Chief Financial Officers (CFOs) have a unique and detailed understanding of their business. Past performance, current revenue, future growth, and overall profit and loss – they’re the figurehead of how the business performs. But also how it looks on paper.
But CFOs also sit as the gatekeeper between internal and external stakeholders. Effectively communicating the business’ financial position to the board or investors can be stressful – especially when any uncertain tones or ill-preparedness is taken as a read-through to current operations.
There’s no how-to guide on perfecting what to say and how to say it in front of a panel of very elite professionals, AKA the very same people who are in charge of approving the vision behind substantive financial decisions. But for the quarterly meetings that are stressful, keep these three tips in mind to help you better prepare for your presentation.
Tip #1: Transparency to set the standard
There’s one characteristic that helps drive a clean, trustworthy presentation: transparency.
Being transparent helps establish a meeting tone where everything can be discussed. In a Wall Street Journal OpEd, CFO of Walmart Charles Holley said, “CFO’s have to earn the board’s trust through sustained demonstration of transparency and regular and appropriately customized communication about financial, audit, and strategic issues.”
Don’t just talk numbers. Explain what is happening in the company and why. If you have to take a deep dive into where things went wrong despite a difficult conversation, it’s better to be open than hide it. Include information on how the overall market and your competitors are doing/performing if it’s relevant to the situation, along with areas where your company can improve.
Tip #2: On Deck with the Deck
A board is a group of busy people that shows up once every few months to hear recent evaluations, current predictions, and future possibilities. Chances are, this is not the only board they’re sitting on. Their time is money.
When setting up the presentation, it’s important to ask key questions about your audience; look at the world through the board members’ eyes: “What would they need to know?” “What’s the focus of the meeting?” “What’s going to be top of mind?”
While you’re putting together your reporting deck, keep these key items in mind:
- Don’t make a presentation long. Big colorful charts juxtaposed with short, punchy text is better than a wall of text. Some of the best slides may have no text at all.
- Interacting with the audience isn’t just limited to a stand-up comedian or keynote performer. Having portions of your presentation where you call on board members for opinions or statements will keep the members engaged and listening so they’re prepared to respond to calls for opinions or insights.
- There’s no “I” in Company. Presenting to your board isn’t a singular activity. Ensure you can let various internal stakeholders like Sales, Marketing, Engineering, or other teams provide insights or unique perspectives about the current landscape and how they’re investing in their teams and allocating their budgets.
- Give the board an advance. Send some pre-read materials for the board and stakeholders before they enter the meeting. Give everyone enough time to absorb and digest the information. Make sure it’s clear, concise, and to the point with easy-to-locate specific finances in the slide deck.
Tip #3: Don’t recreate existing work – automate it
In a McKinsey report, “Age of Analytics,” the company suggests that using data to form marketing activity budgets and reporting ultimately helps foster better-informed decisions and boosts marketing productivity by 15% to 20%. And in the $1 trillion spent in global annual marketing budgets, that translates to $150-200 billion a year.
Today, many financial divisions in both small and large enterprises dedicate an immense amount of man/woman hours creating and updating financial reports, but not a lot of time sharing the results. For instance, when Deloitte surveyed 600 global finance leaders on management reporting, they uncovered that companies on average spent 48% of their time creating and updating reports versus 18% spent on communicating the results to the business (Deloitte).
Heading into a board meeting, it’s important to maximize time putting together a deck and help your team avoid burnout. Look for ways to utilize and include the various financial reports your team has created as a result of other internal meetings or regulatory requirements, and see if you can use them in the deck instead of making new ones.
Additionally, there are new real time reporting tools and platforms that can be scaled up to create automated reports with no human intervention required. From the same McKinsey report, they explain that technology advancements around massive data integration repositories like ‘data lakes’ can not only help automate financial reporting, but optimize company operations overall.
Financial reporting isn’t just a one off problem, but a data-access issue financial professionals have dealt with for a long time. In a recent study, “Building Tomorrow’s Treasury,” Treasurers polled from various enterprises said that finding and investing into data analytics technology would be a focal point of theirs over the next five years.
Transparency, presenting, and automating data reporting will help you succeed
Utilizing and presenting financial data to a board of directors can be stressful, time-consuming, and intimidating. But by being transparent, making your presentation easy to read and interact with, and using data analysis tools to quickly create insightful reports can accomplish a lot.
Accurate and interactive reporting not only shares vital information both internally and externally, but helps inform better business decisions. Applying that same logic to the financial sector or a finance department, financial reporting tools could serve to benefit businesses by providing a more informed snapshot of activities.
To learn more about automating your financial reporting and insights, check out Trovata’s automated cash platform and schedule a demo. The cash positioning process includes built-in business intelligence tools to keep track of, visualize, report, and reconcile cash flows.
Additionally, see how financial professionals like Treasurers are thinking about and investing in “digital transformation” efforts around automation and financial reporting in “Building Tomorrow’s Treasury.”