Corporate Investor Relations groups have emphasized good corporate IR websites for several years. Having a strong IR website enables a company to tell its story to investors and prospective investors in a way that suits its own style and strategies. The Canadian Institute of Chartered Accountants offers prizes each year to companies that have the best sites.
But the world of the internet is changing, and companies need to change as well. This year, the number of people accessing the internet by using mobile devices is expected to exceed those using traditional PCs or laptops. Mobile traffic grew by 118% in 2011 and is expected to grow eighteen fold by 2016 according to a recent report by Q4 Web Systems. Clearly a company wishing to reach its investors through the internet ignores the advent of mobile users at its peril.
The two main types of mobile units are of course smart phones and tablets. Each offers different experiences to users, with the small screens of smartphones offering less flexibility than the larger screens of tablets.
For companies planning their strategy, there is array of challenges, including the design of websites, what information to include, and which devices to support.
But there’s another dimension to the issue. Mobile users are using the internet differently than traditional PC and laptop users. They prefer to use apps rather than traditional browsers, which is one of the reasons why the number of apps available for mobile devices had grown so quickly. For investors, there are numerous apps available, including, for example, the Yahoo Finance app for the iPhone. That app allows a user to select any stocks and track them on the device, including current prices, charts for anywhere from 1 day to 2 years, percentage changes, high/low information for the day and the year, and selected news items. It offers a convenient way for an investor to track the stocks in which they are interested.
From the companies’ point of view, however, generic apps like that do not necessarily convey the information that the company would like to convey. In other words, the companies do not get to tell their own story.
The only way they can do that, other than by developing mobile friendly web sites, is to develop their own company-specific mobile apps. Several companies are doing that. Two good examples are BAE Systems and Stanley, Black and Decker. But there are many more.
In developing a mobile IR app, a company needs to consider the units they will support, which is a much more complicated issue than it is with websites. That’s because while mobile websites can be viewed on most mobile browsers, apps need to be developed for a specific device – separate apps for the iPhone, iPad, Blackberry, Playbook, Android, etc. So right up front there are decisions to be made.
Then there is the question of content. Apps offer the opportunity to include content that is particularly in tune with corporate objectives, whether it be videos of corporate events, financials, or even data tools in which users can download and manipulate selected items, thus in effect creating their own reports. Many investors prefer this approach and the idea of providing data tools by companies is one that is growing.
From the investors’ point of view, the provision of corporate apps may create a situation where they would need to download separate apps for each stock in their portfolio. So if they own 15 stocks, they would need to download 15 different apps. That makes the generic apps, like Yahoo’s more convenient. This adds to the challenge for the companies because their apps need to add significant value in terms of content.
Despite all these issues, it is clear that companies cannot ignore the needs and wishes of mobile web users. So we can expect to see them competing for the best apps over the next couple of years. It’ll mean a creative and innovative era for Business and Financial Reporting.