Chairman’s message

Appen continued its growth in 2020 in both revenue and earnings while navigating some headwinds arising from the global pandemic. Over the past 24 years, we have established a strong and unique role at the centre of one of the world’s most exciting industries – Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning.

We have built global scale, breadth of services and technology depth. We are investing in our people and technology to achieve ongoing growth.

The applications of AI are expanding rapidly. Through our role in providing algorithm training data, Appen seeks to make AI work in the real world and transform the way organisations and companies do business.

Financial performance

The financial results for 2020 demonstrated the underlying resilience of the business. In summary:

  • Total revenue grew 12% to $599.9 million.
  • Statutory EBITDA increased by 23% to $107.9 million. Underlying EBITDA increased 8% to $108.6 million. This includes growth investments of $12.7 million in sales and marketing, technology and our China business.
  • We maintained healthy profitability on sales and achieved an underlying EBITDA margin of 18.1%.
  • Statutory NPAT was $50.5 million, an increase of 21%. Underlying NPAT was $64.4 million, a small decrease of 1% from 2019 due to the impact of growth investments and higher amortisation.

Our balance sheet continues to be very healthy, with cash and cash equivalents at 31 December 2020 of $78.4 million. The Board declared a final dividend of 5.5 cents per share, 50% franked. Combined with the 4.5 cent interim dividend paid in September 2020, the total dividend for the year is 10.0 cents per share.

Priorities in 2020

The Board maintained its focus on the company’s growth initiatives, including the drive to broaden our base of customers, leverage technology for scale and automation, and increase the proportion of our revenue which is repeatable. There was a major focus on supporting and growing our two new business divisions – China and Government.

Technology is central to delivering productivity improvements and responsiveness to new customer requirements. Throughout 2020, we maintained our investments in software development initiatives in this area.

In such a dynamic growth sector, management of risk is a critical factor. Under the oversight of the Board Audit and Risk Management Committee, we strengthened the company’s risk management framework to ensure that our culture of growth and innovation is supported by identification and mitigation of risk at all levels in the company.

Social and environment

AI opens attractive opportunities but must be implemented ethically. This is an issue of focus for the Board. Appen seeks to assist customers to implement AI solutions which are fair and unbiased. We are helping develop responsible AI standards through our multi-year partnership with the World Economic Forum.

The nature of Appen’s business results in a relatively low environmental footprint. Nevertheless, we are committed to reducing the impact of our operations, including buildings, power consumption, travel, and water usage and to achieving net zero emissions by 2050.

In strengthening our governance framework, we have been sensitive to feedback from our stakeholders including our crowd, employees, customers, and shareholders. Our policies and practices have been guided by external frameworks including the ASX Corporate Governance Principles and Recommendations (4th edition), the Sustainability Accounting Standards Board (SASB) Standards, the Integrated Reporting Framework, and the Task Force on Climate-related Financial Disclosures.


The Appen Board was strengthened by the appointment of Vanessa Liu on 27 March 2020. Vanessa is based in New York and brings a deep understanding of digital technologies and AI. Her familiarity with, and understanding of, the US market and customers is particularly valuable.

Our rapidly developing industry and competitive environment have required full engagement of Board members. I have valued their commitment and contributions through the year.

Our people

Our employees have responded impressively to the challenges arising from the coronavirus pandemic. To keep them safe and informed, we established a COVID-19 Response Team to define safety protocols for all our offices globally and update them frequently.

The Executive Team has also shown great leadership through their quick and effective response to the pandemic. They have continued to deliver on our strategic growth objectives, and we are indebted to them.

We value the cultural and linguistic diversity of our workforce, and we seek to maintain Appen as a great place to work with a high-performing culture. To underpin this, we established a Diversity and Inclusion Committee composed of Appen employees.

Our 1 million+ crowd continues to be one of Appen’s most valuable assets. Our ability to support remote working in a secure environment has been a success factor in the new work environment. We have implemented policies to manage the risks of modern slavery and human rights abuses, and we work with our customers to ensure ethical sourcing. Our crowd operations are rigorously governed by our Crowd Code of Ethics.


The directors greatly appreciate the continuing support of our shareholders. Your loyalty and engagement are valued, and you have our commitment to deliver strong results. In 2021, the Board will be seeking to ensure that the investments we have made yield growth in our customer base and returns on your investment.

Christopher Vonwiller signature

Christopher Vonwiller