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Best practices in financial reporting: The benefits of standardisation

Best practices in financial reporting: The benefits of standardisation

 

Introducing change in the financial sector may feel like you’re turning a large, cumbersome wheel. It takes many hands and does not always produce a noticeable shift, much like the transformation from legacy technology. Yet, to keep pace with the modern-day digital environment, finance teams need to adopt new ways of working with information. 

 

Gaining BI insights – from spreadsheets to dashboards

 

Employees working with data in the financial sector have traditionally relied on one particular legacy tool. Their go-to solution—spreadsheets. And this might still be standard practice in certain institutions. Practitioners print reams and reams of spreadsheets. Comments are made on the printed pages. Then someone draws up a consolidated report, which is distributed to the analytics team. 

 

Sticking to such dated methods does not align well with the current business status quo and may even inhibit companies from maintaining a competitive advantage. Keeping ahead of the game requires real-time insights, something that spreadsheets alone cannot offer. Actionable insights require cutting edge digital solutions. 

 

Modern BI tools are the key to business progress and survival, especially in a disruptive ecosystem with fintech startups popping up like mushrooms. Data users require a more interactive and intuitive way to get the most value from their data analytics pipeline. Financial dashboards not only make it easier to track key financial metrics such as profit margin, expenses or sales, but also supply real-time business intelligence.

 

Data governance yields exceptional BI

 

Data scientists contend with legacy systems, siloed and often dirty data, and reluctant users. So how do they overcome these barriers and gain a semblance of control? By leveraging data governance, the team can grab the reins and control the collection, reporting and management of data in a business. 

In the financial sector, this function is crucial for protecting confidential customer information, but also for another notable component – data standardisation.  

 

Business intelligence relies on clean, consistent data. And the standardisation process ensures the consistency of data throughout an organisation. It helps maintain the quality of data. 

 

Data quality is one of the five pillars of Master Data, or essential business data,  according to Scott Taylor from MetaMeta Consulting (aka the Data Whisperer), together with value, structure, connectability and coverage. 

 

 

Five pillars of Master Data

 

  • Value: Actionable, accurate data provides value to a business.
  • Structure: Structure your data around vital business components such as customers, products and assets.
  • Connectability: How data flows throughout your business.
  • Coverage: Your master data must cover your whole business ecosystem, like extending your data structure when you take on new business. 
  • Quality: Data quality is measured by accuracy, completeness, timeliness, and uniqueness.

 

If any of these pillars are missing, the result is bad data that could damage the entire analytics pipeline, and a business’ survival potential. 

 

“With bad data, we keep making bad decisions. We just don’t realize they’re bad decisions until later.”

Scott Taylor, MetaMeta Consulting. 

 

Consequently, the path to exceptional BI begins with data governance, which leads to better data models and enables developers to create more accurate apps. And by adding in tools like self-service analytics, you can set up users to easily generate valuable insights (on their own!).

 

Vizlib Self-Service empowers data users of all skill levels to work with data. And enables those who want to extract deeper insights from their P&Ls, to benefit from Qlik Sense extensions like the Custom Report in Vizlib Self-Service. This extension allows users to create dynamic reports by selecting their dimensions and measures in a safe environment (as developers define them). These custom reports are based on one data set and give control of the report to the user. (And hopefully, free up your time!)

 


Vizlib Self-Service Custom Report Categories feature

 

In addition to effectively controlling data, data scientists can also benefit from standardising their visual analytics. 

 

The benefits of standardised UX design in financial dashboarding

 

Though change is imperative for the sake of progress, many users prefer dataviz objects that look familiar to them. They’re looking for a dashboard that has a familiar layout and design. And one that’s easy to use. 

 

But how can developers balance the UX needs of dashboard users with the business’ needs to get actionable insights quickly? One solution that benefits both entities is the use of visual standards.

 

Visual standards in data visualisation

 

Standardised dashboard design forms part of a broader visual standards concept. And, though visual standards are not something we readily take notice of, they are ubiquitous in business and our daily lives. 

 

What would happen if a developer suddenly changed the universal symbol for the power button to a symbol of a red heart? The users would be perplexed, to say the least, and not know how to switch on a device or app. (But that’s nothing new!)

