New Research on Australia’s Annual Reports, Plus the Top 10 Online Reports

 
 
A leading solution in investor relations (IR), Tangelo conducts detailed research on annual reporting trends across the world. Today, as part of our continuing series on digital IR communications and online annual reports, we’re releasing our findings on Australia.

After reviewing the annual reporting practices of all 186 Australian companies on the ASX200, we found a number of startling trends. Read on to learn how Australia stacks up against other countries and regions—and see how we’ve ranked the Top 10 online annual reports in the nation.

We’re particularly excited to release these findings in anticipation of the Australasian Investor Relations Association (AIRA) 2016 Annual Conference & Awards in Sydney on November 24. This year, Tangelo is sponsoring and presenting at the AIRA event, so be sure to see us there in person!

Scope of Research: Surveying the Companies

For this analysis—conducted in October 2016—we looked at all 186 Australian ASX200 companies, their PDF annual reports, and how they presented their annual reports online.

In general, Australian companies take their time completing these reports. A majority (128) of the companies end their fiscal year (FY) on June 30; by mid-October, 12 of these had still not yet published a 2016 report, and two of those had still not released one by October 27, when we concluded our research. In total, we reviewed 140 reports from 2016 and 46 from 2015.

Headquarter Location: Sydney and Melbourne Dominate

Before diving into the nitty-gritty of the reports, we catalogued where Australia’s biggest companies placed their headquarters across the country’s major cities. Perhaps unsurprisingly, nearly 75% of the companies are based out of either Sydney (82) or Melbourne (58).

The centrality of these two cities is even starker when you consider market capital: well over 85% of the ASX200 market capital is located in Sydney or Melbourne.

Some 46 smaller companies based themselves beyond these two centers, in Brisbane, Adelaide, and other metropolitan areas. Perth stood out, being represented almost exclusively by mining and materials companies; out of the 46, Perth’s 18 companies together boasted a higher market capital than all the 28 other businesses combined.

Secondary Listings & Reporting Currency

Australian enterprises are deeply connected to global markets. A number of Australian companies in the ASX200 are listed in the United States via American Depositary Receipts (ADRs): Westpac Banking Corporation is on the NYSE, while Mesoblast, Scentre Group, Sims Metal Management, Syrah Resources are available via “over-the-counter” (OTC) dealer networks. (This, by the way, requires these companies to create an annual report on Form 20-F to be filed with the SEC—similar to the Form 10-K required of their American counterparts.)

Four companies—AMP, APN News & Media, Australia and New Zealand Banking Corporation (ANZ), and Westpac Banking Corporation—all have a secondary listing in New Zealand. Ausnet Services has a secondary listing in Singapore (SGX), while materials company SOUTH32 has secondary listings in London (LSE) and South Africa. BHP Billiton is also listed in Johannesburg (JSE) and in the United Kingdom, as well as in New York (NYSE).

Nine companies (5%) report in US dollars (USD): Altium, Amcor, Ansell, BHP Billiton, Computershare, CSL, Newcrest, Rio Tinto, and SOUTH32. Typically, this is due to the global market they operate in, secondary listings, and/or multi-national affiliations.

Annual Report PDFs

Of course, all 186 businesses published an annual report as a PDF—but all PDFs are not created equal. Let’s look at what made some stand out, and why most fell short of global standards.

Online Availability

How do Australian companies present their annual reports online? 132 (71%) of the companies only offered their PDF as a download. 22 (12%) present the PDF as a flipbook—see our upcoming research on New Zealand for our thoughts on flipbooks (hint: they’re awful).

32 (17%) publish an online annual report; more on that below, but first, we’ll explore some findings on the PDF itself, since 83% of Australian companies choose to make the annual report available via PDF, either directly or as a flipbook.

PDF Length

Australian reports, on average, were 117 pages long—which is 35 pages longer than New Zealand’s average. A few businesses had shockingly succinct reports, including ARB Corporation (44 pages), Premier Investments (54 pages), and BWP Trust (56 pages).

As expected, may of the lengthiest reports came from banks (Westpac had 284 pages, and ANZ had 200). Mining colossi also produced enormous reports, like Rio Tinto (248 pages) and BHP Billiton, which, at 296 pages, had the longest one in the country.

Interactive Features

While most people think of PDFs as completely static, there are a number of easy-to-implement features that make a world of difference in terms of reader experience. Unfortunately, the overwhelming majority of Australian PDFs lacked such features.

  • Bookmarks. These allow a PDF reader to display a table of contents. Only ten (5%) companies included this common-sense feature.
  • Clickable table of contents. While every report contains a table of contents, they can easily be linked so the reader can click straight to the page in question. Just 10% of reports allowed readers to navigate thusly.
  • Clickable note references. Being able to jump from a note reference to the note itself is an incredibly helpful feature for investors and analysts—yet just one company, Myob, provided it!
  • Enhanced navigation. Beyond making normal text elements clickable, PDFs also support special elements to help the reader navigate—like controls embedded in the header and margins. Only three companies offered this interactivity: Myob, Wesfarmers, and Village Roadshow.

Notably, the Charter Hall Group wowed us with the coolest feature we’ve ever seen (…in a PDF). With the help of a free app called Layar, rich video content can be “projected” on top of the PDF—we were thoroughly impressed!

Overall, though, Australia’s PDFs leave much to be desired. While an online annual report is the most accessible, engaging, and functional way to convey results to shareholders and stakeholders (as we’ll see below), improving PDFs takes a small amount of effort for a major improvement.

Online Annual Reports

Now on to the heart of our research: the state of online annual reports in Australia.

