Annual Reports 2023: Trends, Tips and Success Factors

Article by Julia Mikalsen

The 2023 annual reports have been steadily released this spring, revealing exciting trends in content, design and structure. The annual report is one of the most important strategic communication tools for a company. It helps strengthen capital market confidence in the company and its share by reaching out to a broad group of stakeholders, such as investors, analysts, customers and employees. A well-crafted annual report conveys the company's story and performance in a clear and engaging way.

One of the most prominent trends in recent years is the landscape annual report, which now seems to be here to stay. However, there are still a relatively large number of companies, especially among large-cap companies, that still choose to maintain a more traditional standing report, including AB Volvo, Handelsbanken and Boliden. All three are, as usual, of a very high standard.

Among the landscape reports, both A4 and 16:9 remain popular formats due to their suitability for reading on screen. Many of those who have produced the annual report in landscape A4 are expanding the digital version with a menu on the page and the format thus becomes 16:9. Most of those who have chosen this route have utilised the page space clickable table of contents. This allows for easier navigation, with some companies excelling by also having a menu that adapts to where the reader is in the report, both Munters and SEB are good examples of this. A further reflection on having the menu on the page is that it can be placed on the right side instead of being in the left column, which SAAB is one of the few companies that have adopted. Readers generally start reading from the top left, so there is a risk that the menu will take focus away from the content if it is placed on the left.

An important feature of well thought-out reports is the chapterisation, which helps the reader to find the right information. This is particularly important if the front cover is extensive, and some companies have chosen to include cover pages for specific sections with a more detailed table of contents. Loomis, for example, does this in an exemplary way.

Chapter organisation varies somewhat depending on the size of the company and the sector in which it operates. It is therefore difficult to identify a clear trend in the particular layout of sections, but in general there is almost always some form of introduction, followed by one or two sections on strategy and operations. There is still considerable variation in where companies choose to place their sustainability report. Assa Abloy, for example, publishes its sustainability report separately, rather than as part of the larger document that is the annual report. However, a consistent finding is that many companies still finish with the statutory parts: corporate governance, the directors' report and the financial statements. When it comes to structure and layout, we believe that Electrolux and Fabege have both done well, despite choosing a different approach compared to, for example,



The words of the CEO are the most common element - no company omits this part of its annual report. Generally, the length is around three pages with some variation. In our experience, the CEO's statement is also one of the most read sections as it often contains new information in the form of thoughts on the financial statements. A trend that has emerged during the year is the interview format, where the CEO's answers are written using questions and statements, which helps to make it appear more lively and trustworthy. SEB and Boliden are two examples of companies that have adopted this format.

Most CEOs have subheadings for each new topic, and some use key figures and sometimes graphs. From a design point of view, a recurring theme is the use of a quote as a sidebar, to provide a second entry point into the often lengthy text. The content largely focuses on opportunities and challenges, as well as the current situation and the company's vision for the future. It has also become more common to use CFO words that allow for a more in-depth discussion of the financial targets and the company's financial position, of which Balco Group is a fine example;

Another recurrent element of the introduction is an annual summary presented under different headings, such as "Company in brief 2023", "Results in brief 2023" or "Key events 2023". In some cases, this information is integrated into the CEO's statement, so a separate summary is not always used. What this type of page has in common is that it provides a concentrated overview of the company's financial targets, significant events and quarterly specific results, often complemented by tables and graphs to visualise key performance indicators. This overview is crucial to quickly inform stakeholders about the company's performance and strategic progress throughout the year. Our favourites for this particular section are Storytel, Avanza and Arjo. Telia does a different version as they have both an overview of the company's sustainability work as well as a financial and operational overview.

Unlike the CEO word, only some companies present a specific investment case. Those that do have one often choose to place it at the start or in the context of the strategy. The case is usually broken down into points in some way, for example, Axfood "5 reasons to invest" while Alleima has a good write-up where they show both value chain and market position. Inwido stands out among the annual reports by simply placing its investment case on the front page along with the first spread where each point is then addressed in more depth further on in the front cover. Even Epiroc stands out with its six-point investment case at the back of the annual report, but the observant may also notice that the layout in the front cover is actually based on the company's investment case and deals with each individual point separately. Many companies choose a bullet point approach but it varies whether the points are qualitative or quantitative, sometimes even a mix of both where graphs and tables help to strengthen the arguments.



The strategy sections of annual reports generally tend to be similar, with most reports offering a general overview of the company's activities and the strategic pillars that will help achieve the company's long-term goals. One observation is that relatively few companies include detailed roadmaps, which is surprising given their potential value in illustrating future plans and milestones. SEB is almost unique in having a roadmap, while most others rely on running descriptions of strategy.

