x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 21 January 2018

Keep investors in the loop and polish up your reputation

Despite major advances in the regional investor relations profession in recent years, there is still a big gap between what shareholders in the Arabian Gulf expect and what the rest of the world demands as a minimum standard.

DP World scooped up the IR award. Paulo Vecina / The National
DP World scooped up the IR award. Paulo Vecina / The National

Good practice in investor relations is something we all believe in, isn't it?

But despite major advances in the regional investor relations (IR) profession in recent years, there is still a big gap between what shareholders in the Arabian Gulf expect, and what the rest of the world, especially the United States and Europe, demands as a minimum standard.

The IR activists must press on with their schedule of reforms.

That message was reinforced by a conference in Abu Dhabi last week. The Middle East Investor Relations Society (Meirs) held its fourth annual conference in the emirate, and was able to trumpet some big improvements in the way regional corporations treat their investors.

Paul Reynolds, the Rothschild banker who is chairman of Meirs, put the benefits of effective public relations in terms everyone could understand: "Effective investor relations increases the value of a firm and investors discriminate in favour of those who show that they understand this."

Put even more simply: your company will be worth more on local and global capital markets if it tells investors what's going on. The event was also marked by the launch of a Meirs "code of best practice", devised by IR experts in the region but with international benchmarks in mind, which provides a template for any company wishing to adopt a standard and globally recognised benchmark.

There is now no excuse for not having a robust IR capability in any Gulf company. Some of those that do already have such high standards were recognised at the awards ceremony that accompanied the conference. The "grand prix" award of best IR practice in the Middle East went to DP World, the Dubai-based ports operator that regularly scoops the gongs at events such as these.

It can be no coincidence that DP World has listings on Nasdaq Dubai and the London Stock Exchange. Both bodies demand high standards of IR from their constituents. If other regional corporates went for public listings, it would lift the overall level of corporate governance immeasurably.

Other notable leaders in the IR field were Emirates NBD, the UAE banking giant, Qtel, the Qatari telecoms group, and Orascom, the Cairo conglomerate that has had to deal with the ongoing chaos in Egypt.

There was a consensus at the meeting about what constituted good IR practice: in essence, it's the will and ability to communicate to investors the fullest possible information about the company's financial situation, on time and in sufficient detail to allow them to make sound investment decisions.

Transparency and disclosure should be the watchwords at all times. There are many ways of doing this: regular announcements on financials, briefings with investors ahead of big corporate events, roadshows to inform potential global investors of the company's potential.

And, I should mention in a note of self-interest, efficient and accessible relations with the media, through which many shareholders receive information about their investments. But, inevitably, good IR is most effectively communicated on the internet, and this message was hammered home by a second recent event.

In Doha, the results of the fourth KW Digital Web ranking survey were announced, showing that quoted companies in the region are increasingly using their corporate websites as the chosen medium to transmit key financial information.

The survey of the top 138 companies in the region showed that the internet, and increasingly social media such as Facebook and Twitter, were the most direct and cost-effective way to reach investors with vital information.

Topping the rankings for the Middle East was the UAE's Abu Dhabi Commercial Bank, which has carved out an enviable reputation for transparency in the region, followed by Aluminium Bahrain and Orascom, once again, taking big steps in IR in the midst of the Egyptian crisis.

So the region's IR professionals deserve a pat on the back for progress in this key area of corporate governance. But there is still lots to be done.

One executive who attended the events both in Abu Dhabi and Doha hit the nail on the head: "IR in the Middle East will never be as good as in other parts of the world while regional governments, which control large chunks of industry, pay only lip service to it."