Highlights from the IR Magazine Think Tank – France: Regulation, activism and ESG topped the agenda at IR Magazine’s Think Tank
Olivier Psaume, head of IR at information technology firm Sopra Steria (in addition to his role as Cliff’s Chairman) started the Panel by giving an overview of the challenges facing IR.
One of those challenges was identified as the changing face of the sell side, particularly in the wake of Mifid II. Every IRO’s favorite piece of EU legislation had been in play for nine months at the time of the conference, and it proved central to a morning briefing on regulation delivered by Guillaume Cerezo, head of IR at insurance services firm APRIL. Having joined his firm in 2016 just as the new Market Abuse Regulation (MAR) was introduced, Cerezo had helped oversee early compliance and had plenty of tips for the audience about using new regulations as an opportunity to set your firm apart. Among them was using internal stakeholders to not only achieve compliance but also improve efficiency.
IROs shared stories of how they were reacting to both MAR and Mifid II, with many saying that the regulation had affected their day-to-day work – but not necessarily for the worse. One consistent story at both mid- and small-cap companies, however, was that the level of research coverage from brokers is falling, and steps needed to be taken to combat this.
Best practice roundtable discussions were scattered around the room, each tackling a different topic – debt IR, crisis management, roadshow planning and targeting strategies – each with a different IR expert at the helm. It sparked some interesting conversation, particularly at your correspondent’s table: IROs swapped stories of difficult brokers, of events gone wrong and of the lengths they had gone to in order to track down new pools of equity.
After lunch, Vincent Dufief, CSR IR manager at energy firm Total, led a panel that examined the role of ESG and how it relates to long-term value creation. Dufief described an appreciation for these factors and your company’s long-term health as, in fact, a recognition of your firm’s raison d’être, and said giving investors an insight into your management’s long-term vision would always be a rewarding exercise.
Dufief was joined by ESG-focused representatives from the buy side and sell sides who offered insights into the metrics they used to assess companies, the questions they would like IR to tackle and how the industry is moving from an exclusionary investment approach toward integrating ESG factors into its decision-making.
Each panelist agreed the IR website was, as well as a window into the soul of a company, the best place to start tackling ESG engagement.
The theme continued into the afternoon, with the final session of the day providing an opportunity for the audience to hear from the source about what governance issues investors are interested in: Cédric Lavérie, head of French research at ISS, took the audience through the changing face of ESG’s ‘G’ and the changing role of proxy advisers.
He pointed out that for those investors interested in promoting good governance, the same issues continued to crop up in 2018’s proxy season. The ongoing impact of France’s Sapin II law – introduced in June 2017, aiming to promote transparency and curb corporate corruption – is still being felt, but was leading companies to improve disclosure, while ISS is still engaging many French firms on matters relating to ‘le say on pay’.
Lavérie also took time to review the summer’s update to the Afep-Medef corporate governance code for listed corporations, which tasks boards of directors with prioritizing ‘long-term value creation’ and requires regular corporate reviews of how governance information is disclosed.
Ultimately, Lavérie said:
Proxy advisers should not be perceived as the enemy, but rather as a window into those investors whose interests they represent, as well as a valuable source of intelligence for IR.
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