How to create compelling financial reports

Every CFO needs to be a storyteller. A storyteller who injects meaning into numbers through their reports.

We can all tell stories, but how do we tell a compelling story that really engages and informs our audience and clearly delivers our message?

In this blog we’ll look at the monthly board report as an example, and we’ve gathered three common errors that we should try and avoid:

Error #1: We actually don’t know what we’re trying to say

In order to create an engaging narrative, we first need to develop a comprehensive understanding of our results. To do so, we need to give ourselves enough time to digest our numbers before sending out the materials. If you are collating spreadsheets and adding number until the last-minute, you simply won’t have time to craft a compelling presentation.

The solution: Be sure you can quickly access your numbers

Having data dispersed across lots of different spreadsheets can be very time consuming. The static nature of spreadsheets creates huge headaches when it comes to producing timely reports. A cloud-based reporting tool allows you to centralise your numbers and seamlessly pull them into PowerPoint. This enables you to finish your presentation almost immediately after the accounting teams close their books. This will leave you with plenty of time to work on your presentation before sending the document out to the board.

Error #2:  We don’t edit enough

Nearly every first draft in history has been way too long. One of the main issues of many reports is an overload of information. As Finance leaders, we have extensive knowledge of our companies’ key performance indicators (KPIs) and data points, but often fall into the trap of reporting every single detail.

The solution: Remember your audience—and cut, cut, cut

The questions you always need to ask yourself – does the reader care about this? Is this something they will remember tomorrow? If the answer is no it should probably be cut out. Most likely, your board probably doesn’t have a huge appetite for 40 different marketing KPIs, so get rid of them, and keep your presentation concise.  Only sharing the most important and relevant data points automatically makes them seem more important and interesting to those following along. Additionally, resist the impulse to create an appendix with an extra 80 slides and charts that didn’t make the cut, no board member will have the time to read through them anyway.

Error #3: Our endings are ambiguous

Though we are finance professionals, our end goal is the same as any author: to give the reader a better understanding. Just providing a recap of our company’s past and current performance is like writing an ending that leaves everyone hanging.

The solution: Be sure your presentation concludes with clarity about the future

Whereas traditional CFOs could simply report metrics from the previous month or quarter, today’s strategic finance leaders must offer a forward-looking vision. Not only does the board want to know your position on the quarter’s performance, and the assumptions that are embedded in the forecast, those board members are also looking for you to provide them with a clear path to a satisfying ending: your clear projection for the company’s future.