MiFID II: Rise of the websites?

Much has been written about MiFID II, the EU’s revamped Markets in Financial Instruments Directive, which comes into effect on January 3rd 2018. Andrew Rigby takes a look at the potential implications for digital managers.


MiFID II is a package – a very long one at almost 1.5 million paragraphs – of EU legislation that aims to bring greater transparency to financial markets. Ultimately the EU wants to make it easier for investors to see what they are paying middle-men (brokers and asset managers) for: research on and meetings with companies and their management teams in particular. The costs for these will have to be unbundled from charges for buying and selling shares, which has not been the case to date.

So while the bulk of the impact will be felt by financial institutions across the world – because any transaction that touches the EU is affected – there are likely to be implications for IR and communications teams.

If research and corporate access now has to be paid for in a more transparent way, it is reasonable to assume that there will be much less of both from analysts in the post-MIFID II landscape.  And what is produced and paid for, will have to be of high quality. IR teams will also need to work harder to communicate the company’s investment case directly to investors: produce more information themselves, and arrange and deliver more meetings.

It seems to us that this is where the corporate website can help, in two ways.

It can fill the gap created by the decrease in freely available research, by providing free access to company information for investors, journalists and other audiences.

And it can provide more detailed information for those producing paid-for research. This might be especially useful as the effects of MiFID II begin to become apparent. IR teams may need to scale up to deal with the increased workload, but this may take time to achieve. In the meantime, the website can be used to deliver information at scale, so it is worth talking to the IR team to see how the company website can help them.

More hard financial data might be useful, but so will a clear statement of the investment case, and ways to make senior management more accessible may be important – videos and webcasts. Our recently published ‘Explain Yourself’ index may be useful here. It highlights some of the companies which are best at telling their stories and presenting their leadership teams.

One particular aspect worth considering will be consensus estimates. With less research, it is not clear how the likes of Bloomberg will compile consensus, and consensus based on algorithms or crowd sourcing is still in its infancy. Once again, the onus may be on companies to manage and distribute consensus – so the website comes into its own. Barclays has a good example of a consensus estimates page.

screenshot-www.home.barclays-2017-12-04-13-21-19-789.png

Finally, with IR teams potentially needing to target investors more directly rather than through brokers, website measurement may assume greater significance to IROs. Building a picture of who is coming to the website, from where, and what they are looking for, could be very helpful…even if other pieces of EU regulation, both existing and future, limit how forensic you can be. But that is a topic for an upcoming blog…

For those who would like more background on MiFID II, we have prepared a short Q&A.

BC tip: Nordea - Convenient fact sheets

A Swedish bank’s investor fact sheet has a useful mix of formats.

BC tip - Nordea.png

The Feature

Nordea’s online investor fact sheet page, located in the In Brief sub-section of Investor Relations on its corporate website, has an up-to-date share chart and key financial figures for the past three years, including charts for operating profit, earnings per share and market capitalisation. There is a succinct company description and contact information.

The responsive html page can be read on a mobile, and there is an option to download the page as a PDF.

The Takeaway

The fact sheet is simple, but effective, with relevant, current information about Nordea in a variety of formats. The share chart and information is completely up to date. Investors can read it on their desktops, smartphone screens or download it for printing.

The ‘facts’ are well-targeted for investors, as are the descriptive paragraphs about the company, and there is an absence of marketing language that plagues many corporate fact sheets and which investors are not interested in. Although this fact sheet is aimed at financial specialists, any company fact sheet could be prepared in the same way.

https://www.nordea.com/en/investor-relations/nordea-in-brief/fact-sheet/

BC tip: Wells Fargo - Facing the abuse

An under-fire US bank responds to its critics on Facebook.

The Feature

It has been a troubled few weeks for Wells Fargo. After owning up to some highly questionable sales practices, including setting up fake bank accounts, it agreed to pay a settlement of $190m; fired 5,300 employees implicated in the scandal; and its CEO resigned after a ritual grilling by Congress.

