Belgian companies continue to fall behind their European peers
By Freja Nilsson
In Webranking 2021-2022 Belgian companies continue to fall behind their European peers, receiving the second-lowest average score of all ranked countries. Belgian companies need to improve sustainability communication, especially when it comes to presenting sustainability strategies which is something many stakeholders expect to find.
In Webranking 2021-2022, we have evaluated how well the ten largest Belgian companies meet stakeholder expectations regarding the content provided on their corporate websites. This year, the Belgian companies have on average received 39.4 points which are 4.2 points below the European average. Compared with the other 14 ranked countries, Belgium has the second-lowest average score; only Russia comes behind with an average score of 32.4 points. Since last year, the average Belgian score has improved slightly by 1.87 points, but the companies still struggle with fulfilling stakeholder expectations. For example, none of the ranked companies has received more than 60 points which is the lowest score that we consider a company should have to be regarded as fulfilling stakeholder expectations sufficiently.
Many companies provide an online annual report
One of the better-performing sections of the Belgian websites is the pages related to financial reporting, where the companies have performed on the same level as their European peers.
The Belgian companies stand out when it comes to providing annual reports in an online format; as many as 25% include this compared with the European average of 13%. This shows that Belgian companies keep up with digital trends within the corporate communications field and that they want to provide a user-friendly experience.
Ageas provide a unique online annual report where the reader gets the possibility to customise the content of the report. Ageas asks questions about how detailed you would like the report to be, which region you are most interested in and if you are more interested in the strategy or the financials. This offers the readers a high level of personalisation and makes them more involved in the content since it is interactive.
Clear presentations of business areas
The Belgian companies do a good job including information about the company, such as key facts, corporate history, and business areas. In this area, the companies have performed on the same level as their European peers, with an average of 48 % fulfilment.
The Belgian companies have performed better than the European average when it comes to presenting their business areas; 74% include this information compared with the European average of 66%.
GBL clearly present their portfolio with key facts about each company that they have invested in. The information is also complemented with an explanation of the investment case for each company, clearly explaining why GBL have chosen to invest in that company.
Few companies present their business goals
Like most other ranked countries, the main challenge for the Belgian companies is Investor Relations communication. The companies have performed on the same level as the European average, with an average fulfilment of 25%.
The Belgian companies need to improve the presentations of their business strategies, especially since 91% of the respondents of Comprend's Capital Market survey find strategies important. For example, not many Belgian companies present their business goals nor explain how they will reach them.
KBC explain their strategy in a detailed way and provide clear examples of how they are working towards achieving their goals. KBC also include a table presenting key performance indicators in both text and numbers.
Sustainability communication one of the biggest challenges
Another area where the Belgian companies struggle to meet the high stakeholder expectations is providing sufficient sustainability communication. The Belgian companies have performed 14 percentage points below the European average, which is concerning since sustainability information is becoming more and more important for all stakeholder groups.
The Belgian companies fall behind when it comes to presenting sustainability strategies and sustainability policies. A bit more than half of the ranked companies offer a sustainability strategy which is 18 percentage points less than the European average. To include a sustainability strategy is also of high importance for the stakeholders; 90% find an explanation of the sustainability strategy important.
Umicore include a clear presentation of the sustainability strategy, and it is also complemented by a video. Umicore have divided the strategy section by each ESG area, making it easily understandable.
The Belgian top performers
UCB have climbed one place since last year's ranking and are now the best-performing Belgian company; UCB have improved the total score by 5.4 points. UCB provide good reporting material that is easy to find in the download centre and they also offer an online annual report. UCB also do a good job in presenting the company in the About us pages and include an interactive career path-finder in the Careers section.
KBC took second place this year, but it was a close tie between UCB and KBC; the difference is 1.3 points. KBC stand out when it comes to the information provided in the About us pages, where they have performed the best of all ranked Belgian companies. KBC are also strong in Investor Relations communication, which many other companies struggle with.