This blog post continues our expert analysis of complex investments.
Most in the finance industry would place individual stocks toward the simple end of the complexity spectrum. However, annual reports have become much longer, and more complex, over the past 15 to 20 years.
A study by Deloitte of 130 companies listed on the London Stock Exchange revealed that over the past 17 years the average annual report length has more than doubled, from 45 pages to 107 pages. Furthermore, Deloitte highlights that banks have consistently had the longest reports, and in 2013 had an average 415 pages.
It would seem that the longer documents have discouraged reading. An IR Web Report cited Google web traffic data showing that investors spend less than five minutes viewing annual meeting materials online. Furthermore, PostRank compiled data that reflected scant investor interest in annual reports as measured by shared links to those reports.
Finally, the International Accounting Standards Board (“IASB”) has recognized the increasing complexity of annual reports and is making an effort to reduce their size.
IASB chairman Hans Hoogervorst stated, “the risk is that annual reports become simply compliance documents, rather than instruments of communication.”[5 The plan is to “ditch disclosures that are not ‘material’, with new guidance to define what is relevant.
As we have discussed here, wading through hundreds of pages of disclosure documents to figure out what is relevant is beyond the abilities of lay investors.
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 Deloitte LLP. A new beginning: Annual report insights 2013; 21. Available at http://www.deloitte.com/assets/Dcom-UnitedKingdom/Local%20Assets/Documents/Services/Audit/uk-audit-a-new-beginning-printer-friendly-13.pdf; Accessed April 21, 2014.
 Id. at 22.
 IR Web Report. Investors spend just five minutes on annual reports – stats. Dominic Jones; May 12, 2011. Available at http://irwebreport.com/20110512/investors-5-minutes-annual-reports/; Accessed April 23, 2014.
 Reuters. Time to declutter annual reports, says accounting rule setter. June 27, 2013. Available at http://www.reuters.com/article/2013/06/27/accounting-iasb-idUSL5N0F31ST20130627; Accessed April 23, 2014.