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In today’s episode of ‘From the eLearning Trenches,’ we asked one of our learners, a manager in an accounting firm, to identify a business client who receives regular financial and/or management reports from the firm. Investigate how these reports are compiled, presented and used to drive business performance. What could be improved?

Learner Reflection

A business client that we provide regular managements reports is a real estate agent that includes a property management department and sales department. The business has an internal bookkeeper that keeps the records up to date on a weekly basis.  The client initially used desktop software for its bookkeeping, which created bottlenecks in uploading and compiling the information on a regular basis.

I suggested moving to a cloud-based software system such as Xero which would provide me with easier access in retrieving data in a timely manner to prepare more regular financial reports, to allow me to advise the business more strategically on ongoing financial matters.

To compile what is needed to prepare the management reports, I firstly sat down with client to identify the key goals and objectives they wanted to achieve. Compiling a list of goals and objectives from the client helps me to track relevant KPIs and what performance factors needed to be part of the report.

To collate the data for the reports, I involve all the team of the business as communication is vital and will only assist in the decision-making process for the report.  Everyone should be clear on how the data is collected, processed and presented.  Getting all the team together so I can get a clear view of each department of the business.

Management reports are presented to the client on a quarterly basis. I try to present the report and findings by telling a story, to keep the client engaged and relatable in a way the client could easily digest.

For example, comparing past data with the present data, to tell the client how the sales management team has improved over time or can do better. With real estate and the different seasonal/economic sales fluctuations that occur throughout the year, I can also present the data by comparing factual data with targets for the period and use the reports as a tool to guide managers on to their next steps and action plans on how we can overcome these seasonal/economic fluctuations.

The management report helps us to drive business performance by providing us up-to-date insights and KPIs about the functions of the two business departments in an easy-to-understand manner for the client.

With these management reports, I’m able to reflect on and address the different departments of the business and make informed strategies provided in the compiled data that align with the client’s strategic goals, such as the sales and marketing actions leading to revenue increases.

What could be improved:

  1. Present the report in a more visual and appealing way such as graphs and imagery so they could be easily digested by the client.
  2. Investigate the use of KPI dashboard templates that come pre-built with relevant KPIs to be more efficient rather than preparing manual KPIs.
  3. I feel sometimes the report may be a little long-winded; focus on keeping the report to the point, to keep things easy for the client to understand.
  4. Double check if the management report consists of KPIs that aren’t required or relevant for that business.
  5. Adapt to changes in the digital world and apply new techniques that can better explain key points.
  6. Get feedback from client if there anything I could do to improve the report or presentation i.e., a survey or score card.

Feedback from our experts

This learner clearly has experience in providing ongoing financial management advice to clients. They have also identified the importance of ensuring that the client has strong internal bookkeeping systems and process in place. Without this, too much time is often spent cleaning up financial data, leaving little time for conversations. The learner has also highlighted the importance of a team approach to the development of financial reports. Again, without this in place, it’s virtually impossible to make sufficient time for meetings and ongoing advice within the agreed time cost budget.

Even with this knowledge and experience, it can be challenging maintaining a strong advisory relationship over a long period of time. It’s easy to fall into the trap of assuming that nothing needs to change with monthly reports and agendas. Quickly the client starts to feel that reports and meetings are covering the same issues and not adding value. The suggestions made to keep reports and conversations fresh are insightful and beneficial in maintaining a strong client relationship.

Consider these 5 techniques to offer deeper insights into financial performance:

  1. Implement Advanced Analytical Tools – Utilise business intelligence and analytics software to offer deeper insights into financial data. These tools can identify trends, forecast future performance, and provide predictive analytics, enabling the CFO to make more informed strategic decisions.
  2. Enhance Data Visualisation – Develop dashboards and visualisations that allow the CFO to quickly understand financial outcomes and underlying drivers. Good data visualisation can turn complex financial data into accessible insights, facilitating quicker and more effective decision-making.
  3. Integrate Non-Financial Data – Combine financial data with operational metrics to give a fuller picture of the business’s performance. For instance, linking financial results with customer satisfaction scores or employee productivity can help the CFO understand the broader implications of financial outcomes.
  4. Improve Data Quality and Governance – Ensure that financial reports are based on high-quality, verified data. Implementing strict data governance policies and procedures can increase the reliability of financial reports, making them more valuable for strategic planning.
  5. Customise Financial Reports – Tailor financial reports to the specific informational needs of the CFO. This could involve highlighting key performance indicators (KPIs) that align with the business’s strategic goals, or segmenting reports by business unit or product line to provide more detailed insights where needed.

Key take-away: Always remember that the real value of business advice lies in conversations and discovery, not in financial reports. The reports should be simple in presentation and identify key points for ongoing discussion. The addition of non-financial KPIs to management reports adds an extra dimension to strategic discussions.

This assessment task and response is taken from the Business Analytics for Managers eLearning course. Click here to explore this course

Also, take a look at the Virtual CFO Essentials eLearning course.

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