Managers’ incentives and disincentives to engage with integrated reporting or why managers might not adopt integrated reporting: an exploratory study in a nascent setting

Research output: Journal contributionsJournal articlesResearchpeer-review


Purpose: Despite its envisaged benefits, integrated reporting (IR) has yet to achieve its “breakthrough”, especially among small- and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs). This study aims to discern SME leaders’ attitudes toward IR, and thereby to reveal managerial perceptions of both the potential benefits and the challenges that actually prevent them from embarking on IR. Design/methodology/approach: This explorative study is grounded on semi-structured interviews with 16 managers of large German SMEs, which yet do not apply IR but are potential candidates to implement it in the future. The engagement with non-preparers is expected to paint a more representative picture of actual reasons for IR (dis-)engagement compared to prior studies that address the few firms that have adopted IR and overcome its challenges. Applying Brown and Fraser’s (2006) conceptual landscape, results are presented analogous to a business case-, stakeholder accountability- and critical theory dimension. Findings: Contrary to prior studies, which identified stakeholder accountability endeavors as kindling SME managers’ interest in voluntary reporting initiatives, managers regard IR primarily as a business case, serving to achieve legitimacy, improve corporate image, reach out to professional investors and assist in employee recruitment. However, they refrained from actually adopting the novel reporting medium, which suggests that decision-makers might not believe the business case to be as unproblematic as claimed by the proponents of IR. This was traced back to three major impediments that currently inhibit SMEs from reporting in an integrated way, namely, a perceived lack of interest by the relevant publics, infeasibility of the IR concept to meet user needs and preparation costs. These drawbacks resemble those of earlier voluntary reporting experiments, calling into question the “revolutionary” character of IR. The study critically concludes that the future development of IR depends on addressing these barriers. Originality/value: To the best of the author’s knowledge, this is the first explorative study to deliberately engage with IR non-preparers to draw conclusions on impediments to IR. The identification of relevant incentives and disincentives for IR among SME managers at first hand not only adds to the small extant IR research body and provides valuable insights for research, practice and standard setting but also contributes to the contemporary debate about dominant legitimacy-based explanations in the broader domain of social and environmental accounting and reporting.

Original languageEnglish
JournalQualitative Research in Accounting and Management
Issue number4
Pages (from-to)553-587
Number of pages35
Publication statusPublished - 15.10.2020

    Research areas

  • Integrated reporting, Legitimacy, Managers, Motives and challenges, Small- and medium-sized enterprises, Social and environmental accounting and reporting (SEAR)
  • Management studies