Insights from narrative disclosures regarding integrated thinking in integrated reports in South Africa and Japan

Arul, Rayhan; de Villiers, Charl and Dimes, Ruth (2021). Insights from narrative disclosures regarding integrated thinking in integrated reports in South Africa and Japan. Meditari Accountancy Research, 29(4) pp. 720–739.



Purpose This study aims to provide insights into the poorly understood concept of integrated thinking by comparing and contrasting disclosures related to integrated thinking provided in integrated reports in two different institutional settings.
Design/methodology/approach The study uses content analysis of the narrative sections of integrated reports to explore similarities and differences in the way the concept of integrated thinking is portrayed. It uses a matched sample of financial services companies in two different institutional settings, South Africa (where integrated reporting (IR) is mandatory and IR practices are world-leading) and Japan (where IR is voluntary and interest in IR is still developing). IR adoption is viewed through the lens of institutional theory, focussing on isomorphic forces which affect companies’ structure, policies and practices.
Findings Even though the conceptualisation of integrated thinking differs between South Africa and Japan, in both settings there is a strong association between integrated thinking disclosures and corporate governance practices, materiality assessments and the pursuit of an industry leadership position, suggesting a link between these concepts and the underlying level of integrated thinking. Japanese disclosures appear to mimic South African disclosures, highlighting South Africa’s leading role in IR, although Japan shows more varied interpretations of integrated thinking.
Originality/value This study contributes to the growing body of literature on the poorly understood concept of integrated thinking, responding to calls from both academics and practitioners for more research in this area. It shows the potential for integrated thinking to develop through a process of mimicry and highlights South Africa’s leading role in the dissemination of best practice in the field. Its findings relating to the fluid conceptualisation of integrated thinking in different institutional settings will be of interest to regulators and practitioners. To the knowledge this is one of the first studies to consider disclosures relating to integrated thinking in the financial services sector. Focussing on the financial services sector, with its unique features and regulatory frameworks, allows for deeper analysis, free from the potential distortions inherent in studying a broader cross-section of industries. The study also highlights the importance of corporate governance to integrated thinking, suggesting future research avenues.

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