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Sep 22, 2020 2020-09 Accountancy Faculty Research in Education

How information disclosure affects decision making

Passive investments like stock market index funds are becoming increasingly popular with today’s busy investors. But with so much money flowing into these unique funds, there’s been an unexpected result. Increasingly, a small number of investment firms are gaining a large stake in a number of competing companies. In the financial sector alone, the Big Three investment powerhouses — Vanguard, BlackRock and State Street — own 18% of Bank of America, 19% of JPMorgan Chase and 20% of Citigroup. With so many industries experiencing this dramatic change in ownership, Gies College of Business professor Jalal Sani wanted to know one thing — how does common ownership impact the release of financial information that companies normally keep close to their vests?

“I’m generally interested in understanding the economics of these disclosures,” said Sani, who co-authored a study looking into this rising corporate trend. Their research focused on situations where investors simultaneously held a stake larger than 5% in at least two firms in the same industry.

To make their analysis, they looked at a number of voluntary disclosures that aren’t required by law. In this case, they found that common ownership significantly increased two of these disclosures — management earnings and capital expenditure forecasts. They also found that the relationship between common ownership and disclosure was greater in industries where the proportion of commonly owned companies was higher. While the full effects of this growing corporate trend may not be known for some time, their findings suggest that common ownership could offer benefits for investors, including greater transparency of the financial health and practices of major companies.

If more information is helpful in investing, it’s essential in management, where CEOs are often tasked with managing large teams and substantial operations. In a separate study, Sani found a link between richer information environments and the delegation of decision-making within companies. One reason, said Sani, is that richer information helps CEOs better evaluate and motivate the lower-level managers to whom decisions are delegated. Sani, who will be teaching decision making for accountancy at Gies, says that’s relevant to the class he’ll be leading.

The course covers the design of management accounting systems that are essential to business operations. “The idea is that these systems should provide managers with information that helps them in planning, controlling operations, making key decisions, and evaluating employees.” In this case, it’s not about the quantity of information that CEOs receive, explains Sani; it’s about providing them with the right information they need to make informed operational and strategic decisions.

Sani says he was drawn to Gies by the supportive and collaborative faculty he met at the school, and he’s excited both to work with, and learn from, his colleagues as he continues his research. He’s also looking forward to his time in front of the classroom, as he helps shape the next generation of business leaders. “As a student I learned from excellent professors and mentors who advised me, encouraged me, and supported me,” said Sani, who earned his PhD in business administration at Penn State’s Smeal College of Business. “I saw the value of having an inspiring professor, so I hope to be one.”