Marks & Spencer is the latest corporate to bring out an IR app for the iPad. The low-profile launch on June 7 brings the UK retailer in line with companies like Nestlé, Bank of America and SAP, who are already vying for the attention of investors browsing the app store.
The M&S app was downloaded 150 times in the first 24 hours. It is the first example of the off-the-shelf IR app being marketed by Investis, a London-based provider of websites and related online corporate communications, which has previously produced document library apps for European listed companies, such as Danske Bank of Denmark.
The app is available to companies for between £10,000 and £15,000. Just like with M&S, the user interface can be customised to fit each company’s requirements. But the content – a mixture of press releases, webcasts, documents, regulatory news and share price charts – will largely be the same from company to company.
Such commoditization of the IR app is clearly good news for cost-conscious IR departments. The price tag for a bespoke app can easily be over £100,000, according to Al Loehnis, the business development director of Investis.
‘What we really wanted to have is an app that is accessible to any company,’ he explains. ‘You can badge the app to get the brand look and feel right, but press releases are pretty much press releases and regulatory news is regulatory news. Then it is simply a question of what you’re going to have in the various libraries.’
Investis has a dozen similar apps in production. Clients include FTSE 100 and FTSE 250 companies as well as companies listed in continental Europe. Technology companies aside, demand for IR apps is particularly strong among the consumer-facing sectors like media and retail, while on a regional basis the tech-savvy companies tend to come from he UK, Italy, Germany and Scandinavia.
But as Loehnis points out, the adoption of IR apps is not entirely demand driven. ‘It’s a segmentation issue,’ he says. ‘The cross over between the early adopters of the app and the target audiences for investor relations departments is very high. We hear countless anecdotes from IR teams saying Well, every analyst meeting we go to has more and more people taking notes on the iPad.’
Leading IR professionals have similarly embraced the iPad as a business tool. At a recent meeting with National Grid, Loehnis observed John Dawson, the director of IR at the FTSE 100 electricity distributor and chairman-elect of the UK’s Investor Relations Society, taking all of his notes on his tablet. Roddy Child-Villiers, head of IR at Nestlé, is another high profile convert to the iPad.
Yet, for Loehnis, the prevalence of iPads at board-level is the main impetus for more and more companies bringing out IR apps. At some companies, the popularity of the Apple tablet – as a business tool as well as the must have executive toy for directors – is even changing the way that company secretary teams operate.
‘We have seen huge interest in apps from the IR community this year, driven by the heavy adoption of iPads by senior management and in particular by the growing number of boards who are receiving their board info on tablets,’ he says.
Issuing board documents on the iPad also has its practical implications. During a recent visit to the boardroom of a large FTSE 100 client, a colleague of Loehnis’ noticed how the board table had been recently refitted with an iPod/iPad charger at every seat.
Though when it comes to actually building an IR app, service providers like Investis pay greater regard to the habits and requirements of iPad users on the move rather than in the boardroom or the office. ‘When you are thinking about what to put on the app, you don’t try and replicate everything on the website,’ says Loehnis. ‘You think, Well, what is it that people are typically after when they access websites from a mobile device? That is the dynamic information, so share price feeds, news, contact details and regulatory news.’
He recounts another anecdote about a CEO of a FTSE 100 company who was surprised in a meeting with investors when their first question was to ask why his company’s share price had fallen 5 points that morning. The drop in share price was news to the wrong-footed CEO, who later got in touch with his IR team to say that he needed the ability to access that information live and at all times.
‘The ability to access information on the go is becoming increasingly critical,’ he says. ‘The app is basically a portable briefcase with all the information you might need on a company. Whether you are on a flight or a train, or where ever you can’t get access to the internet, it’s always there.’
In light of this, the plan for the Investis app is to push forward its on-the-go capabilities. For instance, the current app provides a map of each company office around the world. In future, the app will be to utilise the GPS capabilities of the iPad to deliver user-specific directions to those offices.
[Article by James Chambers, IR magazine]
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