Study: Design of the annual reports of the German and Swiss companies

The Annual Report is regarded as a central instrument of capital market communication and informs stakeholders about the company's business performance. Thereby, the annual report must meet a wide range of demands, both in form and content. By analyzing the online annual reports of recent years, current trends can be derived. 

The study was conducted by the Center for Research in Financial Communication in collaboration with Neidhart + Schön, Zurich, and the Center for Corporate Reporting (CCR). It examines the developments of the online annual report as an instrument of investor relations in Germany and Switzerland. In particular, attention was paid to how content, formats and digital reporting features have evolved over the course of four years.

The key messages of the study are summarized below.

The full study can be found here (in German only)

Method and sample

The 50 largest listed companies from Germany and Switzerland were selected by market capitalization. In detail, these were 47 annual reports in the Swiss indices SMI and SMIM and 50 in the German indices DAX and MDAX. The 2017 annual reports were analyzed and compared with data from previous years.

In addition to formats, design and content, the report also highlights some best practice examples. These are subjective assessments that show recognizable features based on a comparison of reports. The results are enriched with interesting facts and figures from further studies.

Formats of the Annual Report

Figure 1 How do the annual newsline in Switzerland and Germany develop?

The PDF remains the standard for formats, online reports such as a Full HTML or hybrid versions are offered by half of the companies. Over time, the development of online annual reports is stable, but more Full HTML reports are published, while less hybrid versions were offered in 2018 (see illustration). Online annual reports increasingly offer the same level of user friendliness as do PDF reports. Full HTML reports have additional navigation aids and offer interactive functionalities.


Use of digital features

Figure 2 Which digital features are used in the online annual report?

The online reports are SEO optimized and commonly in responsive format for easy navigation. However, they still need to catch up in the area of data protection.


Presentation and weighting of content

Figure 3. What are the top five topics on the home page of online reports? Note: The topics that were addressed on the home page of online business reports (Full HTML or Hybrid) were counted. The basis of the percentages is the number of online annual reports (Germany: N = 26; Switzerland: N = 28).

On the home page of the online annual report, companies are happy to present themselves, supplemented by key figures and statements from strategy communication. The choice of home page topics does not necessarily correspond to the depth of information in the report. 

Design of the annual report

Figure 4. What design is the online annual report presented in?

With the targeted use of images, graphics and videos, the (recall) effect of a text content increases. Best practice examples show that the use of infographics, images and colors in particular contributes to an attractive annual report. German annual reports are significantly more oriented towards corporate design than the Swiss publications, which give the report its own design touch.