Many businesses have long used the services of a conference call company to spread their message to the investment community, where investment professionals could hear many firms in several days.
To accommodate those who couldn’t travel, the conference call allowed hundreds of analysts to hear a presentation and ask questions in real time. But access was usually restricted and often involved long-distance toll charges. Occasionally a friendly broker would loan you his access codes, some of which found their way to the Internet. As a result, conferences could be swamped.
The Internet now provides a much more practical venue for the conference call. With its low cost and ability to accommodate many listeners it is now practical to open a conference call to almost anyone (at least to listen). And an increasing number of firms now do.
For example, a recent article in the Wall Street Journal related how companies do this as an efficient way to control the irresponsible babble on the Internet. People posting idle chatter now attract accurate responses from others who have heard the actual story on a conference call. As a result, the irresponsible postings are controlled.
Companies like the ability to make one public statement, and then be free from government limitations on how investment information must be released. And individual investors like it too, as access to this information gets them access to information that once only slowly reached the average investor.
Using the Internet has many advantages besides the instantaneous international release that results. It is possible to save the audio files so that the conference call can be accessed later at a more convenient time. Plus it’s possible to edit out meaningless portions of each conference. Naturally, there are some limitations.
If everyone could ask a question, real brawls could result as the conferences became uncontrolled. So most Internet systems limit who can ask a question. An outstanding advantage for the average investor is to witness directly a firm’s management in action. While the information might be the same, an investor gains confidence in management that presents a virtuoso performance over one that is defensive, hesitant, and obfuscative. The details aside, the speed of response and other items that don’t get incorporated in an analyst’s report can add a lot to one’s understanding.
Previously, a small investor’s only such access might have been at a company’s annual meeting. Several firms have opened to provide investment-related conference-call services in one form or another over the Internet. Some require membership and user fees, but the trend seems to be toward company funding of the low cost service, and free or very low cost access by the public.
Expect that more and more firms will use the services of a conference call company to disseminate their information to a wider section of the population including investors and employees. You should encourage firms that you are interested in to do so. This form of communication is yet another form of ultimate corporate democracy.