Update: This post has generated some email action. Some people think I’m targeting the wrong people. They say I shouldn’t blame vendors for not being prepared to stop producing bad products. I should blame companies that won’t spend the money to do the right thing. And one person thinks the post reeks of self-importance and that I’ve “got to be kidding” to draw analogies between vendors turning a blind eye and historical tragedies. He probably has a point about the historical references, and I don’t think I’m important. I think the underlying issue is important. Bad online documents are a barrier to communication between companies and their shareholders. I can’t fathom why anyone would want to knowingly contribute to that. What do you think?
By Dominic Jones
HISTORY is full of the tragedies of people who knew something was wrong but did nothing to stop it. People who in their hearts understood that something was not right but turned the other way.
It is tragic because often people want to take action, but they lack courage. I’ve been in situations where I have been too afraid to speak out or “do something” about a problem. I felt weak and small and depressed afterwards.
Where am I going with this? Well, back in August we invited web design firms and vendors who produce online annual reports to submit their work to us for review. If their products met our standards, we’d publicly recognize their work, as we are doing right now if you look to the left of your screen.
In all, we got 23 submissions and only ended up recognizing 7 firms. Those whose work we did not approve were not able to show examples that met our basic requirements. In many cases, these firms were not aware that they were not meeting the requirements. In other cases, companies could not show examples, but promised they would follow best practices. We believe them, but to be fair to the companies we did recognize, we can’t recognize them until they do. Finally, there was a small group of firms that could meet our requirements, but were not willing to stop producing non-compliant reports for companies that wanted them.
But the most striking thing about the process was who did not submit an entry. Not one of the big vendors who currently dominate the online annual report business bothered to submit an entry, even though we undertook that we would not disclose whose entries were turned down.
Why didn’t Broadridge, Thomson Financial, Shareholder.com, IR Solutions, PrecisionIR or one of the other big vendors submit an entry? Why were they not prepared to commit that they would never again produce image-based reports and PDF blobs that don’t meet SEC standards?
Because they know. They know that the products companies are buying from them do not meet any objective standards of usability.
They know, and do nothing. I have one piece of advice for them: just do the right thing.