Following the completion of this year’s IR Society’s membership survey, Charles Hamlyn gives an overview of the key themes emerging from your responses and the challenges you foresee for the next twelve months.

2021 IR Society Membership Survey Results

This is the ninth Annual Membership Survey that QuantiFire has conducted for the IR Society. Every year, as well as giving feedback on the work of the Society, you provide invaluable insights into the current climate in the IR community, the challenges you are tackling, and your expectations for the year ahead. We will address some of the more detailed questions you answered in subsequent articles, but here we highlight the two topics which continue to dominate the conversation: the evolving question of how we all work and interact in the wake of Covid-19, and responding to the ever-increasing importance of ESG.

Eighteen months after the first UK lockdown, the comments in this year’s survey reveal how the pros and cons of operating a virtual IR programme have crystallized over the intervening period. Virtual engagement has undoubtedly proven to be much more time-efficient and flexible; it has promoted greater international outreach and opened up less-accessible locations. But the quantity-versus-quality issue is still very apparent, and many IROs continue to find online meetings falling short in terms of the personal interaction and relationship building that you can only get from meeting someone face-to-face.

“Remote working has enhanced the reach – being able to connect with more investors, further afield, more often. But if the investor is sitting in a meeting room they aren't also taking a client call or responding to an urgent email, which is common in the imposed virtual environment.”

Most people agree that the future of corporate communications will be a hybrid of in-person and virtual. This may sound like an ideal compromise in theory, but numerous comments in this recent feedback reveal a high degree of uncertainty over just how this will pan out in reality. IROs are keenly aware that they will very likely have to negotiate their way around conflicting preferences within their own ExCo teams and with their investors, and that finding a ‘new normal’ that suits everyone is unlikely to be straightforward.

“I’m hoping for more in-person meetings. But hybrid will be a challenge.”

In the meantime, it seems that the return to the office is finally underway for many of you. The proportion of respondents who say they are currently working either ‘entirely’ or ‘mostly’ from home has fallen from 84% to 59% and, within that, the number still working exclusively from home has dropped markedly, from 62% to 22%.

If the situation vis-à-vis investor engagement is entering a state of flux, there is absolute clarity over the continued growth in the importance of ESG. The proportion of respondents who told us that engaging with ESG-focused investors and analysts was ‘important’ or ‘very important’ has grown from 38% to 49%. An increased emphasis on ESG was widely cited as the most noticeable change during the last year.

This upward trajectory shows no sign of reaching a plateau any time soon. ‘More time spent on ESG IR programming’ is again the clear winner of the ‘Most likely outcome for 2022’, and ‘Improving ESG communication and engagement’ is regarded as the most important issue to be addressed in the foreseeable future. So, whilst ESG is no longer a new issue on the IR agenda, those in the industry appreciate that getting to grips with ESG remains very much a work in progress.

Download the survey results here