or accountant, they are used to hard work and long hours. People from the marketing department are used to long sleep in on Sundays after the “long” promotion event the day before.

Rugged African annual report tip 7 There is a tendency to use the Word document as a reference point for changes up to a certain point. Then the document is converted into the typeset document that will ultimately be printed by the printing company. The changes are marked up on the typeset copy and the “track changes” feature is not possible. This creates a whole new dynamic on tracking changes to the annual report text. If you have involved a director or member of senior management outside of the country, emailing a 25 meg annual report tool and fro can be a mission – especially on dial up. Use sendspace.com or a similar online tool for the transfer of large files. This needs a decent internet link – good luck finding one south of the Sahara.

Rugged African annual report tip 8 Get a typesetter that is prepared to live with you without complaining about hours or the number of changes or rounds of changes to the annual report. If the wife complains, get a new wife.

Rugged African annual report tip 9 Don’t assume that just because your typesetter is good there will be no errors. The word document that you hand over is converted into text and then reformatted from scratch. This is an intense and time consuming process and errors creep in. Trust no-one. I have yet to meet a designer that understands widows and orphans on a document.

Rugged African annual report tip 10 DO NOT EVER check the content of your typeset annual report to the original document just by reviewing it. Get two staff opposite each other and call it over word for word, bracket for bracket. You will be amazed what errors can creep in or you can miss with a cursory review. All marked up changes need to be ticked off once done. Deduct US$100 for every physical tick not marked off.

Rugged African annual report tip 11 Despite the fact that auditors are extremely finicky about their figures in the annual financials section they can be lax about submitting a decent logo and letterhead. Sort this out early. Kill all the most basic things early. When an auditor suggests that the underlining under a total should be bolder, don’t laugh in their face. Laugh behind their back. They are sensitive people.

Rugged African annual report tip 12 Cancel the CEO’s leave before you even start the annual report design and project management. These guys run whenever things get hot.

Rugged African annual report tip 13 Never assume that your auditor is available on the third day past your deadline to review your annual report immediately. They are always busy doing something else and will generally add a day or two to the timetable. If you laughed at his emboldened underline comment, don’t expect sign off for a week.

Rugged African annual report tip 15 Never stick to any deadline, prepare to miss every one and have a back up for every one. Don’t trust anyone to stick to a deadline. Be a man. Don’t associate with people that get upset about these things – when they are shouting at you, say quietly, John Wayne style “how do we resolve the problem?”

Thanks to IRWebReport for the “sissy” recommendations which we summarised quite considerably above. Actually, all of the tips above are relevant it just seems like there’s no time to look at annual reports as strategically as the First World does. With limited time and budgets and resources and serious practical barriers its easy to lose focus on the high level stuff. The focus is providing the raw basics and just getting the job done.

 

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