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Annual Reports: The Key Info Companies Provide in Theirs

By Michael Flannelly · December 20, 2022 · 5 minute read

We’re here to help! First and foremost, SoFi Learn strives to be a beneficial resource to you as you navigate your financial journey. Read more We develop content that covers a variety of financial topics. Sometimes, that content may include information about products, features, or services that SoFi does not provide. We aim to break down complicated concepts, loop you in on the latest trends, and keep you up-to-date on the stuff you can use to help get your money right. Read less

Annual Reports: The Key Info Companies Provide in Theirs

An annual report is a document that provides insight into a company’s operations and financial performance over the previous year. While annual reports are primarily associated with large, publicly traded companies, small businesses and non-profit organizations may also release yearly reports.

Companies issue annual reports to provide shareholders, potential investors, employees, and other interested parties with a comprehensive overview of the company’s financial position. Companies also use annual reports to inform investors about the company’s performance and prospects for the future. Annual reports can be an essential tool for investors to make informed decisions about their investments.

What Is an Annual Report?

As noted above, an annual report is a document that publicly traded companies are usually required to issue each year to share information about their financial performance and activities with their shareholders. These reports typically include quantitative and qualitative details about the company’s revenue, expenses, profits, losses, and plans for the future.

Companies send annual reports to their shareholders before they hold annual meetings, often to assist in the shareholder voting process. Additionally, reporting companies will post their annual reports on their websites.

A company’s annual report is typically prepared by the company’s management team, with input from other members of the organization, such as the finance department and the board of directors.

The individuals and teams preparing the annual report can vary depending on the company and the information it wishes to include. It is typically a collaborative effort involving many different people within the organization. In some cases, a company may also enlist the help of external parties, such as auditors or consultants, to assist with preparing the annual report.

Often a company’s creative and communications teams will be involved in preparing the report, as they contribute to the narrative text, graphics, and photos that may be in an annual report. By making it visually appealing, companies can make it easier for readers to digest the information.

A publicly traded company’s annual report is related to, but different from, the Form 10-K annual report that they must file with the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC). The Form 10-K annual report may contain more detailed information about the company’s earnings and financial condition than the annual report. Companies may send Form 10-K to their shareholders instead of – or in addition to – providing them with a separate annual report.

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What Information Is Contained In an Annual Report?

The main components of an annual report typically include an overview of the company’s operations and financial performance, financial statements, and information about the company’s management and board of directors.

The specific components of an annual report can vary depending on the company and the information it wishes to share with its shareholders. In addition to the main features outlined below, the contents of an annual report may also include other information, such as details about the company’s corporate governance practices, its environmental and social impact, and any additional information that the company feels is important for shareholders to know.

Letter from the CEO

Annual reports usually start with a letter from the chief executive officer (CEO) or chairman of the board that provides an overview of the company’s performance and highlights any significant events or developments that have occurred over the past year.

Performance Overview

Companies often provide a review of the company’s operations, including information about its products or services, market position, and any important milestones or achievements that have occurred over the past year, in an annual report.

Financial Statements

Financial statements, such as the balance sheet, income statement, and statement of cash flows, providing detailed information about the company’s financial performance and position, are a critical part of an annual report.

Corporate Leadership Overview

Annual reports include information about the company’s management and board of directors, including biographies and details about their backgrounds and experience. The reports may also have detailed information about executive compensation.

Future Outlook

A discussion of any risks or uncertainties that the company faces and how it plans to address them in the future is often included in the annual report. This can be helpful for shareholders and potential investors to gain an understanding of the company’s possible performance in the future.

Example of an Annual Report

Annual reports can vary depending on the company, its industry, and whether it is a publicly traded or privately held firm.

For example, an annual report for a company in the retail industry might include information about the company’s same-store sales over the past year. Additionally, the report may provide details about the products it sells, a breakdown of its inventory, an overview of its financial position, and information about the company’s management team and any potential risks or challenges it faces in the coming year.

To find out more about a specific company’s annual reports, you can usually find them under the investor relations portion of the company’s website or through the SEC’s EDGAR database .

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Who Can Benefit From Reading an Annual Report?

Several groups of people may benefit from reading an annual report. For example, the company’s shareholders are usually interested in an annual report to use the information to understand the company’s financial performance and make more informed decisions about their investments.

Other groups who may find annual reports useful include potential investors, who can use the information in the annual report to assess the company’s financial health and determine if it is a good investment opportunity. In addition, analysts, customers, journalists, and other stakeholders may find annual reports to be a valuable source of information about a company and its operations.

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The Takeaway

An annual report is a crucial document that provides a comprehensive overview of a company’s performance and financial position. These documents can be a critical resource for investors to make informed investment decisions. It is important to understand the information contained in the report and to analyze the information critically. By doing so, investors can make informed decisions about their investments as they build a wealth-building portfolio.

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Photo credit: iStock/Charday Penn

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