UK companies move with the times and embrace sustainability
By Chris Henson
The websites of the UK's 200 largest companies are widely outperformed by their Europe 500 counterparts in this year's Webranking. Yet whilst investors and analysts may be frustrated by limited financial transparency, career and sustainability content has increased for the socially-conscious jobseeker as companies look to future-proof their businesses.
Established in 1997, Webranking is Europe’s leading survey of corporate websites and the only global ranking that is based on stakeholder expectations. Every year we ask investors, analysts, journalists, and jobseekers about the information most important to them on corporate websites. Based on the research, we undertake an annual evaluation of the corporate websites of the largest 900 European and global companies by market cap to see how these stakeholders’ needs are being met. In 2019, we ranked the 200 largest companies in the UK.
The overall performance of the UK corporate websites remains similar to last year. The UK again ranked 10th out of 14 countries when we compared the results of the 20 largest companies per country. The average score is 46.3/100 points, which remains a steady 20 points behind the leading country, Finland. Looking at the average score of all 200 ranked UK companies, the UK trailed behind the average of the 500 largest European companies by 7 points, much like last year.
There have been some notable changes to the websites of UK companies, however. The availability of key financial content continues to decrease, widening the gap to the Europe 500, who by contrast are improving their offering to stakeholders. On the plus side, the UK's corporate websites are offering jobseekers an increasing amount of detail in their career pages as they compete for the best talent. Sustainability information is more important than ever for value-driven young jobseekers, so the UK's improved performance this year also benefits those who expect their prospective employer to prioritise their societal impact.
UK companies are becoming sustainability advocates, but still have a long way to go
In a year when the government amended their pledge for greenhouse gas emissions to target ‘net zero’ by 2050, the UK’s 200 largest companies have also taken a more rigorous approach towards their corporate citizenship through the quality of the sustainability content on their websites. 39% of the criteria in this year’s ranking has been fulfilled, representing a 6% increase over the last six years - although the Europe 500 are still ahead. Our Careers Report 2019 revealed that Sustainability is the third most-visited website section for jobseekers (behind Careers and About us), so this improvement will resonate beyond a financial audience. There are two aspects which stand out for contrasting reasons:
- The good news: the Code of Conduct is being presented in great detail.
UK companies have shown a more transparent commitment to compliance and third-party regulation in this year's Webranking, with the score increasing 11% to 59%. This sits 16% below the Europe 500, however, so there remains room for improvement in an area where corporate reputation is on the line.
- The bad news: sustainability data remains in short supply.
A company can show a tangible commitment to their corporate responsibility on a range of issues by presenting their social and environmental impact. UK companies fulfil less than a third of the criteria in this area, although Europe 500 companies perform similarly poorly.
Tesco is the UK's best-in-class for Sustainability content with a score of 9.1 out of 11. Their new website contains a well laid-out section with nearly everything stakeholders require.
Rising to the challenge of attracting top talent
The careers section is another element of UK corporate websites to have seen a gradual improvement in recent years, as companies respond to the challenge of attracting the best international candidates in a job market hit by Brexit uncertainty. In this year's ranking, companies present 42% of the most important career content on average, which represents an improvement of 8% over the last six years.
Understanding the employee experience is key for jobseekers
Potential applicants expect to gain a comprehensive view of a company from their career pages, so a complete section should not be limited to a list of job vacancies. Instead, an overall impression of the employee experience should be offered. Areas in which companies have adapted to offer more include:
- General company information: there has been a 13% increase since last year, from 42% to 55%. UK companies are therefore including more about their businesses directly on career pages to save jobseekers from trawling other parts of the website, which some may not be willing to do.
- Diversity information: an issue of particular relevance to millennial jobseekers, UK companies that present their approach to diversity and equal opportunities directly on their website have increased from 52% last year to 61% this year. It is already a requirement for the diversity policy to be presented in the annual report, as stated on page nine of the 2018 UK Corporate Governance Code. The inclusion of this information on the website itself is a logical extension, which aligns with the steady progress towards gender parity in the boardrooms of large UK companies.
One company with a stand-out Careers section is HSBC. Their presentation of employee life includes thorough information on career development opportunities.
Who owns the share and what's happened to it?
Big UK companies particularly struggle with their presentation of shareholder information, with only 26% of the key content available on average. This continues a downward trend, with a drop of 8% over the last six years indicating that the UK's corporate websites are currently offering investors and shareholders a poor service. Two areas of weakness stand out:
- Capital development: this is used to assess a company's future actions, but just 1% of UK companies are currently presenting it. This contrasts with a 12% average across Europe.
- Major shareholders: for transparency and corporate reputation, it is important to show information on those most heavily invested in a company. However only 14% of UK companies display this breakdown, compared to a European average of 33%.
Dividends are a light in the dark for UK share information
Not only is the dividend an indicator of a company's financial well-being, but investors also need to build an understanding of how future payments may shape up. Over 90% of those who responded to our Capital Market survey 2019 stressed the importance of this information for a corporate website. Currently, UK companies provide an average of 40% of the required content on dividends. This is somewhat dwarfed by the Europe 500 figure of 55%, but it nevertheless represents a big improvement when compared to the lack of available information elsewhere.
James Handslip, Managing Director of Comprend Ltd, says:
“The results highlight that UK companies need to work harder to present comprehensive investor content. However, we were impressed with the improvements in sustainability and careers content. This is a clear sign that UK companies are moving with the times to attract talent.”
The UK winners and the biggest climber
There have been some changes at the sharp end of the UK list in the 2019-2020 Webranking results. Centrica take this year's crown, increasing their score nearly 5 points to a table-topping 64.1. British Land are in second place, climbing the ranks following another top ten finish last year. Petrofac and BP remain in the top five whilst Coca-Cola HBC join them, having climbed 12 places to 4th this year. Standard Life Aberdeen win the Climber of the year award, with an impressive score increase of 16.8 points, lifting them 134 places in the standings.
Top ten in the UK
|6||Royal Dutch Shell||56.5|
See the full UK results