Introduction to Financial Reporting Analysis
The finance team and how CFOs operate within organizations have undergone a sea change over the recent year. The role of CFOs has transitioned from being number keepers to strategic business partners and integral parts of the C-suite.
A lot of these role transitions and bigger impacts created by the CFO’s office has to do with technological innovation that demonstrated the potential of data and data analysis. Automation in financial reporting and granular financial statement analysis available in real-time with crucial insights have changed the way business and financial decisions are arrived at.
We have observed over recent years that as businesses are moving toward digitalization, the amount of business and financial data generated is enormous and from diverse data sources. All this data in an organization gets poured into the data lake, making it an excellent single source of truth and also a rich shore to fish for insights that can impact the strategic goals of any business.
Financial reports contain data insights that have the potential to impact business goals and the value chain. According to HBR 50% or less of structured data’s latent insight potential is used for decision-making while less than 1% of unstructured data is ever analyzed or considered. But structured data can be a treasure trove of insights for business.
An interesting example to illustrate the power of structured data and financial reporting analysis is the case of streaming giant Netflix.
Well before Netflix was a billion-dollar media and entertainment giant, it was a niche business offering subscription-based DVD rentals to its customers delivered to their door. Even in its early days, Netflix was a market disruptor and adopted several strategies to gain a first-mover advantage in its segment.
However, when Netflix increased the rental prices, it started losing customers. Analysis of financial reports pointed them toward the growing segment of online streaming and helped them realign their entire business strategy. In a more recent event, financial data analysis made them revisit the password-sharing feature and the losses incurred because of it, resulting in further changes in their subscription model.
The above example sheds light on how financial reporting analysis can provide insights regarding a business’s financial health, profitability, liquidity, and areas that require strategic realignment for continued business profitability.
Importance of Effective Financial Reporting Analysis
Effective financial reporting analysis can yield rich dividends in the form of very granular insights about a company’s financial performance and health. Financial reporting analysis can also provide insights about operations, supply chain, risks associated with business, compliance, and third parties, in addition to the usual financial health of the organization.
Financial planning and forecasting can benefit from financial reporting analysis with an in-depth assessment of business opportunities and risk exposure and helps companies create better risk management frameworks and make necessary changes and readjustments to their strategies and goals.
Financial reporting analysis provides investors with the necessary insights. Companies need to share the information in their financial disclosures to meet regulatory compliance requirements and ensure transparency and integrality of financial information.
5 strategies for Effective Financial Reporting Analysis
1. Developing a Clear Understanding of the Business
Financial reporting analysis can only be helpful for organizations when it is contextual to the business and the sector and aligned with the long and short-term business objectives.
Once the key business objectives are defined, the next step involves defining KPIs for the goals and creating a process to measure financial performance on the KPI scale. These KPIs should be specific, measurable, and prioritized based on their importance and relevance to the overall business goals.
The KPIs should be time bound and regularly monitored and tracked.
There are 13 KPIs that all finance managers should account analyze for a comprehensive understanding of the financial statements and including ratios like Gross Profit Margin, Net profit Margin, Working Capital, Current and Quick Ration, Leverage, debt-Equity Ratio, Inventory turnover Ratio, Total Asset Turnover Ratio, Return on Equity and assets, Operating Cash Flow and Seasonality.
Comparative analysis of reports over different periods can help spot trends and shed light on the areas where the organization is displaying continuous improvement and areas that need improvement.
2. Utilizing Financial Reporting Tools and Technology
Financial Reporting has benefitted immensely from automated tools and most of these solutions come with quality tools for financial report analysis.
The analysis becomes simplified because of an aggregated data source with defined audit trails and access to historical data for more granular insights and comparisons. Another advantage of automated tools is the accuracy of data therefore, projections, analysis, and comparisons are all reliable.
Data visualization of these analysis tools can help create stories from numbers and present data in an easy-to-understand manner using interactive graphics.
