What is an Annual Report?

The annual report is one of the most important documents released by companies and organisations each year. As a comprehensive overview of performance and governance, annual reports communicate vital information to diverse stakeholders. This article provides directors with insights into utilising the annual report as an effective governance tool.


Our scholarship programs give promising individuals the opportunity to gain new skills and become leaders for a better future.

Governance Purpose of Annual Reports

At its core, the annual report underscores an organisation’s commitment to transparency and accountability. It presents a holistic snapshot of financial and non-financial activities over the past year. Key governance aspects highlighted include:

  • Strategy and operations summary – Progress against objectives, milestones, challenges and forward plans.
  • Financial performance – Analysis of revenue streams, costs, profitability, asset management and other key metrics.
  • Risk management – Identification of principal risks and risk mitigation measures.
  • Governance framework – Board composition, policies, compliance and management accountability.
  • Auditor insights – Independent external audit opinions and communications.
  • Executive remuneration – Remuneration policy aims, structure and performance links.

From a director’s perspective, the annual report provides an important tool to communicate and demonstrate to stakeholders that robust governance practices are in place.

Meeting Compliance Requirements

Publicly listed companies face mandatory requirements under the Corporations Act 2001 to issue annual reports. The Act sets out minimum contents including financial statements, director and auditor reports, and disclosures on corporate governance, remuneration, equity and Board skills.

ASX listing rules also govern content that listed companies must cover including discussion on strategy, market conditions and business risks. Non-listed entities can utilise these requirements as a guide to governance reporting.

Regulatory Spotlight on Annual Reports

Regulators pay close attention to annual reports to monitor governance standards. ASIC has warned it will focus on areas such as unclear reporting, boilerplate disclosures and deficient operating and financial reviews.

Directors are advised to diligently apply the requirements and guidelines in standards like ASX Corporate Governance Principles. Reports must demonstrate how practice aligns with principle across areas like ethical behavior, diversity, risk management and transparency.

Presenting Information Meaningfully

Annual reports risk becoming overlong compliance documents rather than insightful communication tools. The most effective reports organise information thoughtfully to engage readers. Useful presentation approaches include:

Strategic report – Succinctly explains the entity’s strategy, business model, resource allocation decisions and approach to opportunity and risk.

Management commentary – Discusses operational and financial results, variances, challenges faced by the business and actions taken.

Linkage and flow – Clear linkages between strategy, risks, operating context, performance and governance provide intuitive flow.

Visual elements – Charts, graphs and images to distill information and highlight trends.

Online optimisation – Digital annual reports allow multi-media and interactive communication.

The Chair and CEO’s review sections offer an influential platform to connect how governance underpins performance outcomes.

Affirming Stewardship

As stewards governing on behalf of stakeholders, directors have responsibility for the integrity and transparency of annual reports. Leading principles include:

  • Overseeing preparation by management with rigorous review of drafts.
  • Confirming a sound approval process encompassing the full board, audit committee, Company Secretary, executives, advisors and auditors.
  • Verifying statements against supporting evidence and board minutes, queries and declarations.
  • Validating a balanced approach neither exaggerating favorable news nor glossing over challenges.
  • Assessing overall tone to prudently match context, performance and stakeholder expectations.
  • Reviewing market announcements throughout the year to identify any update requirements.
  • Evaluating design elements to filter out unnecessary content and enhance readability.
  • Considering how technology can provide more detailed or granular information online.

These measures help ensure robust Board governance oversight of annual reporting.

Stakeholder Consumption and Perceptions

Diverse stakeholder groups rely on annual reports for informed opinions about an organisation’s merits. Common perceptions formed include:

Shareholders – Assesses performance, governance and strategic direction as inputs into investment decisions.

Employees – Gauges business progress, risks and opportunities as indicators of job security and career development.

Customers – Evaluates sustainability, growth prospects and risks relevant to commercial relationships.

Regulators – Monitors compliance and compares to sector benchmarks when exercising industry oversight.

Media – Draws story leads and observes governance standards relative to emerging societal expectations.

Activist groups – Examines for corporate responsibility indicators around environmental, social and ethical conduct.

Rating agencies – Influences scoring used by investors to assess company economic value and intangible factors.

The Board aims to ensure the annual report addresses key information needs of each stakeholder constituency.

Integrated Reporting Approach

Integrated reporting combines financial and non-financial information into a holistic value-creation narrative. This provides richer insights than traditional reports focused predominantly on financials.

Integrated thinking principles argue that strategic, social, human, intellectual, manufactured and natural capitals interact to drive performance. Directors can apply aspects of this approach in annual reports by:

  • Identifying broader resources contributing to value creation.
  • Explaining connectivity between financial and other capitals.
  • Demonstrating strategy links diverse capitals to long-term value growth.
  • Discussing current and potential future value created for stakeholders.
  • Commenting on social and environmental impacts.

While demanding greater effort, integrated reporting strengthens stakeholder relevance and governance transparency.


As a critical governance mechanism, the annual report offers opportunities to build trust and understanding with stakeholders. Directors guide the reporting process by upholding sound principles and continuously enhancing quality. Leadership in open, honest and meaningful communication through these reports underscores an organisation’s integrity and accountability.

This is of of your complimentary pieces of content

This is exclusive content.

You have reached your limit for guest contents. The content you are trying to access is exclusive for AICD members. Please become a member for unlimited access.