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April 28, 2021 Annual Reports | Research

How stakeholders expect to read your annual report

By Helena Wennergren

The annual report is the most trusted source for information about a listed company according to our annual Capital Market survey, followed by the corporate website. We've dug out some of the most important facts about annual reports to answer the questions "how are they read?" and "what content is most important?".

According to this year’s annual Capital Market Survey, the annual report is once again the most trusted source for information about a listed company followed by the corporate website. We've dug out some of the most important facts about annual reports to answer the questions "how are they read?" and "what content is most important?".

The annual report archive is one of the most important features

The Capital Market Survey 2021 showed that the annual reports archive is one of the most important features on a corporate website. In the survey, around 150 investors, analysts and business journalists in Europe replied to questions about information on corporate websites. On a scale from 1-5, respondents gave the annual report archive an average grade of 4.3. The annual report scored higher than interim and sustainability reports - 94% of the respondents say they use the information in annual reports, 91% in interim reports and 62% in sustainability reports.

Annual reports are read online

Increasingly, fewer read a printed version of the annual report - either the printout of a PDF that they have downloaded, or a printed version that has been sent to them by the company. Although the demand for online reports is increasing, the majority prefers to read the annual report in PDF format on a screen. As one respondent put it: "Printed copy is so vast and unwieldy nowadays, it's little more than a promotional vehicle for the company."

The survey results show a clear trend that the readers of printed material is declining, and that the readers of an online annual report are increasing, and getting closer to the amount of readers who read the PDF on a screen or device. On a multi-answer question, 71% said that they read the PDF on a screen, and 59% the online annual report. The fact that far fewer than all companies have an online report might impact these numbers.

Graph showing that the trend for reading annual reports on a screen is increasing, and fewer read annual and sustainability reports in a printed format

Improving the online report

According to Webranking by Comprend 2020-2021, 32% of close to 900 companies provided at least an online summary. To meet the stakeholder requirements, the online report should also include a strategy presentation, business model and the CEO statement - these are the three most important parts of an online annual report according to the survey.

A good example also from this year's survey is Adidas who provide an interactive presentation of their new strategy. Another is AkzoNobel, whose CEO statement is presented as a video, making it more personal as well as impactful.

Screenshot from Adidas' annual report 2020 - strategy

See our previous articles packed with tips and inspiration on how to get more out of your annual report in a digital format: Make your corporate report work harder

In terms of general content in the annual report, the financial statements are considered the most important, followed by information about the company's strategy and the year in brief. The company's strategy for growth is also viewed as being of high importance when making investment decisions, as is the company's market potential.

A better PDF for your corporate report

Don't forget that the PDF can - and should - be improved for reading online. Keeping in mind that most will read the report on a screen, it's important to make that experience as good as it can be. A simple feature to include is bookmarks to all sections and chapters in the report. This makes it a lot easier to get both an overview of the report content, and to go back and forth between sections. It is also helpful to have links to the main sections on all pages, and this can be pleasingly designed. Highlighting the section that the current page is in will help the reader understand the context. UPM's annual report 2020 (PDF) does this in a good way. It also has a linked table of content for each section.

However, most PDFs require the user to zoom in and out to read the content in the report on a desktop screen, not to mention on mobile phones. See our article Designing annual and sustainability reports for online readers.

About the capital market survey

The Capital Market Survey has been carried out annually by Comprend to serve as an input to Webranking by Comprend since the start in 1997. It is, as of this year, also an input to the Annual Report on Annual Reports that is part of ReportWatch by Comprend.

If you want to know more about how to improve your annual and sustainability reports, get in touch or read more about what we do in corporate reporting.

Johan Sixtensson

Johan Sixtensson

WaaS Service Lead


+46 76 109 05 42

James Handslip

James Handslip

Agency Director London


+44 (0)20 8609 4908

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