The Evolution of the Annual Report

Posted on October 20, 2019 by Editor

Annual reports, once a sheaf of printed paper delivered by snail mail, have evolved considerably with the expansion of digital technology. However, too often, they remain in debt to their paper-based past, reluctant to take advantage of the opportunities digitisation has presented. This week Communicate Magazine and the Evolution of the Annual Report conference have released a podcast where six speakers from the day explore the future of annual reports.

Two distinct themes emerge from the podcast: the importance environmental, social and governance (ESG) issues, and how new technology can help reach and target audiences.

Mei Ashelford, Director of Reporting Intelligence at Gather, highlighted how reporting is on the brink of significant change, mainly revolving around the greater demands for ESG information from investors and regulation bringing in new corporate governance codes.

Not enough is being done to communicate ESG activities, as Phil Fitz-Gerald, Director of the Financial Reporting Lab at the FRC, noted, investors are getting ESG information from up to 100 different data sets, with only two coming from the company themselves.

This means a lack of message control, as annual reports become merely one link in the reporting supply chain. New technology – like AI, and the increased prevalence of XBRL reporting – are, however, shaking things up.

Bringing annual reports into the 21stcentury as digital, structured documents could open up new audiences, helping users get the information they want, in the format they want it, when they want it.

We’ve already seen an example of this earlier this year when GELIF published their annual report in Inline XBRL format, embedding the organisation’s signed LEI within the report for enhanced trust. GLEIF’s report packs in useful, machine-readable data, that can be exported into Excel in your language of choice, within a design focused, visually pleasing format. A sign of the future, where annual reports manage to include enhanced global trust, accessible, digital information and clear, well designed branding.

Read more and listen to the podcasts here.

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