PwC’s digital Annual Report & Accounts – the important questions
September 21, 2015
Last week, PwC UK published its groundbreaking digital Annual Report & Accounts.
What's different this year?
To start with, there's no document, and no text. We’ve translated all of our narrative disclosures into a digital format – presenting content as infographics, animations and videos. So this year instead of reading about the Audit Committee’s consideration of significant accounting issues and how they responded, you can watch and listen as Pauline Campbell, the chair of our Audit Committee, explains it to you in a short video. We’ve presented our business model as an animation, to give a much more intuitive description of how we generate value. And for all readers, the interactive web content allows you to navigate straight to the areas you're most interested in.
Would it suit everyone?
Like our corporate colleagues, our Report & Accounts are accessed by many different users. For PwC, our partners and staff are of the utmost importance, and we believe that the digital presentation will allow them to make best use of the Report & Accounts. Different user communities have different information needs, and we welcome feedback from others on our new presentation.
PwC, as a limited liability partnership, has only a slim filing to make with Companies House, leaving us free to experiment with our narrative reporting. This isn’t the case for a listed corporate, who may come across some surprising issues if looking to experiment with digital reporting. Astonishingly, some of the innovative approaches employed by PwC would be illegal if used by a large listed company!
So why isn't anyone else experimenting?
Companies are required to file their accounts, including all of the narrative disclosures, with Companies House….and this is where the problem begins. The Registrar of Companies House has a set of filing rules which would have been perfect for when registration of companies first began – way back in 1844. We are clearly told:
“….Companies House does not accept any statutory documents by pdf or by email…”
“…paper documents should be on A4 size, plan white paper with a matt finish. The text should be black, clear, legible and of uniform density…”
So in order to allow the experimentation required to evolve corporate reporting, these rules need to be updated for the 21st century. We often hear complaints that the accounts of large listed companies need to be “clear and concise” or are “inaccessible to a non-technical user”. Reporting needs to evolve to become useful for investors, employees, suppliers and many others. Exciting new digital techniques should be part of that evolution.
I hope that our digital report will act as a catalyst for change, encouraging others to experiment, and reminding the rule makers to remove the anachronisms that are blocking progress. PwC’s digital report and accounts may not give us all the answers, but it certainly poses some important questions.
Our Annual Report isn't the only publication posing important questions being launched this month. 'Searching for buried treasure', our review of 2015 strategic reporting practices in the FTSE 350, launches this week and is full of useful information to help you produce good reporting, including four key themes we think companies should consider as they look to their next strategic report. For more information, you can check it out here.