The main problem companies face when producing their annual report and accounts is that they have to be all things to all people. On one hand, the company’s finance team has to make sure the report complies with an increasingly thick jungle of regulations governing what you are supposed to include and how you disclose it. On the other, the overall report and the information in it has to be as useful and as clear as possible to those who use the accounts. And these users are a varied group. Investing in shares has become increasingly fashionable, and the number of small-time investors has exploded in recent years. An annual report now has to be produced in a way that is interesting and useful to private investors, and at the same time meets the needs of the ever-powerful institutional investors. On top of all this, there are increasing calls for compulsory reporting on social, environmental and ethical issues. Larger companies face a dilemma in deciding which set of accounting standards they should use. If they are listed in more than one country, they may have to include a conversion between national standards. The influence of international accounting standards is also growing. The European Union is aiming to make them compulsory for listed companies by 2005. The Company Law Review is also throwing up all sorts of new demands on companies to disclose details of their corporate governance arrangements. Accountancy Age’s independent panel of experienced judges will be looking for the annual report and accounts that most successfully handles the conflicting requirements of compliance and clarity. Our Annual Report and Accounts Award will go to the organisation that communicates through its reports information concerning financial performance and the key drivers that affect the organisation. The judges will be looking at the management’s action in addressing the problems and opportunities that have developed and are yet to be faced, the organisation’s strategy and its implementation, and corporate governance. The award is not restricted to businesses. Public sector bodies, quangos, charities and other non-profit organisations are welcome to enter. Last year the award was won by the annual report and accounts of food giant Geest, which was produced by Merchant, a sister company of financial public relations organisation Brunswick which specialises in advising companies how best to present their corporate information visually. Merchant visited several of Geest’s production companies during its work on preparing its annual report, and talked to employees ranging from chefs, operating managers, marketing managers to directors. Merchant sought to reflect the innovative approach the company has taken to making a wide range of branded products – from salads to soups, pizzas to pastas – and reflect Geest’s passion for innovation in creating the foods they sell. The final result featured spiral binding, tabs for ease of navigation, a detailed marketing report, directors’ CVs that described achievements and not just positions held. The Geest annual report saw off close competition from runners-up Stakis Hilton and the BBC. Users of accounts are quick to give their opinion on what they think is good, bad or indifferent. Mark Hendersen, a consultant working for the National Association of Pension Funds, looks at many annual reports in the course of this work for the organisation’s voting issues service. He says he is not a great fan of colourful designs that have no relevance to the business in question. Hendersen feels the company’s corporate governance statement should be towards the front of the report, rather than hidden at the back. ‘It is a key way for the stewards of the company to report to their shareholders.’ He also likes to see good use made of charts and tables, and for a summary page to be included with details of the company’s registered address, the name of its bankers, stockbrokers, auditors and solicitors. He adds: ‘It has become important to include details of a company’s social, environmental and ethical approach.’ Many companies, he says, already do so. Geno Luchmun is a private investor who invests in shares as a hobby and to supplement his income as a solicitor. He feels the presentation of company accounts in annual reports is rarely clear and that few would win prizes for using plain English. As for details of directors, he argues the effort spent on including glossy photographs of them would be better spent including a full director’s report showing all the failed companies a director had been involved in, as well as the good ones. Most larger companies now put their annual reports on their websites. So this year, Accountancy Age is also allowing organisation’s to submit their web-based reports for the award. – For more details on how to enter, visit AccountancyAge.com A MESSAGE FROM OUR SPONSORS: ACCOUNTANCYAGE.COM AccountancyAge.com is the leading website for accountancy professionals, providing news as it breaks. It also puts out daily e-mail bulletins including weekly business and practice updates and offers a wide range of useful business and careers information at your fingertips. This includes a comprehensive web directory, careers advice and access to Jobworld, with thousands of vacancies in the finance sector. EVENT DETAILS Entry is free Closing date for entries: 28 July 2000 Ceremony: 1 November 2000 Venue: Natural History Museum, London Accountancy Age is happy to have won the backing of all five major accountancy bodies again this year along with a host of other key players in the accountancy profession. As well as the presentations, the evening will provide an excellent opportunity to meet leaders of the accountancy world. You can reserve your seat at the profession’s top event of 2000 by dialling 020 7316 9539 or e-mailing: firstname.lastname@example.org For an entry form visit: www.accountancyage.com.
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