What can public companies expect as the next big thing in investor communications – and in regulatory oversight from Washington? For my money, the hottest ticket at last week’s National Investor Relations Institute conference was a speech addressing that question by John White, head of the SEC’s Corporation Finance Division.
White’s message: Get ready for more interactive disclosure. And sooner rather than later. You could call it IR 2.0.
The official described four SEC current initiatives on investor communications, and all relate closely to new technologies:
… Interactive data, or XBRL, coming soon to a 10-K near you
… E-proxy, moving from voluntary to mandatory in 2009
… Proposals from an SEC advisory committee on financial reporting
… Guidance on corporate websites and blogs.
The advent of interactive XBRL data will bring public companies “a whole new category of investors who don’t currently have this kind of analytic ability,” White says. He urges IR people to anticipate the issues this new class of investors, armed with 21st-century data mining, will be able to raise with companies.
The SEC will likely update its regulatory guidance on websites and other online tools, last visited in 2000. White says the agency encourages Web-based and interactive communication. But he warns that companies need careful planning and controls for their Internet presence and innovations like blogs. Especially, he says, “Don’t forget that law thing.”