I have written before on sustainability, and it is a tricky topic to define and pin down. However, one thing that helps bring any issue to the fore is to measure and/or report on it. Many companies do report on sustainability and environmental issues. Whether such reporting is genuine or “green-washing” is another debate.
CGMA recently conducted a global survey of management accountants, and the report can be found here. A nice infographic of the key points can be seen here in the December CGMA magazine. One of things that jumped out at me was that the highest perceived benefits of reporting on sustainable issue came from management accountants in Africa. The report/survey suggests that management accountants are very aware of the need to report on sustainability and note it is beneficial. It also surprisingly suggests that the greatest barrier to reporting is no demand from decision makers.
McKinsey have a nice web article which highlights the problems with GAAP reporting versus the needs of investors and analysts. The kernel of their article is that financial statements, with some small adjustments, could save investors a lot of re-working of figures. They provide the following example:
Two things come to my mind. First, in my first real management accounting job almost 20 years ago now, we prepared an income statement which was not too far away from the one on the right above. And, most management accounting courses would teach students to draw up some kind so similar profit statement – at least separating direct and indirect costs.
Second, the articles does not mention XBRL at all. With tagged data from GAAP financial statements, XBRL could re-draw financial statements in any format. I am not saying all XBRL tags are there to do what McKinsey suggest, but it is certainly possible technically.
You can read the full article at the link below. It is worth a read.
The October 2011 issue of CIMA’s Financial Management had a good article summarising the development to date of iphone/ipad/android apps for financial reporting. Since the advent of the internet, most public companies (and many other organisations) now publish their financial statements on their websites. Some just provide a static PDF file, while others offer more dynamic PDF files, Excel downloads and even XBRL formats. I suppose it is only logical that some firms are now providing a corporate reporting app, which not only make financial information more readily available, but also available in an offline format. According to the article, only a few companies have taken the “ground-breaking” step to develop and provide an app solely for financial information. Nestle launched the first such app (30,000 downloads), which incorporates news, financial reports, presentations and share prices. The article also mentions (just) two other firms, Shell (3,000 downloads) and Cemex – i think Tesco also have an app. There are obvious benefits of an app – reducing distribution and print costs, faster information dissemination – but the objective according to the article is to make the user’s experience far more interactive than web pages currently do. At present, given the infancy of such apps, interaction is their biggest downfall too. According to the author, only increased interactivity and a more user-friendly approach will increase the use of financial reporting apps. But, no matter what way these apps develop over the coming years, one thing is for sure – mobile communication will increase. Perhaps these early adopters of financial reporting apps may become the leaders in the field soon – only time will tell.
CIMA’s e-zine (June, 2011) suggests a more responsive corporate reporting system is need for organisations. The report by CIMA, PwC and a think-tank called Tomorrow’s Company suggests that an evolving reporting system is necessary to reduce risk within organisations and meet the changing needs to both organisations and society. From from brief reading of the report, a central argument seems to be that the traditional (and incumbent) corporate reporting system is still primarily aimed at the providers of capital. Other elements or reporting have been appended on to this system e.g. environmental reporting, rather than the full reporting system itself called into question. You may ask why change what is currently there. I’m not sure this is the definite answer, but changes in technology, the business environment and business risk (to mention but a few) have been arguably more drastic in the past 20 years than the previous 100 years.
The report argues that a new corporate reporting systems needs to have six characteristics, which I summarise below. It argues that if these are incorporated within internal reporting and management processes, the external reporting will likewise improve.
- Encourage innovation and change. This should allow a reporting system to respond effectively to shifts in the business environment.
- Balance judgement and compliance i.e. go beyond compliance reporting solely. What information is needed as a basis for good decisions.
- Focus more on long-term value, by more integrated management and external reporting.
- Make reporting accessible, timely and relevant.
- Give shareholder and investors more information in long term sustainability and value creating capabilities.
- Ensure some balances and checks are incorporated into the overall reporting system and make someone responsible for this.