Cliff's 30th birthday bash
‘Thirty years ago, the world was such a different place: test missiles weren’t commonly flying over neighboring nations, the person living in the White House was unaware of the power of Twitter, the UK was still part of the EU (at least more or less!), China was an underdeveloped country and bitcoin had yet to be invented. These things are now all part of our new reality and we have learned to adapt,’ said Cliff chair Chris Hollis, in his welcome speech at the French IR association’s annual seminar.
Cliff – or ‘liaison circle of French financial informants’ as it was poetically named when launched in 1987 – went big for its 30th birthday bash: a full-day seminar with high-profile speakers, including Legrand CEO Gilles Schnepp, Orange CEO Stéphane Richard, French regulator AMF’s chairman Robert Ophèle and former Publicis chairman Maurice Lévy, followed by cocktails and a gala dinner at Hôtel Potocki, home to the Paris Chamber of Commerce and Industry.
The day kicked off with a session on IR and corporate strategy, followed by a brief on co-ordinating IR and other communications functions, and the presentation of the French IR awards, now in their 10th year. Gilles Arditti of Atos (best IR overall), SEB’s Thierry de la Tour d’Artaise (best IR by a CEO), Khaled Draz, CFO of CS Communications & Systems (best IR for small and mid-cap), LVMH’s Jean-Jacques Guiony (best IR by a CFO), BNP Paribas’s Stéphane de Marnhac (best ESG communications) and Sopra Steria’s Olivier Psaume (best investor presentation) were all applauded as they were awarded a prestigious Trophée des meilleures relations investisseurs.
With most having Googled administrateur référent (lead director), a term that had come up several times during the morning sessions, attendees then migrated to the fabulous buffet for a lunch break and some networking. Your IR Magazine representative just had time to gulp down a giant, glittering, Cliff-branded, chocolate éclair – we were in Paris, right? – and it was already time to get back into the conference room for the afternoon sessions.
The panel discussion on IR and digital transformation, moderated by Bic’s IR and external relations director Sophie Palliez-Capian and featuring Richard, consultant Jean-Yves Léger and Pierre-Antoine Machelon, CIO of Eiffel Investment Group, was lively and very popular. Léger reminded that the progressive introduction into financial communications of digital tools such as webcasts, proxy voting by internet, the IR website or IR tweeting had brought ‘porosity, velocity, equality, comprehensiveness but also risks’ to the IR sphere.
‘Social media has so much stronger an impact than the traditional press, and IR shouldn’t limit itself to the latter,’ Richard said, explaining that Orange monitors activity 24/7 via its social room.
Richard tweets actively from his personal handle – which has nearly 55,000 followers – often to the dismay of his highly cautious legal and communications teams, and is surprised to see the buy side generally adopt a more secretive policy. ‘I would like to see more investors tweeting – they are very receptive to social media but we get little output from them,’ he said.
Institutional investors are keen to understand a company’s world view through its social media postings, which may – or may not – validate an investment strategy, the speakers pondered.
Is digital transformation heading to the board? The main initiative to date has been the introduction of board portals that allow directors access to information, and artificial intelligence (AI) might help streamline the audit committee’s workload, for instance, but a board’s purpose remains centered on human interaction.
AI is not set to replace IROs, either. But by taking on basic or repetitive tasks, it can allow IR teams to focus on more complex and value-add activities. In the light of an information overload, the main challenge for companies will be its analysis for the benefit of relevant targets, the panel concluded. ‘Digital transformation doesn’t mean dehumanization of communications’ was the motto.
Afternoon sessions included a keynote speech by Ophèle, who was asked how the IR community could get a better understanding of buy-side requirements after the implementation of Mifid II. ‘You’ll have to invite the European Securities and Markets Authority’s chair to be the keynote speaker next year,’ he quipped.
This was followed by a discussion on the professionalization of the IR function and a choice of workshops on the production of financial information and ESG communications. It was then time for the 250 attendees, who were given a special anniversary book produced by Labrador to take home, to unwind with some drinks and a gala evening introduced by Lévy.
‘A memorable celebration with high-quality speakers and plenty of opportunity to network mixed with some fun entertainment,’ Hollis told IR Magazine. ‘Cliff is working well today and has a great future! ‘