Reputation #1 in CFOs' book

imageCFOs are not solely numbers-crazed, according to a survey by American Institute of CPAs (AICPA) and Chartered Institute of Management Accountants (CIMA).  The survey among 1,300 CFOs and other finance executives in 61 countries found that corporate reputation topped the list of areas they are seeing their organizations place greater focus on. In fact, 76% put corporate reputation first. The reasons for this laser like focus on reputation, according to these financial experts, are greater demands for transparency by the marketplace, watching other companies experience reputational failure and the rise of social media.  A fairly large 65% of these financially-minded executives also report that the financial implications of reputational risk are seriously considered by their organizations. Far fewer (20%) say that they use social media feedback enough to anticipate and monitor reputational risk. Since there are so many daily examples of companies losing reputational equity, it seems that CFOs are not monitoring enough so that they can be prepared and nimble should it happen to them. To be a CFO today, an understanding of how reputation impacts the bottom line is an imperative. The loss of reputation can surely impact financial performance, customer loyalty and recruiting. The results from this study make it very clear that CFOs are becoming increasinly cognizant of the perils of reputation loss on their company's ability to compete and grow. They just need to speed up their social media oversight.

Reputational Risk Still High for Boards

Boards continue to see reputation risk as their top concern.  In the third annual study by EisnerAmperLLP among board members, two thirds (66%) see reputational risk at the top of their agendas for concern, ahead of regulatory issues (59%).  In fact, reputational risk has grown while regulatory risk has remained stable year over year. Both IT risk and privacy risk showed increases from the last survey and reflect the many breeches in systems security that we’ve seen which inevitably led to attacks upon a company’s reputation. Similarly, according to the report, crisis management, is also an indicator of reputational concern. What do board members really mean when they say they worry about reputational risk? In an open ended question, board members are most likely to be talking about product quality, liability and customer satisfaction (30% of all responses) followed by concerns about integrity, fraud, ethics and specifically the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act, (24%). IT concerns fell in at about 12% and environmental concerns at 8%. It always surprises me how little attention is paid to environmental issues at the top.

 How are risks assessed? About two in 10 get reports from executive management, discuss risk issues at board meetings and get help from professionals or outside experts. About one in 10 get information from the risk committee.  That seems like an area ripe for assistance.  The report interestingly mentions that recent years have not been kind to risk teams and that with all the recent issues and crises stealing headlines, boards are realizing that CFOs need greater support. In fact, the survey found that nearly two-thirds of boards are planning to enhance staff and increase audit coverage and about one in three are leaning towards hiring outside service providers.

Reversal of Fortune

An interesting study appeared this week from Willis Group Holdings on reputation risk. They examined 600 publicly-held companies.  Here are some of the more interesting details:

  • 95% (a lot) of major companies have suffered at least one reputational crisis in the past 20 years
  • Major companies suffer a "significant" reversal of fortune every seven years
  • One out of two (50%) of these reputational failures were tied to having the wrong business strategy or model; 15% from lawsuits; 10% from merger and acquisition issues. Interestingly, the CEO of Willis Global Solutions Consulting Group said that none of the crises were related to natural disasters until 2011. That is hard to believe since there have been plenty of natural catastrophes over the past 20 years that should have impacted companies such as floods, hurricanes, droughts, food shortages, cyclones, earthquakes, SARS, etc.

Also wanted to mention a recent analysis that came from the 2012 Harris Interactive Reputation Quotient (RQ) and was reported in PRWeek. Harris Interactive reported that advertising has less of an impact on company reputation than social media or new stories. Research continues to show that word of mouth from news stories with negative information about companies drives perceptions more than we realize. We learned that in our Company Behind the Brand: In Reputation We Trust. Consumers are talking about more about company wrong doing than right doing and advertising may not be as able as it used to be in rehabilitating brand reputations.

Enjoy the Oscars if you are watching tomorrow!



Managing risk and reputation

Beautiful morning here in New York. I even hear the birds chirping, almost like Spring. However, for me, it is a sit-down day. I am working on an article which I will tell you more about later but I am looking at many hours in front of my laptop as I draft away. I already started my list of what I want to do when it gets done in a few short weeks. When I wrote my books and other articles, I started a similar list that contains all the things I want to do on an ordinary Saturday or Sunday like see a movie, go out for dinner or lazily walk in the park.  Anyhow, back to my blog post. I have my own reputation and risk to manage with this article looming before me. I kept an advertising insert from a few weeks ago because it had a few good stats on reputation. It was on Risk Management, a favorite of mine because reputation often comes up.  It was written by Joe Mullich. I am unable to find the link, apologies. A few interesting facts:

  1. Accenture found that 44 percent of companies do not gauge reputational risk
  2. The Federational of European Risk Management Associations (FERMA) along with the Institute of Risk Management (IRM) found that reputation risk from social media is cited as a "material risk" by nearly 50 percent of European companies, making it one of the greatest threats that companies face.
  3. Corporate responsibility or CSR is having a large impact on consumers' buying habits.
  4. Reputation is seriously affected by missteps. Mullich's section cites a 2010 study of the world's largest 1000 companies and found that 80 percent of those firms have a major "reputational" event every five years that causes them to lose one fifth of their value.

I particularly liked #3 above because we found a similar trend in our recent study on the importance of the corporate brand behind the product brand. And this quote intrigued me...."The higher the cost of the purchase and the more that translates into a long term relationship, the important reputation becomes." I think that is exactly right. When consumers are buying big ticket items or even medium sized ticket ones, the relationship is deeper and the consumer wants to get it right. They want to invest their dollars with a nod to doing right and supporting companies that treat employees right. The big shift however is that consumers feel this way about the company behind the brand for smaller, everyday purchases.

The article also mentions how insurance companies are introducing reputational risk or crisis management insurance policies (something we know about) and interestingly, that there is a new data terminal that incorporates a reputational risk indicator "which allows investors to identify the severity of criticism and negative press coverage directed toward individual companies and market sectors." That's new to me and quite interesting. Perhaps it is one of those predictive systems that advise companies on emerging threats that we have seen as more clients are being proactive vs. reactive.