Raising the bar

Raising the bar

Mon 15 Jun 2015

One of the key takeaways of integrated reporting is that non-financial information ultimately has an impact on a company’s value. It’s for this reason that insurance giant Generali – an international Group based in Italy – prefers to use the term pre-financial rather than non-financial information.

For Massimo Romano, who leads Generali’s Group Integrated Reporting team, it’s just one example of how Generali reinforces the link between the company’s financial performance and its wider social, environmental and economic context.

As an early adopter of integrated reporting, it’s the type of common sense thinking that underpins Generali’s approach and one that plays to its strengths extremely well. For Romano this is about applying the rigour and discipline of financial reporting the company is good at, but in an innovative way.

“When looking to introduce integrated reporting companies can get caught up into thinking they have to change their whole approach. As a result they end up doing nothing. For us it’s not a question of reinventing the wheel, it’s all about perspective. We have to report on our activities, so let’s do it in a better way,” he explains.

Collaboration is key to achieving this aim. Romano is an advocate of involving the CFO, for example, to bring financial discipline and clarity to integrated reporting outputs to ensure a common approach is applied. While collaborating closely with the sustainability and communication teams helps promote a higher level of consistency and accuracy in the information being reported.

“We have to bear in mind that we are reporting on sensitive information, so there is an operational risk if that information is not consistent. By encouraging teams to work together we ensure that processes and procedures are connected and the information coming out of different departments is much better aligned,” says Romano.

In turn, this led Generali to think more carefully about the usability of reports. The amount of information was a key issue and, for example, the interim report 2014 was slimmed down to 15 pages from the 110 pages that are in a typical disclosure document. Crucially, the report still maintained the same quantitative information required by law, yet greatly improving the usability of information to stakeholders.

The success of this approach inspired Generali to think more carefully about how it can develop this thinking to communicate and produce reports that people actually want to read because they help enrich and add value to the Generali story. An example of this in action was the inclusion in Generali’s latest Annual Report published on 12th March 2015 of information on how its Serbian business unit came to the aid of the local community following the devastating floods in 2014. As a tangible example of best practice, it’s the type of pre-information Romano believes can help shine a light on the company’s ethos and values. Moreover this inclusion can be seen also as a practical example of the company’s people engagement: as a matter of fact the people of Generali Serbia were honoured to see their experience published in the Group’s Annual Report.

Rediscovering the strategic purpose of reporting, its responsibilities and how it communicates those responsibilities both internally and externally, has helped breach workplace barriers and unlock more innovative and inclusive thinking – which becomes truly integrated thinking – on how to communicate Generali’s story.

“The process has helped us all to understand what we are doing by breaking down mental silos and look at our reporting obligations in a fresh and more inventive way. A way that actually adds real value,” explains Romano.

One initiative that is helping the process is Generali’s involvement in the Insurance Network. Along with Aegon and facilitated by Mazars, the network is a forum for insurance companies and their integrated reports’ implementation. Romano is a keen supporter of the network which he sees as a real community where companies can learn from each other’s experiences. It’s a natural extension of Generali’s commitment to raising the bar further by being open to new ideas that will help integrated reporting evolve.

“We have a mission and we have a plan. I think new ideas will emerge naturally through our bottom up approach of listening, understanding and then implementing,” he explains.

For Romano, the ultimate aim is to improve the professional and personal lives of Generali employees.

Massimo Romano. Head of Integrated Reporting. Generali Group.