When it comes to presenting strategic focus areas, approaches vary across companies. Fewer companies than expected offer a condensed overview of their focus areas. For example, Arjo chooses to provide a summarised overview, while Axfood and Volvo present detailed descriptions for each individual area. This variation in presentation techniques reflects different strategic priorities and communication styles within the companies, which may affect how clearly and effectively their strategic messages are conveyed to stakeholders.

Illustrations in the strategy sections are surprisingly few and vary in quality. However, many companies choose to illustrate their business model. One company that is very consistent in either illustrating or quantifying (using charts and graphs) its strategy is Atlas Copco.


Description of activities

In 2023, a clear trend is also to give each segment or business area its own section in the front carriage. In some cases, each subsidiary represents a segment. In general, key figures, such as net sales and operating margin, are often shown for each segment for both the current and previous year;

The business section also often includes product descriptions, which vary in scope and quality. The 2023 edition of annual reports shows that some companies use storytelling to describe their products, while others keep the descriptions short and factual. Alternatively, in the absence of detailed product sections, they have used case studies integrated into the report to show the application of the products, as Holmen did. The product descriptions themselves vary greatly depending on what the company sells. Cloetta does a fantastic job of showcasing its candy in the annual report, and has also highlighted the products well by using examples of products when talking about its commitment to vegan alternatives.




This year's sustainability reports have been characterised by preparations for CSRD. Many companies claim to have completed or begun a double materiality analysis, but this has not yet been reflected in their reporting. However, an increasing number of companies have chosen to report on sustainability in the context of the management report, with less focus on storytelling and more on reporting in line with future requirements. Major changes are expected in the run-up to 2024, when the CSRD will come into force for many of the larger companies.

Furthermore, there are several ways to present sustainability information. It is usually a combination of storytelling in the front cover, a statutory part in the management report, and detailed disclosures linked to GRI, the EU taxonomy and any notes in a separate section or as a conclusion to the sustainability report.

Atrium Ljungberg is an example where they have chosen to use sustainability notes, while most choose to report the information in connection with the description of the sustainability strategy, which usually appears in the management report or as an introduction to the sustainability report. A good idea is a single overview of the company's sustainability work in the front section, in this part it will still be possible to be more narrative unlike future reports prepared in accordance with CSRD and ESRS. It is also worth adding that a good illustration of the value chain seems to be a trend and will hopefully be an interesting element in future ESRS reports. Både Ørsted and Trelleborg are examples of companies that are already doing this very well.

Few companies currently report their dual materiality analysis (DMA), but many, including Avanza, present their methodology and an overview of stakeholders consulted. Ericsson is one of the few companies that have already chosen to present their DMA in the sustainability report this year. Regarding Scope 3, there is plenty of room for improvement. For example, the companies that have reported do not clarify how the calculations were carried out; in other cases, the reporting is simply not comprehensive and is only mentioned.

A caveat for the implementation of CSRD is the fact that if the annual report is to be printed, the choice of paper should be carefully considered as the number of pages will increase by an estimated 30-70 due to ESRS reporting. There is a risk that the annual report in printed format will be too thick to browse.


Rear carriage

What is commonly referred to as the back office contains the financial statements and notes. There are some limitations to how creative this section can be as it is largely statutory and companies on Nasdaq's main list need to comply with IFRS. Among the companies that stand out are Atrium Ljungberg has a good table of contents and symbols for each note, plus an indicator in the menu to show where you are. Bilia marks with a red arrow when it's a principle, which catches the eye very nicely. Axfood gets a plus for clear subheadings and comments as a lead-in to some tables. In general, many companies could work more on their back end, for example by simplifying navigation;


Ten good examples

For those who want to do their own research on structure, design and content, we have selected ten annual reports that we think either do all parts well, or a single part particularly well. It is worth mentioning that the vast majority of the really big companies on the stock exchange are generally always of a high standard. At the same time, there are also many good, and above all well-designed, reports in the mid- and small-cap segments, but here the variation is greater;


We would also like to give an honourable mention to Pandox, who have not only produced a rich and well-designed annual report, but also managed to catch us off guard with their Pandogs. An innovative way to create interest and a good feeling for the company.

At AVA, we understand the importance of a well-crafted annual report. We offer expertise in design, content creation and strategic communications to help your business create an annual report that not only meets all legal requirements, but also engages and inspires. Contact us today to find out more about how we can help your business stand out with an annual report that really makes a difference;

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