Is a Digital Annual Report the Financial Future?

Learn why it might be time to embrace digitization for your company's annual report.

Last Updated: February 19, 2020 10:26PM

You’ve written your annual report. You’ve translated, typeset, printed, and sent it to your subscriber list. It’s also on your website, so it’s theoretically available to anyone, anywhere in the world. Job done!

Or is it? Do you ever have a sneaking suspicion you could be achieving more with your financial reporting?

More and more companies are realizing that they haven’t maximized the potential of their annual report—and are making the transition to a digital version. But is a digital annual report really anything more than the latest must-have accessory for the Investor Relations team?

What differentiates a digital annual report from a print annual report?

Annual and interim reports have been published online for many years. The PDF versions found in the download centers of nearly all corporate websites are quite clearly digital.

But that’s not what we mean when we reference a “digital annual report.” Instead, we are talking about a smart, interactive, next-generation publication that takes full advantage of digital technology. This type of digital report stands apart from its on-paper predecessor in significant ways. Let’s look at its key features and benefits.

Digital annual report features:

Navigation

Users browse a digital annual report in the same way they would navigate a website. Optimal UX favors bite-sized, scannable chunks of text that lend themselves perfectly to online reading. The best online annual reports display text attractively and link to related topics and menus.

Multimedia capability

The digital format enables all manner of content to be embedded, not just text and static images. Videos, such as interviews with senior managers, can add interest and context for readers.

Customizability

Many digital annual reports direct groups of readers toward content geared specifically for them. For example, the retailer Migros divides readers into “Migros fans,” “financial analysts,” and “NGOs,” serving up different elements as readers’ first port of call. Of course, annual reports must simultaneously address various audiences with different goals and objectives, so all parts of the annual report are still present and can be reached by browsing.

Interactivity

Many digital annual reports include the possibility of extracting financial reporting data, e.g., into a .csv file that can be opened in Excel. This is a boon for analysts, who can quickly locate the exact figures they need, compile the selected data in a document, and present it in pie chart or bar chart form.

Digital annual report benefits:

Enhance the user experience

Digital reports can be much more user-friendly and relevant for your readers than a conventional annual or interim report. Their visual appeal, storytelling, and emotional pull have been shown to result in readers spending longer engaging with your report and digesting your carefully crafted content.

Project an innovative image

Digital annual reports can also project a professional impression of your business as a company that is at home in the digital world and technologically savvy. By digitizing your reports, you convey that personalized communications and the user experience are important to you. You also transmit a crucial message: our communication is fit for the future, and so are our products and services.

Expand your reach

Financial analysts covering your stock will always read your financial statements, regardless of format, as will journalists and shareholders. But choosing a more accessible digital format can help you reach other stakeholder groups too, including customers, suppliers, and existing and potential employees. You can address any specific group via a customized interface.

Make your impact measurable

Wouldn’t it be great to get key metrics on how your readers actually interact with your report? Going digital allows you to monitor how long certain users spend looking at specific parts of your report–and which parts they skip. You can harness this data to make future reports even more relevant to your audience.

Improve your search rankings

Displaying your annual report content in HTML rather than via PDF puts your web team in control. While search engines can theoretically read PDFs created from text, this doesn’t always work well in practice. And a user directed to a 200-page PDF of your entire annual report may find its length off-putting–plus, once they begin, they have no option to navigate to other parts of your website. You can read more about the SEO benefits of HTML vs. PDFs.

Enhance content management

Where digital reports really shine is as part of your multi-channel content strategy. A digital annual report template is underpinned by a powerful content management system (CMS), which stores its various elements in text blocks. You can then re-use these in other channels–from other sections of the company website to social media and more. In this way, you can firmly and efficiently integrate your financial reporting into your overall communications.

Provide long-term cost benefits

It is undeniable that your initial digital annual report design cost can be significant. The CMS, data creation and importing, development of your annual report template and other content and usability considerations must be planned and implemented. That may also involve paying for agency support.

Once you’ve put the process in place, however, you start to reap the benefits. Updating, adding to, and optimizing the content in your CMS for subsequent annual reports, quarterly reports, and other digital channels becomes the cheaper alternative to costly print runs.

What’s in it for the planet?

Anything that helps shift readers away from printed documents is good news for the environment, too. If your company is going or wants to “go green,” digitizing your reports is one small step you can take in the right direction.

What are the pitfalls to avoid?

When done well, digital annual reports can be very effective communication tools. However, there is no point in going digital just because everyone else is. You need to clarify your expectations and methodologies. Here are a few points to bear in mind:

Content should be digital-first

What worked fine in your printed annual report may not translate to a digital version. Remember that online readers tend to scan rather than read every word. Favor short, snappy segments, eye-catching visuals, and uncluttered layouts in your digital report.

Is everything in place internally?

Do you have the budget, expertise, and management buy-in to make this project successful? If not, now is probably not the right time to digitize.

Beware confusing navigation

Readers will generally access an online annual report because they want to find something specific. Your UX design must make it intuitive for them to track down what they are looking for. Avoid the temptation to over-engineer.

Compatibility is crucial

These days, we expect to be able to read content on the move. Your digital annual report needs to work and display as effectively on a three-year old Android phone as it does on a desktop PC or MacBook. Easy shareability is also essential in this age of digital communication and social media.

You wouldn’t use just anyone to develop your all-important digital annual report. So why would you trust just anyone to translate the carefully honed messages it conveys?

Here at Lionbridge, our expert financial translation teams have decades of experience in complex reporting projects. We combine this experience with particular expertise in writing for the web and SEO. We work with integrations that can be connected directly to your CMS or reporting systems, and we offer the highest standards of security and confidentiality.

You can read our tips about planning any annual report translation here.

We’d love to help you plan and produce your digital annual report. Our dedicated specialist teams have the scale to write, edit, translate, and proofread your financial reports:

  • into any language
  • to tight schedules
  • with the highest quality
  • to the highest security standards.

Contact us to find out more!

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AUTHOR
The Lionbridge Team