How to Improve Financial Presentations to Clients

by FEI Daily Staff

Accountants, business owners, investors and other financial professionals can incorporate these lessons into their daily conversations.

©George Doyle/Stockbyte/THINKSTOCK

Numbers are the starting point for most business decisions, whether it be seeking a bank loan to start or expand a business, obtaining board approval for a new project or clearing a new hire with a manager. Financial information is used to explain current circumstances and to justify future plans.

Due to the importance of these numbers, companies and organizations pay a lot of money each year to ensure they receive financial information prepared by a professional they trust. Financial presentations play a critical role for boards of directors overseeing a company or organization’s operations and developing strategies. Many accounting professionals are routinely required to present financials to directors or owners.

Most people receiving numerical information expect to gain knowledge, but too often they leave presentations with numbers swirling in their heads and little in the way of actionable information. Consider how many business clients of accounting firms admit they file away their financial statements or tax returns each year without ever looking at them again.

Mastering financial presentations requires recognizing and avoiding three common pain points or pitfalls of presenting numbers: Excessive data, meaningless minutiae and a lack of context. Fortunately, each pitfall has identified solutions.

Problem: Excessive data

Solution: Keep it simple

Heading the list of pet peeves about financial presentations? Too many numbers. Time and again, surveys and executives point to the use of excessive data as aggravating. PowerPoint presentations make it easy to “number dump” — generate too many slides with too many numbers. Falling into that trap can leave an audience numb from numbers or worse yet, asleep.

Sure, Rajverr Meena memorized and recited 70,000 decimal places of Pi in 2015, but most people retain only a handful of numbers, so keep data simple and focused. Researchers believe the human mind operates at a high level of conceptual thinking rather than being focused on many smaller details, which means any numbers used in the presentation should be essential to the overarching themes being shared. Presenters can always include the details in an official handout, which should generally be provided either well before or soon after the presentation in order to avoid distracting the board members.

Problem: Meaningless minutiae

Solution: Keep it focused

A second pitfall of presenting financial information often occurs simultaneously with too much data, but it is a slightly different issue. It relates to spending an inordinate amount of focus on minutiae when board members need a snapshot of a situation or an argument or thesis.

For example, standard financial information might be expected at regular board meetings, but the routine data doesn’t necessarily have to constitute the majority of the presentation. Identify strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats to the enterprise to add true value to the financial presentation.

Deciding what data to include starts with identifying the most important point that needs to be conveyed in this particular presentation. Think about why the board should care, and what financial information can make them care more. Numbers used should be highly relevant to specific assertions or insight.

Another tip for avoiding minutiae is to limit or eliminate “GAAP -speak” from the financial presentation. Remember that directors often come from a wide variety of financial backgrounds, and numerical information can’t be used to manage the enterprise if the board or management doesn’t understand it. Jargon associated with GAAP (such as “EBIT” or “accretion”) can often be substituted with focused, simple terms (such as “pre -tax earnings” or “add to profits”). In some cases, GAAP -speak may flag areas where the presentation is veering off course into “the weeds.”

Problem: Disjointed data

Solution: Provide perspective

Even when the best numbers are highlighted, the financial information can be useless without meaningful connections between those numbers.

Showing how financial data relates to the market or to key performance indicators is one way to provide perspective. Context can also come from showing data relative to company goals or to previous performance. Many financial professionals prepare financials and contrast them with the current quarterly plan or with long -range goals. Perspective can also be provided by contrasting the data to a benchmark, such as an industry average. Industry data will quickly show a company’s strengths and weaknesses, by drawing a comparison among businesses of a similar size or geography.

It is important to present financial information that avoids these common pitfalls of financial presentations. Accountants, business owners, investors and other financial professionals can incorporate these lessons into their daily conversations.

As a final thought, below are several ways to plan for a successful presentation. 1. Review the agenda for the entire meeting, considering how the financial presentation may be used to discuss other agenda items. 2. Meet with the team of experts. If subordinates routinely work with the company, have them highlight information in a bottoms -up look That can make it easier to take a top -down approach when reviewing their information. 3. Take baby steps. Taking a few minutes every month to prepare for routine board presentations makes it easier to summarize and prioritize data closer to the presentation date.


Mary Ellen Biery is a research specialist at Sageworks.