While editing annual reports may seem daunting, there are some great hacks we can share with you for this type of financial services content, including a checklist to make this task easier.
To start, let’s define an annual report. Simply put, it’s an overview and assessment of a company’s financial health. Financial trends in the business over the past year are tracked and analysed to provide an understanding of strengths and weaknesses, highs and lows, profits and losses.
Annual reports are among the most important types of financial services content companies produce at the end of a financial year. A resource for investors, shareholders, donors and banking institutions, they’re available in the public domain, which means they can also be accessed by the media and competitors. This makes it essential that they are professional and accurate, and have a nice glossy editorial component. This is where you, as the copy editor, come in.
An annual report isn’t the highly formal, numbers-heavy tome it was back in the day. More user-friendly now, in addition to the necessary financial content and facts, it aims to connect with the reader by providing a bigger picture of a company in terms of its achievements and activities in the past financial year. It also looks to the future, outlining long-term goals and expectations, so as to demonstrate value.
There are several elements common to most annual reports. Typically they are:
- Foreword from the CEO/chairman
- Highlights of the past financial year
- Analysis from management (e.g. comparing current results to the previous year, an overview of the current market and the industry in which the company operates, key objectives and whether they were achieved, future goals)
- Operations — an overview of the company’s existing products and services, divisions/business units, and what they do.
- New products or innovations
- Feedback on initiatives (e.g. cost-savings drives, acquisitions, mergers)
- Financial statements (these should include the income and cash flow statements and the balance sheet), plus comments/footnotes on these
- Auditor’s report
- Company appointments/moves
- CSI or CSR initiatives
- Green initiatives (these sometimes appear in separate report called a ‘sustainability report’)
Your potential challenges
Annual reports are always large documents, so know that upfront. And this will not be a quick financial services content edit; it could potentially get complex. You’ll also be depending on how organised and efficient your contact/s are, supplying you with information, so some frustration could arise with information trickling through as your deadline looms ever closer.
It helps to be highly organised on your side and to keep track of missing content so you can request it timeously. It also pays to cultivate a friendly relationship with your contact/s as they have it in their power to make your job easier or more difficult.
Last-minute changes are the bane of every copy editor and you can be sure you’ll be the recipient of several. Keep your sense of humour, exercise your patience muscle and if the going gets tough, propose a final deadline for changes, stressing that the quality of the finished product depends on it, and that final sign-off is now due.
Now for that checklist:
|Create a content plan —long before you start editing, refer to the previous year’s annual report to cover all the standard content. Now add the new content you’ve been briefed about.|
|Create a stylesheet — as this kind of financial services content is often created by different authors, your job is to ensure that the style is consistent throughout. Constantly refer to your stylesheet while editing and proofreading.|
|Tone — ensure the tone is consistent|
|Build a narrative — an annual report is a communication tool, so it needs a narrative. Is there a theme that runs through the report? It could be the vision, the growth or direction of the company.|
|Accessibility —remember that annual reports are read by a wide audience and not financial experts. Have you unpacked complexity by using short sentences, bullet points and subheads? This will also help you to understand the content.|
|Visuals — include instructions for the designer for visuals that repackage information and summarise data, such as infographics, charts, tables and graphs. Visually presented information is easier to grasp.|
|Accuracy — ensure all financials have been signed off by the CFO before inclusion and that all other content you receive has been approved|
|Check dates — financial year-end often causes confusion with some writers focusing on the current year|
|Check that formatting and fonts are consistent|
|Check chapter and page numbers against the index|
|Check that job titles are current|
|Add up numbers at the bottom of columns in the financial section|
|Do tables, graphs and images have accurate titles/captions — do they make sense?|
|Ensure the latest company boilerplate is added to the back of the report|
|Signing off the annual report (if this falls within your tasks)— ensure departmental, legal and compliance sign-off after final reviews and changes|
So now that you have this checklist as your tool, go forth and conquer! Editing annual reports can be incredibly rewarding and there’s always demand for copy editors who are good at them. It’s an area you could specialise in, if you discover a passion for making this kind of financial services content sing. And who knows? One day you just might contribute to an award-winning annual report…
Footnote: Going beyond the traditional annual report
Internationally, private companies have been pioneering the one-page, online, annual report for several years now, with some even using social media for added exposure; companies as well-known as Airbnb and MailChimp. Public companies have been more reserved in their approach but a few are slowly participating in this trend. These amazing reports manage to reduce a year’s worth of information into memorable graphics and key takeaways. Have a look: