Accounting | Tools

5 things you need to do to shift to reporting for the long-term

From not prioritizing quarterly returns to emphasizing year-to-date reporting, FCLTGlobal CEO Sarah Williamson explains how firms can better position themselves in today’s marketplace

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small business having a casual planning meeting at a large tableWhen it comes to focusing capital on the long-term, prioritizing the right things is key, says Williamson (Shutterstock/rawpixel.com)

Our approach to capitalism is changing: organizations around the globe are moving toward a long-term focus on business and investment, while also taking into account the broader interests of all stakeholders.

“The potential for real change toward the long-term is already present and growing in Canada today,” says Sarah Williamson, CEO of FCLTGlobal, a not-for-profit organization dedicated to encouraging long-term behaviours in business and investment decision-making. “If acceptance of longer-term investment strategies can spread elsewhere like they have here, global business and investors alike would be better off for it.”

Williamson, who was a guest speaker at the CPA Canada-hosted panel discussion Global Perspectives on Capitalism and Reporting for the Long-Term earlier this month, explained how a long-term perspective can better position organizations in today’s capital marketplace. 

Here are Williamson’s five steps organizations can take in order to shift to a long-term perspective.

1. PRIORITIZE THE RIGHT THINGS

When it comes to focusing capital on the long-term, prioritizing the right things is key, says Williamson. 

“For corporations, it means allocating resources that will sustain an organization for more than just the next three to six months—R&D, human capital, certain capital expenditures, and so on,” she says. “For shareholders, it means investing in companies that have this long-term focus; it also means not prioritizing quarterly returns over long-term growth.”

2. RECOGNIZE THE NEED FOR BALANCE

The relationship between capital markets and organizations need to be rewired to better serve this purpose. In their current framework, capital markets focus on quarter-to-quarter numbers rather than their original purpose of allocating capital to projects that will generate returns over time, such as entering a new market or developing a new product, says Williamson.

“This focus is myopic—investors expect good returns, companies emphasize projects that yield the necessary short-term profit, present this success to shareholders, and on and on it goes,” she says. “A mutual recognition that there needs to be a balance between short- and long-term investment is the first step forward.” 

Sarah WilliamsonSarah Williamson (CPimages/Ania Potyrala)

3. TAKE ADVANTAGE OF TOOLS

FCLTGlobal provides practical suggestions that allows corporations or investors to make the changes they want, says Williamson.

“Practicality is FCLTGlobal’s ethos,” she says. “Each of our reports offers tangible tools that corporations or investors can take to instill a longer-term strategy. For example, our paper on quarterly guidance presents viable reporting alternatives; our work on investment mandates presents specific items that should be included to make agreements more long-term in nature.”

4. BE CLEAR ABOUT LONG-TERM PLANS

Quarterly expectations contribute to the short-term financial pressures companies face, Williamson says. 

“One of our first studies showed that 55 per cent of executives at companies without a strong long-term culture would delay a new project in order to hit quarterly targets even if it sacrificed value,” she says. “Companies shouldn’t have to make that tradeoff, but the answer isn’t as simple as concentrating solely on longer-term projects. 

“Both companies and long-term shareholders need to be clear about their long-term plans and the path to get there.”

5. REFRAME THE CONVERSATION

Enhanced reporting can help move the focus away from the short term, suggests Williamson.

“The old saying, ‘What gets measured, gets managed,’ is true,” says Williamson. “Corporate reporting sets the measurement and writes the story for companies. Even small changes, such as emphasizing the last 12 months or year-to-date reporting instead of quarter-to-quarter, can reframe the conversation to be longer-term.” 

HOW DOES YOUR CORPORATE REPORTING MEASURE UP?

Find out with CPA Canada’s MD&A Guidance and Management Considerations for Effective KPI Disclosure.

And learn more about the integrated reporting movement with CPA Canada’s Spotlight on integrated reporting: Communicating value creation to capital markets publication.