We wish there was more to report on here: of the 186 companies, only 32 offered online annual reports. That’s just 17%—which compares favorably to 8.5% in New Zealand, but falls far short of the 50% of the companies in the German DAX and Swiss SMI indices, 33% in Scandinavia, and 28% in Canada.

While those numbers are low, what truly surprised us was the almost complete lack of features. The following investor tools are extremely common across online annual reports in Europe:

  • Custom PDF downloads that allow readers to generate PDFs containing only the sections they’re interested in.
  • Excel downloads that enable professional analysts, investors, and stakeholders to explore the report’s data in a spreadsheet.
  • Interactive charts that let users play with data for greater insights and a delightful experience.
  • Pop-up glossaries that explicate common abbreviations and industry terms, so newcomers can get more of the report.

Only WorleyParsons offers custom PDF downloads and interactive charts in its online annual report. Only QBE offers a (fixed) download to Excel—and no other features. All of the 30 other online annual reports do not offer any of the above investor tools!

Ranking Criteria

While we only had 32 online annual reports to review, that’s still enough to meaningfully rank the Top 10.

So, how did we go about evaluating them? Aside from the conspicuously absent investor tools, we looked for search functionality, completeness (i.e., whether the online report contains the entirety of a full annual report, including all financial statements and notes), responsiveness, video content, dynamic content, and overall engagement.

This is an incredibly useful capability that’s not too difficult to provide. Nonetheless, only 50% of online reports offered search functions. While it might be overkill for a one-page summary, search is an essential feature in more complete reports.

Completeness

We consider an online annual report “complete” if it contains the entirety of the full PDF version, including all financial statements and notes. Eight of the 32 online annual reports in the ASX200 (25%) are “complete,” compared to 12% in Canada’s TSX60 and 42% in the “DACH” region (Germany, Switzerland, Austria). A complete online annual report (with investor tools) provides a far better experience than a PDF download.

Note: Telstra’s online annual report just barely qualifies as complete; it uses a flipbook for the financial statements and notes, and even so, the pages are blurry.

Responsiveness

Does the annual report render readably on all devices? The large tables in financial statements and notes are the most challenging elements to display on a tablet or smartphone. All of the complete online annual reports prove this: they simply show a minimized version of the PDF page, which makes them only somewhat responsive for this crucial criterion.

Note: Including “somewhat responsive” reports mentioned above, 31 of the 32 online reports (97%) were indeed responsive—and Australia deserves praise for this. The APA Group and Mirvac Group particularly excelled here.

Video Content

10% of the online annual reports incorporate video content. In many cases, this is a video message of the Chairman and/or CEO. The Bank of Queensland provided the best, most engaging video by far; this online report fell out of the Top 10 due in part to its painfully slow load times, but was otherwise a contender for a top spot due to its daring, uncommon design.

Some reports featured a “Year in Review” video, which is another great type of content. Others only featured marketing videos, which were clearly not created for the annual report, but rather stuck in as an afterthought.

Background videos also make reports more engaging—see Dexus Property Group for a stellar example.

Dynamic content

Not all content needs to be static; timelines, highlights, and key figures lend themselves nicely to more dynamic presentations—which can work wonders for engagement. The dynamic charts in the Telstra annual report are a great example; Telstra would have made the Top 10 if not for its use of a flipbook for the financial statements and notes.

Engagement

Yes, online annual reports are meant to provide financial results and analyses—crucial information for shareholders—in an accessible way. But they can also engage and impress the audience.

The degree to which they effectively engage the reader is a major factor in our rankings. The Sydney Airport online annual report has one of the best, most engaging start pages, for example—though the content itself rings a bit hollow and salesy.

Top 10 Online Annual Reports from Australia

Without any further ado, let’s see which Australian companies made our Top 10 list.

#1 Dexus Property Group

Among a close field, there was one clear winner: Dexus’s online report is bold, engaging, and complete, even if the financial statements could be better optimized for smaller screens.

#2 Goodman Group

While not complete, Goodman’s online report boasts a wonderfully engaging design and dynamic presentation.

#3 AGL Energy

Complete and well designed with strategic links to social media, AGL Energy’s stood out in a good way; while the featured video comes off as more promotional than educational, it’s still better than no video.

#4 AMP

AMP’s report is totally complete, but could do a better job displaying financial statements and providing investor tools; the design is generally serviceable, but the search function wasn’t working when we tested it.

#5 APA Group

APA’s report impressed us with its dynamic features and solid responsive behavior, though the layout was a bit too busy for our tastes and may overwhelm the reader.

#6 SAI Global

The home page of SAI Global’s online report artfully sets the scene for what’s to come, though we’d prefer a cleaner design and a video more focused on results and the year in the review.

#7 APN News & Media

With a beautiful, inviting home page, strategically placed lightboxes, and pleasant design overall, APN News & Media’s report is great—it’s just a bit barebones (no search, no video, not complete).

#8 WorleyParsons

WorleyParsons gets kudos for offering custom PDF creation, interactive charts, and CEO video message, but its mediocre, unresponsive web design ultimately held it back.

#9 Sydney Airport

While Sydney Airport’s online report features somewhat shallow content, it does offer a very engaging start page and beautiful design throughout.

#10 Mirvac Group

Though a bit slow, the home page of Mirvac’s responsive online report is exciting and compelling; the year-at-a-glance content intermixes objective results with marketing content.

Interested in getting more details or learning how to enhance your next online annual report? Contact Tangelo now or schedule a demo to see how our platform can streamline your annual report process.

And that’s a wrap! It’s been fun, Australia—now it’s time to light the barbie and relax. Cheers!

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