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SGX site is now counter-intuitive

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USUALLY, an upgrade or revamp is good news because it makes everybody's lives easier. We get upgraded smartphones with bigger screens and faster processing power, for example, so we waste less time accessing applications, squint less at words and images, and are better distracted by smoothly streaming Korean dramas on the train ride to the office.

This ideal of the pursuit of the better life seems to have fallen flat after the Singapore Exchange's (SGX) latest revamp of the all-important "company announcements" section of its website, which went live over the weekend. The page, which retail investors use to get their corporate news and updates, is somehow less accessible and harder to understand after the change.

The most baffling, unannounced change concerns real estate investment trusts (Reits) and business trusts. Previously, someone who wanted to search for the announcements made by, say, Cache Logistics Trust, could go directly to the "company disclosure" section and search immediately for the name of the company. Now, one can only access the information after identifying and searching for the name of the company managing the Reit or trust, which can sometimes be very different.

For example, investors know of Cache Logistics Trust as Cache, not ARA-CWT Trust Management (Cache) Limited. They know of K-Green Trust as K-Green, not Keppel Infrastructure Fund Management. Those who go to the "all-in-one" section of the disclosure page can still find the Reit's or trust's latest announcements by searching its traded name. But try to "read more" announcements, and the link is dead. If Singapore is to establish itself as a hub for business trust and Reit listings, a simple issue like accessibility of announcements should be improved.

Moreover, the new layout is a design disaster.

The main focus of the page no longer seems to be on the company announcements themselves, but on two large columns devoted to company names and security names. The titles of the actual announcements themselves - which can be significant corporate events like contract wins, debt listings, mergers and acquisitions and financial results - are squished into one tiny column on the right.

This makes it harder for someone scanning the latest corporate updates to get a sense of what is going on with the Singapore market. The columns containing company names and security names are too wide. Security names are often the same as company names, and can be tucked in a more inconspicuous location. The company announcements column, the purpose of the page, should take centre stage in the display.

Counter-intuitively, one now has to click on the company name to access the announcement, instead of the announcement itself as was the case before.

The weekend change also added a lot more announcement categories. People can now choose from four main categories and over 70 sub-categories. SGX said this was meant to help investors locate announcements faster. While this gives an added layer of specificity in a search, it remains to be seen if announcements can be categorised to such a minute level of detail, or if companies are accurate with their categorisations.

One good change made to searches for announcement periods is that instead of the confusing "last 13-24 months" and "last 3rd year" that people can search for past announcements, they can now search directly for "year 2013", "year 2012" and so on.

But, there is still one big problem for investors who want to research a company's history: there is no option to search for company announcements in earlier years. A comparison can be made to Singapore's rival, the Hong Kong Exchange's company disclosure website (www.hkexnews.hk). There, the company announcements archive contains data all the way back to 1999.

Having a reliable and accessible records system means a lot for corporate governance and transparency, issues that this newspaper as well as SGX would agree on. Embarrassingly, observers overseas have noticed this problem. Hong Kong shareholder activist David Webb told BT way back in 2012, for example, that it is more difficult to pull information out of SGX's website, and that information beyond a certain period cannot be retrieved.

"You have to search by intervals of time. That's really tedious, you should have a search all function and bring up the entire history, and not delete the history. Servers are cheap, hard drives are cheap. In Hong Kong, it is accepted now that (the exchange) won't take information down from the company filing system ... every announcement, circular should still be available," he said then.

Mr Webb, by the way, has a great webpage with a formidable database on directors and companies, which he built through the years with just one other person. SGX, with all its resources, can do better here.

There are other confusing elements about the disclosure page. Singapore Airlines, for example, appears both as "Singapore Airlines Limited" and "Singapore Airlines Ltd". Investors who want to search for past announcements of a company that since had its name changed will have to remember the previous name and search there - before information disappears, anyway, once the five-year time limit is up.

Finally, the SGX page itself seems no longer customised for mobile access. That should not be the case. More people are using their smartphones to access the Internet.

This is not the first time that the disclosure page has issues. Last month, a website glitch also prevented access to the page for most of the trading hours in the day.

It is, of course, unfair to take the exchange to task for a single, presumably once-in-50-years mishap. Last weekend's change might not be all bad. Now, the site seems to take a shorter time to load. But the latest design changes are a step back, and the exchange should take a serious look at further improving its site.

As the best place for investors to go to for information, and amid a drive to get more retail investors into the local market, SGX can do better in the basics. One can't get more basic than website design.