There are a few must-have features in financial analysis software and the tool should be able to:
- Aggregate financial data from across the systems
- Incorporate standard accounting metrics and key performance indicators (KPIs) in the reporting process
- Provide options to establish and oversee report hierarchies
- Allow users to scrutinize the details of any financial entry comprehensively
- Generate reports that adhere to the International Financial Reporting Standards (IFRS) and Generally Accepted Accounting Principles (GAAP) standards
- Distribute reports to external stakeholders while controlling access rights
3. Conducting Regular Reviews and Analysis of Financial Reports
Regular review of financial reports analysis helps assess whether the insights generated are aligned with the business objectives and needs. It also helps determine the accuracy of the insights being used for decision-making.
Regular reviews also help keep track of the updates or changes in accounting standards, laws, and regulations and ensure compliance. Some techniques to consider for regular reviews include revisiting the ratio, trend, and comparative analysis and frequent testing of the internal control of the organization to eliminate irregularities and errors in the analysis.
Regular review of the financial reporting analysis results in better decision-making because of superior quality, relevant and timely insights. It also strengthens the risk-management efforts of the organization by making them better prepared for potential risks and managing current risks well in time to stop them from becoming threats.
Some other benefits of regularly reviewing the financial reporting analysis and insights are improved transparency with stakeholders and increased efficiency of the analysis process.
4. Collaboration Between Financial and Business Teams
A collaborative effort involving the business and the finance team toward financial analysis can be immensely beneficial for the organization. Business teams come with a deep understanding of the business and challenges, obstacles, and opportunities with additional data points and insights unique to them.
Similarly, finance teams come with the expertise in analyzing business and financial data to arrive at insights crucial for business success and continuity.
Effective financial reporting analysis that can deliver relevant results and credible insights can happen when teams collaborate.
There are several techniques to achieve collaboration and most organizations practice one or more. Still, a consistent and organized approach ensures the continuity of the process and fosters a collaborative culture within teams.
Communication Channels – Establishing Communication channels between teams to ensure regular sharing and combined efforts toward common goals is the first step. The finance and business operations team can collaborate on the overall business goals of the organization and identify areas where they can share information and insight.
This could also be a good platform to identify projects where the teams can collaborate for better results with increased efficiency.
Cross-Functional Training – Investing in cross-functional training also helps teams understand each other’s roles and identify the overlaps where they can benefit from insights and information from members outside their function. Another important outcome of such an exercise is the evolution of a shared understanding of common financial and business terms used across the organization that can further strengthen communication.
Automated Solutions – Financial Reporting tools and automated solutions also foster collaboration through shared data repositories and workflows thus improving the analysis and enriched insights and facilitating collaboration between teams through real-time communication and information exchange.
Continuously Improving the Financial Reporting Analysis Process – Processes benefit from continuous evaluation and improvement to identify areas that are optimized and work on those that need to be optimized.
Financial Reporting Analysis relies heavily on data therefore, the first aspect of continuous improvement that needs prioritization is data.
5. Techniques for Continuous Improvement of Financial Reporting Analysis
Data Quality and Integrity – Financial data is collected from diverse sources and in large volume, so comes the need to ensure the quality of financial data getting used for analysis purposes. Data validation, data cleansing, and data reconciliation are some of the regular steps that should be incorporated into the larger data management framework of the organization and the focused financial reporting and analysis frameworks.
Automation – Automation takes care of the mundane part of the financial analysis, that is data aggregation, with a reduced risk of error and better insights.
Standardization – Standardization of the financial reporting analysis template with established KPIs, measurements, and timelines and regularly evaluating them against set goals is another way of improving the financial reporting analysis.
Regular Feedback and Review – Seeking regular feedback from key stakeholders regarding the quality and relevance of the financial reporting analysis and subsequent insights can help in improving the process to make it more effective. This exercise will ensure that even the KPIs remain continuously aligned and updated to the changing business needs.
Collaboration And Communication – And finally, collaboration and communication between the finance and business operations team is another step toward improving the analysis process.
The direct benefit of continuous improvement in the financial reporting analysis process is the quality of financial and business decision-making and the fact that it becomes data-driven with careful risk assessment incorporated. Data-backed information also helps build transparency and trust with stakeholders and empowers decision-makers.
Financial reports contain crucial insights about business, its operations, value-chain, and risks, and many times the potential of data remains unleveraged in the absence of effective financial reporting analysis.
The above-discussed strategies and considerations may help your organization in designing an effective strategy and framework for financial reporting analysis and can help you make use of the latent potential of data insights locked up in the financial reports that you already generate regularly.