ACCA - The global body for professional accountants
The quarterly reporting issue shows just how fragmented views can be. Even individual investors are torn both ways – they want to consume quarterly reporting for their own self-interest, they also recognise that this focus on shortening time horizons is damaging for the overall market’s long-term interests. There is clearly a desire for regular reporting, but investors are aware of the outcome of that kind of financial information environment
—Ewan Willars, director-policy, ACCA

Investors are less trustful of corporate reports since the global financial crisis with more than two-thirds saying they are more sceptical about the information companies provide, according to new research from ACCA (the Association of Chartered Certified Accountants).

Nearly two-thirds of the 300 investors surveyed in Understanding Investors: directions for corporate reporting have told ACCA that managers have too much discretion over the financial numbers they report and a sizeable majority of investors say they place more value on information generated from outside a company than on traditional corporate reports, such as the news and social media. Worryingly, 45 per cent identified the annual report as being of no use. 

There was a clear dichotomy for policymakers created by quarterly reporting. It was seen as useful by 75 per cent of respondents in terms of their own investment decisions, yet 65 per cent agreed that it created short-termism in the market as a whole and distracted management. Almost half wanted to see mandatory quarterly reporting scrapped.

Key findings included:

  • 69 per cent of investors had become more sceptical about company-provided information since the global financial crisis
  • 63 per cent place greater value on information generated outside the company
  • 63 per cent believe management has too much discretion in the numbers it reports
  • 63 per cent believe the amount of information put out by companies has encouraged ‘hyper-investment’
  • 46 per cent believe mandatory quarterly reporting should be abandoned
  • 93 per cent expressed support for the concept of integrated reporting.

The survey also revealed strong support for the role of external assurance, which was seen as the main counterbalance to declining trust in company figures. Only in areas like profit warnings and emerging risks and opportunities did investors believe speed of information outweighed assurance. And 41 per cent wanted to see auditing being extended to quarterly reports.  

Ewan Willars, ACCA director of policy, said: 'This research shows there has been a shift in what investors want in terms of financial information since the economic downturn. The decline in trust in corporate information since the global financial crisis suggests there is a bigger role for audit to play in rebuilding confidence in company statements. 

'But the research shows that while it’s easy to lump ‘investors’ under one roof, the reality is that different investors want different information from financial reporting. Do short-term investors, such as hedge funds, want or need the same information as longer term investors, such as pension funds? Companies and the finance teams that support them may need to provide a range of financial information that meets the needs of various investment groups, rather than look at the investment community as one.'

Ewan Willars said: 'The quarterly reporting issue shows just how fragmented views can be. Even individual investors are torn both ways – they want to consume quarterly reporting for their own self-interest, they also recognise that this focus on shortening time horizons is damaging for the overall market’s long-term interests. There is clearly a desire for regular reporting, but investors are aware of the outcome of that kind of financial information environment.

'This poses a real challenge to regulators and policymakers in terms of their approach. Though in Europe there are moves to remove quarterly reporting as a requirement there might be some logic in leaving it as an option, given the mixed feelings on the individual company and market effects it is seen as having. Accounting standard setters and regulators should be worried about the high percentage of investors who see no use to annual reports and the distrust of management discretion over company figures.

'But investors also have plenty to ponder – if they are to play a central role and have their voice clearly heard in the policy-making process, they need to be clearer on what they want and help the profession develop a financial reporting regime that gives investors the assurances they desire.'

The ACCA survey respondents represented a range of institutions, 150 of which each had more than US$500m in assets under management, including pension funds, insurance companies, private banks and family offices, and other asset management firms, as well as investment advisors or analysts and corporate treasurers.

ACCA today publishes two reports, Understanding investors: directions for corporate reporting and Understanding investors: the changing landscape, a review of emerging investment developments. While both reports are based on the UK and Irish markets, the trends identified have wider international resonance. They form half of a four-part series on investors being carried out by ACCA in 2013.

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For more information, please contact:

Steve Rudaini, ACCA Newsroom
+ 44 (0) 207 059 5622
+44 (0) 7801 133985
steve.rudaini@accaglobal.com  

Helen Thompson, ACCA Newsroom
+44 (0)20 7059 5759
+44 (0)7725 498654
helen.thompson@accaglobal.com

Notes to Editors

  1. ACCA (the Association of Chartered Certified Accountants) is the global body for professional accountants. We aim to offer business-relevant, first-choice qualifications to people of application, ability and ambition around the world who seek a rewarding career in accountancy, finance and management. 
  2. We support our 154,000 members and 432,000 students in 170 countries, helping them to develop successful careers in accounting and business, with the skills required by employers. We work through a network of over 80 offices and centres and more than 8,400 Approved Employers worldwide, who provide high standards of employee learning and development. Through our public interest remit, we promote appropriate regulation of accounting and conduct relevant research to ensure accountancy continues to grow in reputation and influence. 
  3. Founded in 1904, ACCA has consistently held unique core values: opportunity, diversity, innovation, integrity and accountability. We believe that accountants bring value to economies in all stages of development and seek to develop capacity in the profession and encourage the adoption of global standards. Our values are aligned to the needs of employers in all sectors and we ensure that through our qualifications, we prepare accountants for business. We seek to open up the profession to people of all backgrounds and remove artificial barriers, innovating our qualifications and delivery to meet the diverse needs of trainee professionals and their employers.