CEO letters of securities brokerage firms in times of financial market distress
This paper reports on a study of CEO letters accompanying the annual reports of securities brokerage firms for fiscal years 2007-2009, a period characterized not only by the recession but also by the financial crisis. The study is part of a wider research project investigating different kinds of CEO communication, with one of the aims being to produce teaching applications especially targeted to the areas of finance and communication. The study investigates (1) whether and how recession-related issues and excesses in the financial services industry are addressed in the CEO letters examined; (2) which features of the letters contribute to the way the company and its performance are portrayed as relatively affected or unaffected by recession-related issues, processes and events; (3) the way is risk portrayed; and (4) the kind of knowledge about the recession is the reader expected to share. Selected features examined include (a) implicitly and explicitly positive and negative evaluative language; (b) personal pronouns (we, you and I) and references to the firm, the industry, other organizations and individuals. The activities developed and the questions examined by the paper are of interest for students preparing for careers in the financial services industry. The reader of these letters is at times assumed to share knowledge of industry events that are not explicitly described. Moreover, the way implicitly positive and negative language is used highlights why it is important for students to be aware of taking a critical approach to corporate communications concerning financial performance, the industry and the firm’s behavior. Finally, focusing on the letters represents an opportunity to examine leadership communication.
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