18th December 2019 – Although the majority of finance leaders (Singapore 73%, global 79%) say they have the data volumes today to give stakeholders the insight they want into company culture, less than half (Singapore 45%, global 33%) report quantifiable key performance indicators (KPIs) in this area, according to the sixth EY Financial Accounting Advisory Services (FAAS) global corporate reporting survey.
The report, Does corporate reporting need a culture shock?, based on a survey that gathered the views of 1,000 CFOs or financial controllers of large organizations with revenue greater than US$500m across 25 countries, including 40 from Singapore, highlights the growth of investors’ demands for more transparency and actionable insights from company reports, at a time when the potential to use artificial intelligence (AI) and ever-growing volumes of data offer a transformation in the accountability of businesses.
Willingness to use technology for greater transparency and insights
The survey found a willingness to use technology to meet the needs of greater transparency and more insight into company culture. This is particularly important when the majority of respondents (Singapore 90%, global 74%) say that investors are increasingly focused on nonfinancial information.
At the same time, the findings further highlight concerns about progress in building trust into data analytics and AI. Sixty percent of Singapore respondents (global 55%) say that the quality of finance data produced by AI cannot be trusted in the same way as data from existing finance systems. The top risks cited in relation to turning nonfinancial data into reporting information are: maintaining data privacy (Singapore 39%, global 33%), data security (Singapore 28%, global 29%), and the lack of either robust data management systems (Singapore 25%, global 21%).
Ronald Wong, Singapore FAAS Leader and Partner, Ernst & Young LLP says: “AI is an emerging technology that relies on the access to vast volumes of data. As such, significant efforts are needed to extract, transform and house the data appropriately, and securely. The advantage of AI systems is the ability to analyze and independently learn from this diverse data – including nonfinancial data – and generate valuable insights. However, this can be a double-edged sword where there is a lack of proper data management or cybersecurity systems, organizations will face significant risks of inaccurate insights, data breach and cyberattacks. Further, most finance teams may not be very familiar with AI, hence it is not surprising to see concerns over data privacy and management, and the current low adoption and distrust in data produced by AI.”
“However, data produced by well-designed and well-managed systems can provide transparent, forward-looking information – and with it, valuable insights – that can make corporate reporting more informative and offer stakeholders open and transparent information about long-term value creation,” Wong adds.
Investor focus on company culture – need to realign corporate reporting
For corporate reporting to play its role in building a more open and accountable culture, the report highlights that organizations should act to meet heightened expectations for nonfinancial disclosures.
Peter Wollmert, EY Global and EY EMEIA FAAS Leader, says: “Finance leaders are under no illusion that the shift in investor focus toward company culture means there is a pressing need for them to realign corporate reporting to focus more on long-term value. No longer seen as a ‘soft’ issue that has little to do with the value of their organizations, 83% of EY survey respondents say that a healthy corporate culture in which values or behaviors are consistently embraced is critical to building trust, and 81% say it helps reduce risk. But despite this acknowlegement, what we see is a lack of action turning the need for these insights into reality.”
In Singapore, 93% of respondents believe that a healthy corporate culture is critical to building trust, and 90% of surveyed say it can help to reduce risk.
Joon Arn Chiang, EY Asia-Pacific FAAS Markets Leader says: “When a regulator or commission focuses on harmful cultures, as is happening now in certain sectors, organizations have to demonstrate that they are taking steps to improve the aspects of their culture that are less than desirable. This creates an environment where investors and stakeholders want clear communication about the internal culture of an organization.”
To embed the critical role of culture in corporate reporting, the report advises businesses to put in place a robust approach to culture reporting, invest in the right talent mix to drive change and build trust and ethical algorithms into AI that can provide the insights that investors increasingly require.
Chiang concludes: “Teams that know that their organizations and leaders ‘have their back’ will take risks, and know the appropriate time to break outdated rules and challenge the status quo, so as to build more nimble businesses that can deftly surf the constant waves of change.”
View the full report