Your company’s financial reports provide the basis for a great deal of decision making. You want to be sure that they enlighten rather than confuse! Here are five of the most common things that make financial reports confusing:
1. Poor formatting – Just pushing a button in QuickBooks and spitting out a report often doesn’t cut it. Taking a few minutes to spruce up the formatting can make a big difference in a report’s usability.
Beyond the “look and feel” of the document, though, poor formatting can also be a matter of inconsistencies in the data that’s being formatted, or data presented in an illogical order. For example, I’ve seen Income Statements that listed “labor” in six different places—none of which were at the top of the list, even though labor was the organization’s number one cost.
2. No narrative or context – Chances are slim that everyone who reads the report will be able to instantly discern what the data is communicating. It is helpful to point out the key issues, and possibly provide a conclusion or suggestions for improvement. In many cases it is also a good idea to include historical or industry data, to give context to the data being presented.
3. Undefined acronyms – When sharing financial information it’s important to speak English and not “accountant-ese.” Don’t assume everyone reading the report knows what “Cap Ex” or “EBITA” is.
4. Too much detail – In large companies it is common for the Income Statement to have 50 or more potential line items. Obviously, the report can get confusing if all 50 are included. It’s just too much detail! In cases like this, see if you can consolidate things on the main report, and then provide the ability to drill down into the details as needed.
5. Not tailored to the audience – Think about who the report is for, and customize it accordingly. Your rank and file employees, for instance, will be interested in different data than your investors and bankers, who may have different data needs than your executive team.
The bottom line is, if you’re going to do the work to gather and analyze the data, put in the extra 10% more time to polish the report. Confusing reports do not benefit anyone.
Need help creating financial reports that are a pleasure to use? Give me a call. As your part-time CFO, this is one of the many services I provide.