Adopting fresh leadership and a new ‘commitment’ to customers, the company has also launched a reputation-building communications campaign across channels – offline, television and online, including social media.

In September it posted three messages on Facebook announcing the ‘new actions to strengthen culture and rebuild trust’. These posts prompted a string of negative and occasionally abusive comments. Unusually, the company has adopted a policy of responding to many of these directly, with personal messages from named company representatives.

The Takeaway

Although there is a trend towards greater corporate responsiveness on Facebook, it is still relatively rare to see big companies engaging directly with irate followers. The policy of most seems to be to ignore the abuse until it goes away.

In Wells Fargo’s case, a scan of their Facebook page shows they were responding directly to enquiries before the scandal hit, so probably decided that going to ground would not look good, even if it might have been the safer policy.

Scanning the comments, the Wells Fargo responses can at times seem disjointed and overly cool, even if they may be genuinely trying to help. For example, there the comment from Gigi – ‘They pulled that … with me too, that’s why I switched banks a few months ago. They kept robbing me.’ This elicited the response: ‘Hi Gigi. If you have any concerns that you’d like us to review, please don’t hesitate to reach out to us (no account numbers). We’re here to help.’ – Nate’. They also seem to leave the most vitriolic comments alone; probably a good idea.

There may be legal reasons for the cautious approach, and each company will have its own limits on how fully it can respond, or not. The main lesson is that companies with a Facebook presence need a plan of action for when big problems arise, and even if the plan is to do nothing, to have a sound reason behind it.

When drawing up your own Facebook rulebook, it’s a good idea to watch what happens when companies like Wells Fargo come under fire.

www.facebook.com/wellsfargo

BC tip: Bloomberg - signposting live video

A media company’s ‘Live TV’ button could be adapted for corporate websites.

The Site

Bloomberg has a small box in the lower left hand corner of its website that encourages visitors to click on a live feed from its television and radio channels.

On landing on the home page for the first time, visitors see a miniature feed from the TV channel; on subsequent visits, there is a black screen with a ‘play icon’. Clicking on ‘Live TV’ leads to a new screen with the television channel; clicking on ‘Audio’ leads to the radio channel.

On desktop view, the button stays visible as visitors scroll down the page; the feature does not appear on smartphone screens.

The Takeaway

A ‘live’ feature could work on corporate sites to promote its own real-time events – investor webcasts, AGM feeds, press conferences, etc. It could be a useful way of signposting these events to journalists, investors and others, who visit with the intention of viewing a webcast live.

Bloomberg is distinctive in having television and radio channels, and corporate websites would not usually have live events to promote. However, a similar feature could be adapted to send people to other interesting or useful content. One important aspect is the box’s ‘stickiness’ – it is always in view as viewers move up and down pages in the increasingly ‘scrolly’ corporate web.

www.bloomberg.com

Brexit: the online communications challenge

The web is awash with comment, analysis and downright hysteria about UK voters' decision to leave the European Union. But how, I wondered, are companies at the potentially sharp end of Brexit using their corporate websites to explain the implications and calm customers' and investors' nerves? I had a trawl to find out...

Barclays:

This UK-based bank takes an unflashy but clear and effective approach - devoting the top half of its global home page to Brexit (see the screenshot below). The headline is clear, while a crisp standfirst includes a quote from Jes Stanley, the group CEO, designed to assure clients that Barclays is unruffled.

A clear call to action button - ‘Read more from Jes Stanley’ – leads to a cleanly laid out extended statement from Stanley, plus a short FAQ covering Barclays’ Brexit planning and its potential impact. Good - though the images on both this page and the home page are rather pedestrian.

Goldman Sachs:

Like Barclays, this investment banking giant also puts Brexit centre stage on its home page. But rather than promoting an article about it, Goldman Sachs invites visitors to listen to the latest edition of its regular podcasts, in which the firm’s chief European economist is interviewed in depth about the implications of the UK referendum.

