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Question: What is integrated reporting and what are some of its benefits?

Robert Eccles: Integrated reporting is a very simple idea, it essentially involves combing a company’s annual report, which is its financial information, with a voluntary corporate social responsibility or a sustainability report, combining those into a single report to show the relationship between financial and non-financial performance, which I would define in environmental, social, and governance terms.  It involves providing more integrated information on the company’s website, so it’s not simply about a paper document, and it also involves leveraging a company’s website to provide more detailed information of interest to particular stakeholders, as well as for improving dialogue and engagement with shareholders and other stakeholders, so it’s as much about listening as it is about talking.

The benefits to integrated reporting, I think, are many.  Number one, it provides a coherent, consistent, and, by definition, integrated message to the entire world, so a company isn’t saying one thing to shareholders and another thing to stakeholders.  I think having separate messages in today’s day and age is very difficult.  It leads to better clarity on the part of the company about the relationships between financial and non-financial performance.  Companies are increasingly making the claim that sustainability is good for business, integrated reporting is an opportunity for them to provide a more coherent and specific explanation for why that’s the case.  It lowers reputational risk, it improves engagement with shareholders, it’s a form of discipline, a company that is producing an integrated report by definition will need to have more integrated management of the entire range of performance variables, financial, environmental, social and governance.

It’s interesting to see in the past couple of years, this is really beginning to happen, different industries, different countries, independently, simultaneously, I don’t think these companies could have possibly known about what each other was doing, so I think integrated reporting is clearly an idea whose time has come.  Two days ago, I got an email, I participated in a Linked-In discussion about integrated reporting.  It turns out a major Dutch bank, called Rabobank, is producing an integrated report for the first time and I was reading through the discussion about what they’re doing, and I laughed, I mean, it was like these words had been lifted out of my book, which couldn’t be the case, because they clearly started working on this at least a year ago, and my book only came out a month ago, but the language was nearly the same.  And so, again, I think it’s just, you know, one more piece of evidence that integrated reporting is one of those ideas whose time has come.

When I talk to people about it, my colleagues, they’ll say, “What an obvious idea, it’s a simple idea,” and I laugh and I say, “It certainly is, but it’s only happened now.”  And I think it’s that way with big ideas, they seem obvious once they’ve been stated and I think I’m fortunate to just have for a variety of reasons, been able to notice that this has happened in the corporate community and try and capture and codify it, to help spread the word and to help speed the adoption of integrated reporting, because I think it’s absolutely fundamental for a sustainable society.

Recorded on April 19, 2010

The Importance of Integrate...

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