 

Similarly, the need for standardisation and consistency is crucial in dashboarding and takes the form of data visualisation standards. These standards or guidelines provide a framework for creating uniform dataviz designs that users are familiar with.

 

Companies that implement visual standards and dashboard consistency enjoy several benefits:

 

  • Conciseness: Keep the dashboard as uncluttered as possible to deliver a clear, concise data message. 
  • Clarity: When everyone uses the same visual standards, the clearer the message since the meaning of the visual elements remains constant.
  • Comprehension: Visual standards help your audience recognise and comprehend the meaning of your visuals quicker, leading to quicker action!
  • Cost: Dashboards that are understood quicker save the valuable time of senior management and execs (and developer time consequently!). 
  • Speed: Approved dataviz templates accelerate the app development process—once your team has discovered the visual formula for effective chart design, you don’t need to reinvent the wheel. 

 

If you’d like more info on best practices in data visualisation, take a look at our Top 5 data visualisation best practices blog

 

Best Practices in financial dashboarding

Financial Dashboard built with Vizlib

 

Applying best practices helps to establish and maintain a professional standard.  And, according to a recent Forbes article, “Data analysis isn’t just about assembling, ordering and interpreting data; it’s also about educating, simplifying, clarifying, and persuading.” If you can keep the dataviz simple, it’s more likely your audience will interpret it correctly.

 

Tip: don’t try cram too much into your financial dashboard.

 

Rather create a separate dashboard for cash management, P&L, financial performance, accounts receivable and payable and profit margin analysis. This will keep your data message clear and drive the right insights and action quicker. 

 

  • P&L dashboards, for example, should provide clear insights to upper management on ways to reduce unnecessary expenditure and push up profit margins.

 

They should also show whether the organisation gained or lost revenue during the financial year, why the business made a profit or lost revenue, and what costs the company could reduce to boost the bottom line.

 

Vizlib Finance Report with P&L statement

 

  • Financial performance dashboards should provide a birds-eye-view of the company’s financial position and could include metrics such as Working Capital Ratio (WCR), Return on Assets (ROA), Return on Equity (ROE) and Debt-Equity Ratio (DER). 

 

  • A CFO scorecard is another useful financial dashboard. This dashboard draws information from every aspect of the business, enabling CFOs to easily review income statements and manage their budgets. Measures could include cash flow, liabilities, assets and compare income vs forecasted figures.

 

You can also use a KPI Object to visualise the performance of strategic business goals at a glance. More on how to use the Vizlib KPI Designer in our DataViz Library blog

 

Maintaining best practices easily with templates

 

Using templates in data visualisation allows more data users to benefit from the high-quality designs that you create. Often these users have less time available or don’t have the required skill to develop eye-catching data visualisations.

 

And, the advantage of templates extends beyond their professional design value. They also help maintain visual consistency and a uniform layout – a standardised look that dashboard users are familiar with. 

 

Maintaining best practices in dashboarding puts the power into the users’ hands (and hopefully off your hands!). 

 

Vizlib Templates enables the everyday data user (even execs) to create beautiful, pre-designed charts quickly! Discover more in the Vizlib Templates documentation (currently available in Vizlib KPI Designer, Vizlib Sheet Menu, Vizlib Slider and Vizlib Container Grid).

 

Vizlib Templates capability

 

How financial insights benefit the whole business

 

Generating great insights is useless if they aren’t shared with all data users. Data teams that share findings with the rest of the organisation ensure quality data makes it to the end of the analytics pipeline, resulting in business improvement and growth. 

 

Sharing financial insights need not require meeting after meeting or a ten-page email trail. You can streamline your data collaboration with practical BI software solutions. 

 

Vizlib Finance Report Commentary capability allows users to add comments to rows or periods in Qlik Sense, saving you time and keeping collaboration in context and relevant.  

 

Vizlib Finance Report Commentary Feature

 

Standardising the quality of data and dataviz saves you time and empowers more users to create powerful business intelligence.  Instead of reinventing the wheel, you can create a masterpiece once, and then share your genius!

 

Qlik’s Data Integration and Analytics Summit for Financial Services

 

Learn more about building unbeatable financial reports in Qlik Sense. Join us for a live demo in New York on the 26th of February. The event is free, but spaces are limited! Please register in advance. 

 

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