In this article on investor feedback, Charles Hamlyn lifts the lid on nearly a decade of accumulated data and offers his tips on achieving success in 2022.
'The secrets of feedback success' - Article for INFORMED, Spring 2022
Feedback from the investor community is perhaps the most important intelligence that investor relations teams have access to. Not only is it a key measure of success for the IR programme and an essential guide to future success, in an age of rapid change and uncertainty consolidated investor feedback is also a vital source of market intelligence for senior management.
Regulatory and technological developments that have taken place in recent years, alongside profound changes to the working environment, have made it increasingly difficult for investment banks to deliver the quality of investor feedback that they would like. This has led to reporting that often falls far short of meaningful insight and for many companies it has now reached the point of failure.
In response, IR teams are increasingly starting to collect feedback from their investors independently. This inevitably presents challenges across three key areas: maximising response rates, processing response data, and optimising the quality and value of reporting. In view of this and given QuantiFire’s experience of focusing on investor feedback over several years, we think it is time to share some of what we have learned in the first of these areas: maximising response rates.
What qualifies us to talk about this? QuantiFire are niche specialists in the business of collecting and analysing investor feedback and have accumulated over a million lines of feedback-response analysis data, since 2013. This helps us to maximise responses and also offers some interesting insights.
Some of this is binary: specialist investors give more feedback than generalists, buy-side analysts are better at responding than portfolio managers and European investors are more responsive than North Americans (but not nearly as much as South Africans). The intelligence also compounds: European sector specialists are three times as responsive as North American hedge funds, for example, but contextual assessments are also important: hedge fund managers often provide exceptionally high quality comments.
However, whilst it is helpful to have a high-level view of what to expect, it is important to be clear: there is much that you can do to help yourself. Over the years we have learned what works well (or not at all) and can say quite confidently that the volume and quality of investor feedback achieved is highly related to how proactively and thoughtfully it has been sought. Here are our tips.
Only ask the essential questions and test your format internally. How long does it take to complete? If it’s more than five minutes, it’s too long. QuantiFire’s feedback process typically takes two to four minutes to complete, depending on how much written commentary is submitted.
Qualitative feedback is always prized, but use judgement and don’t default to open questions when easier closed questions will suffice. If you get it right, then over time feedback can generate even better ‘market-level’ insights than a perception study, but it is critical to remember that feedback is not perception research – investors expect it to be quick! Remember: brevity is the god of completion.
Widen the net
It is normal to prioritise feedback from top shareholders, even though it is probably smaller shareholders who are driving trading volumes and price movement. However, to understand the ‘market view’ you must cast a wider net. Small shareholders are just as likely to be thinking hard about your company, especially if they have a concentrated position and less access to management. They also often give very good feedback.
Equally, it is important to seek feedback from non-holders, not least to clarify why they aren’t invested and what might make them reconsider. Our advice is to seek feedback from every investor that IR and management meets with.
Follow it up
If you are an IR professional, then perhaps I have sent you an email in the past to arrange a conversation. If that conversation didn’t happen, then most probably it was my fault for not following up. When we’re trying to engage busy people, the luck of timing is always a critical factor, and this is certainly true when seeking feedback from investors. Without a reliable follow-up process, the simple truth is that there is a much lower chance that you’ll get a response. However, be careful not to seem pushy – annoying people is an instant fail!
Close the loop
One of the most important things to do to maximise response rates for feedback is to ‘close the loop.’ In other words, you need to make an acknowledgement. No-one wants to spend time giving feedback that might not be read, so it is important to show that you are paying attention. At the very least, busy people who have given you precious time will appreciate a note of thanks.
We all get emails that we can instantly tell are part of a bulk mailout. How many do you reply to? Your emails must be (convincingly) personalised if you want a reply. Equally, email deliverability is vitally important, yet often overlooked even though there are free tools that you can use to test for this. Emails that are caught in ‘spam-traps’ or sent to junk folders are lost forever and this is far more likely to happen to emails that are sent in bulk from CRMs and similar systems. If you send emails this way, then testing (and adjusting) for deliverability is mandatory.
Study the data
Finally, test and monitor the key response correlations for your company. What are the most successful times, days, or months to ask for feedback? Record response rates for different ways of asking and following up. QuantiFire’s various correlation analyses for investor response rates are inevitably commercially sensitive, but we can say that statistically significant correlations exist, with client-specific variations. Observing and analysing your own response data will help to maximise the returns from your investor feedback campaigns, over time.
As a source of market intelligence, investor feedback is as important as it is neglected. We hope that these tips will be helpful to anyone who would like to see better results in 2022.