Reporting & accessibility: a dual challenge of financial communication and inclusion

The digitalization of regulatory reports has brought numerous benefits in terms of reading and using data. But to take full advantage of this, the documents need to be accessible. In this article, we share the importance of digital accessibility, from its inclusive role to the data quality. Behind this notion lies a dual stake of financial communication and inclusion.

A digitally accessible document is a report that can be read by anyone, including visually impaired or blind people or even AI and software. In France, it is estimated that nearly 1.7 million people suffer from a vision disorder in France (according to La fondation des aveugles de France). The notion of accessibility therefore implies the integrity of the data for their full consultation. Based on this observation, France imposed digital accessibility for public services from 2005, then for businesses in 2018. In Europe, the European Accessibility Act imposes accessibility to a certain number of products and services, in particular sites and applications in 2019. Finally, the ISO 24495-1 standard completed these requirements in 2023. It requires that all documents be drawn up in simple and clear language.

Since December 2021, this accessibility obligation is also part of the ESEF format. Its aim is “to improve the accessibility, ease of analysis and comparability of the consolidated financial statements which appear in the annual financial reports”. This objective is fulfilled by a digital and structured format: HTML. Thanks to this and XBRL, financial information becomes accessible because it is structured. Each element is identified using tags (title, table, image), and indexable thanks to descriptions (also in search engines). But it is important that the XHTML document has been natively created in this format. When a PDF document is converted to XHTML, the data and content structure is hazardous and guarantees neither their integrity nor their accessibility. Hence the importance of choosing your reporting solution carefully and favoring a tool that enables the creation of documents in native and semantic XHTML.

HTML and XBRL also allow you to describe the elements of a document. In the case of an image, alternative texts provide a description of it to readers. When this one is too complicated, the description is long and tedious. The message of this image may therefore not be understood. A simple image with a clear and concise message will be more inclusive, so it will be well understood by a visually impaired or blind person, or by an AI or simply if the image does not load.

Thus, a good structure also serves the purpose of the document: it allows it to gain relevance and convey the right message, with clarity. Finally, digital accessibility will become more and more central, particularly in the context of the CSRD and for ESAP‘s arrival. On the CSRD side, sustainability reports must be accessible (both in terms of automated reading and inclusion of visually impaired or blind people). A requirement consistent with the very essence of the new directive which tends towards more inclusion in its Social section.

Furthermore, ESAP is awaiting accessible documents for its launch. The European initiative aims to be the largest data lake for financial and extra-financial data. This engure project needs to be prepared today because it will require documents already correctly constituted to feed this base. When the ESAP is launched, it will require data to be already accessible. Accessibility also allows data comparability for investors and all stakeholders.