While Barclays’ communications priority is reassuring customers and investors about Brexit, Goldman Sachs’ goal is to show off its knowledge and expertise on the implications for the global socioeconomic environment. The audio interview format works well here.

HSBC: 

Thanks to an embedded Twitter feed, visitors to this banking behemoth's global home page (and News and Insight section landing page) are presented with quotes from chairman Douglas Flint on HSBC’s willingness and ability to steer itself and its customers through the post-Brexit world. But during our visits on June 29th, there was little other prominently signposted material on the topic.

RBS:

Visitors to this UK-based bank’s home page looking for reassurance about Brexit will be disappointed: there is nothing at all about the issue. Users must visit the site’s News and Opinion section to find relevant material. But even here all they’ll initially find – buried below the scroll line on a standard desktop monitor – is a comment piece on the impact on the economy at large: nothing on RBS’s response, or the implications for customers. Scrolling down even further is a two-sentence June 24th press release assuring customers that daily banking won’t be affected. But as of June 29th, no more detail than that. Poor.

Lloyds Banking Group

This bank takes silence on the EU referendum a step further than RBS – there is nothing at all on the home page, or in the Media & Resource Centre.

As it has among politicians, it appears that last week's referendum result caught some online communications teams unawares. 

- Scott Payton


BC tip - AXA: Spotlight on editorial quality

A French insurance group’s online stories make excellent use of different editorial techniques to engage readers.

The Site

‘Spotlight’ is Axa’s online magazine, linked via the primary navigation on the French insurance group’s corporate website. Described as ‘a journal of ideas, experiences, and the people that make them’, Spotlight covers themes especially relevant to its customers, employees and jobseekers – protecting the environment, customer stories, the future of insurance and the future of work.

Within each section, image panels with teasers promote individual stories, with the invitation to ‘Read more’ or Discover more’, linking through to the full-page articles.

The Takeaway

Insurance companies are usually trying to dispel the idea that they are boring and old-fashioned. Axa’s Spotlight storytelling section helps counter this image by making excellent use of editorial techniques, including documentary photography, pulled quotes, embedded videos, data visualisations and subheadings that break up the text.

This makes the company's stories easy and enjoyable to read on screen. The responsive section provides an equally good experience on desktop or mobile. It also helps that AXA frames its stories within categories that are inherently interesting and relevant to its stakeholders, such as 'Future of Insurance' and 'A New Way to Work'.

https://www.axa.com/en/spotlight


BC tip: UniCredit - Another left menu variation

A responsive site’s expandable left menu does not resolve ‘the navigation challenge’.

The Site

UniCredit, the Italian banking giant, has introduced a modified version of left menu navigation on its responsive corporate website.

Unusually, the menu is introduced on the home page, with primary icons and links listed in a narrow strip – About us, Governance, Investors, Press & Media, etc. On click, the menu expands to the right and secondary options appear. The menu automatically collapses again when landing on any of the primary or secondary pages. Tertiary and deeper links do not appear in the menu, but are handled via in-page links and the breadcrumb trail.

On a mobile screen, the menu is collapses behind a clickable hamburger icon, but the functionality is the same.

The Takeaway

The expandable left menu is UniCredit’s answer to what we call the ‘navigation challenge’ – creating a responsive, modern-looking site that is also usable on a desktop screen. It is a less innovative solution than it first appears, performing essentially the same functions as a mega dropdown panel.

The panel itself is tidy, but there is no option of keeping it open, which would function more like a real left menu. Instead, to move from one page to another, even within the same section, users must make another click – to expand the left menu to see the options again or by using the breadcrumb trail to get to the previous level. The menu might be more useful if tertiary links were included, but it is probably impractical without changing the design.

A wider point is the constant experimentation with navigation on corporate websites shows that digital teams know they’ve created a problem by getting rid of left menus, and have not found an consistent and effective replacement.

https://www.unicreditgroup.eu/en.html