An area of business that has changed a lot is Investor Relations (IR). The main focus of the role is to work with the public company shareholders whether through their direct inquiries, in Security Exchange Commission (SEC) filings or the company’s Annual Report. A related, and often more important, role is to be the interface between the company and the various security analysts who follow their industry and make stock buy and sell recommendations.

Historically, this job also involved writing or assisting in writing press releases, SEC filings and, of course, the Annual Report. For this reason, people with Communication degrees would often get the job and then have to learn the financial side of the business. In some companies, the role of Public Relations and Investor Relations were either combined or at least reported to the same superior.

More recently, this job was often given to a young, up-and-coming person in the corporate finance group and carried a non-officer title like Manager or Director. Hopefully you would pick someone who could write and communicate well. The job would report to either the firm’s Treasurer or Chief Financial Officer. This is how my old firm, USG Corporation, handled it for many years. Investor Relations was also an area that a young financial man or woman could move into enabling them to gain valuable time with the senior officers-sometimes even the Chairman/CEO on regular trips to meet the financial Wizards in New York City. I would often suggest to young people that IR would be a very positive addition to a resume.

Nowadays, the job is more complicated than ever per a recent Wall Street Journal article. This is due to the volatile stock markets, shareholder activism and the SEC rules such as Regulation FD which requires fair and even disclosure to the public.

Today a fifth of large public firms employ former security analysts in this role. The theory is that they already know the company and how to explain it better than anyone. Many other public firms are now using more seasoned (that means older) financial people in the head IR role. In both these cases the title today would probably be Vice President.

But the Journal article goes even further. There is now a credential called the Investor Relation Charter that can be obtained with three years of direct experience and by passing a test which covers ten core subjects such as capital markets and regulatory compliance. This makes sense for a role which can impact a firm’s stock price. This also represents the latest swing from communication majors to financial professionals; a move which I also agree with. Investor Relations can still be a fine stepping stone in a financial career. The certification will only lend more creditability to the role.

Maybe someone can now come up with a way to test and certify Human Resource people!