What is integrated reporting? And how do you do it?

accaThis article was first published by the ACCA here and was written by Dr Carol A Adams FCCA and member of ACCA’s Global Forum on Sustainability

If you are confused about what integrated reporting is, rest assured you are not the only one.

A lot of people think it’s about putting together your financial and sustainability reports.  Wrong.  It is much more than that – and much less.  It will not replace either a financial or sustainability report – both must be in place for integrated reporting.  But starting to think about the connections between the financials, the relationships your organisation has with its key stakeholders and how it makes use of natural resources, for a start, is a step in the right direction.

Integrated reporting requires thinking about value beyond financial terms – a long overdue development given that around 80% of the value of company is typically in intangible assets.

Building strong relationships with stakeholders, building a loyal customer base, developing intellectual capital and managing environmental risks, etc, tend to fall off the radar when corporate execs think short term.  But they are critical to long term success.  Integrated reporting keeps the focus on long term strategy and integrated reports are forward looking documents covering strategy, the context in which it will delivered  and how the company has, and will, create value for providers of capital and others in the short, medium and long term.  The International <IR> Framework recognises that long term success depends, amongst other things, on sound management, relationships, a satisfied work force and the availability of natural resources.

Much of the information companies are providing to investors is not in their annual review or financial statements – further evidence of the need for change.  An integrated report fills some of the gap and allows an organisation to tell providers of capital, and others, how it creates value for them.

If you asked your colleagues how they would describe your business model would they have the same view as you?  Probably not.  Many corporate execs think about their business model in narrow financial terms or from the perspective about the bit of the business they are responsible for. But if the senior exec work together in conceptualising the business model and start to think about inputs and outcomes in broader terms a different picture about what needs to be managed and what adds value emerges.

The six capitals concept is intended to facilitate this broader thinking about value and the business model.  The ACCA has been at the forefront of its development coordinating the work of the IIRC’s Technical Collaboration Group on the Capitals and funding my involvement.

Some companies are taking a first step towards integrated reporting by getting their financial and sustainability people working together.  This is advantageous in that accountants could better understand social and environmental risks and their impact on reputation and the bottom line whilst sustainability teams need to develop skills in making a business case for their work.  But the integrated thinking that goes behind integrated reporting needs to involve all the senior exec.  And the Board.

If you would like to know more about integrated reporting, see some examples of good reporting practice and speak with some peers about the challenges and benefits, register for the Master Class in London on March 14th hosted by the ACCA.  You will  hear from Eileen Rae, Director-Finance, ACCA and Jonathan Labrey, Communications Director at the International Integrated Reporting Council (IIRC).  Eileen will discuss the preparation of the ACCA’s second integrated report.   A copy of Understanding Integrated Reporting: the concise guide to integrated thinking and the future of corporate reporting will also be given to participants.

You can read more about the Master Class here.  

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