For all of its spirited writing about enticing local discounts and deals, Groupon appears to have a problem communicating more personal matters to its investors. The online purveyor of coupons may soon be a candidate for a "Disclosure Gone Bad" case study.
Not to pile on Groupon, whose stock has lost about a quarter of its value since its IPO in late 2011: several business outlets, including The Wall Street Journal, are pointing to the company's
"To win over the skeptics, or at least convince them that the business model is sound, it would make sense for Groupon to provide more information," writes the Journal's Rolfe Winkler. "Instead, it is providing less."
Groupon has stopped disclosing a breakdown of its deals by category and the size of its email list, for example. Winkler suggests that the company's decision to report its number of active customers is unhelpful, in large part because the company defines "active" as any customer who has bought a Groupon in the past year.
Among several other pieces of guidance, Groupon's Code of Conduct exhorts employees to "maintain financial integrity."
The code indicates that financial integrity should be maintained this way: "Ensuring accurate and complete business and financial records is everyone's responsibility, not just a role for Finance and Accounting personnel. Accurate record-keeping and reporting reflects on the Company's reputation and credibility, and it ensures that the Company meets its legal and regulatory obligations."
Like other companies (as well as risk management functions and finance and accounting departments), Groupon faces a new set of expectations from stakeholders who have grown accustomed to peering deeply into increasingly transparent organizations and accessing the information they want to make decisions about the company. Just as more shareholders are questioning more companies about the nature of the financial and operational information they convey, so too are boards questioning finance officers about the risk information they share.
Companies and finance functions that don't meet this growing demand for accurate and complete information will be increasingly discounted by important stakeholders.