HE is captured sitting behind his laptop and visible on his screen are separate images of his lieutenants in rectangular form. This is Boris Johnson, the Prime Minister of Britain, chairing his first virtual cabinet meeting online and the underlying application is noticeably Zoom. Johnson had just announced, through amateur video, perhaps one he shot himself using a smartphone, that he has tested positive to coronavirus after developing mild symptoms.
The adaptation of live video chat platforms and amateur video — in stark contrast to the polished output of paparazzi that stalk celebrities — have come to symbolise innovation in the age of social distancing as the world battles the worst global crisis since the Second World War (WWII).
Such is the advancement in technology and its adaptation in times of need. In Zimbabwe, companies were seized with finding ways to communicate their earnings to stakeholders without risking the spread of the virus, considering the allowable period over which firms could report their earnings was almost lapsing. Most companies with a December half-year and year-end only had up to end of March to release and publish their earnings, in line with Zimbabwe Stock Exchange (ZSE) listing requirements.
Some were actively finding means and virtual engagements were an option, while others were lobbying for the ZSE to extend the period due to the virus outbreak. A day later, the ZSE announced it had given a waiver and extension to both annual general meetings (AGMs) and publication of financial results for all listed companies with due commitments. This is basically one aspect of communication as it pertains Zimbabwe’s corporates.
The more pertinent one would be internal communication, especially after the proclamation of a national lockdown which came into effect on March 30.
The usual way of doing it is video teleconferencing, but the cost is relatively higher with traditional ways and low budget applications such as Zoom becomes a viable alternative. All it takes is configuration of the application on a device preferably a laptop, a reliable network and of course electricity power in this side of the hemisphere. There are other platforms besides Zoom which managers can use to connect in a virtual boardroom at the comfort of their homes and make decisions of the company.
While most companies are already exploring this model as employees work from home, the suspension of communication with outside stakeholders as permitted by the ZSE is out of sync with the rest of the world. For example, the Johannesburg Stock Exchange (JSE) still publishes results for all listed companies and these can be accessed via JSE SENS.
The fact that the ZSE waiver came before the nation went into lockdown does not show proactiveness but a lack of appreciation of how technology can be exploited to drive communication. What would be the rationale, if the same stock exchange allows for shares to continue being traded on a virtual platform managed online and fail to give the same trading parties adequate information on the underlying performance of the businesses they are investing in? The same exchange allows stockbrokers to trade from their virtual locations and publishes daily prices and volumes, but has not found it useful to encourage companies to do the same with shareholders. Companies need to acquaint themselves with these modern tools of communication. The rest of the world is 15 years ahead and in US, Europe and Asia, companies use virtual platforms dubbed earnings call to release their financials through online presentation.
While a high concentration of analysts is in the capital Harare, companies need to start exploring these ways of communicating with analysts and shareholders as they are not only cost saving but more effective. A residual copy is retained on their website for future reference and utilisation by analysts, more numbers are attracted, thus creating more interest in the company’s stock. In the long run, costs for hiring hotels and food are erased, among other benefits, save to say all these analysts have already proven that they can connect from virtual stations as shown by current trading which is being conducted from home and online.
Gwenzi is a financial analyst and managing director of Equity Axis, a financial media firm offering business intelligence, economic and equity research. — firstname.lastname@example.org