Published on [Permalink]
Reading time: 5 minutes
Posted in:

Financial reports have not changed in 30 years

When I began working as a trainee accountant there were very few computers in the office and they were not on individuals’ desks. They were on tables because to be used on a shared basis. Most people in the Accountancy team did not use them at all. They used calculators and created spreadsheets manually on A3-sized analysis paper. And when they had to write a report or a letter or memo they did it by hand. These pages then went to a typing pool to be transformed into something neat and presentable. The top copy, on white paper, was sent off to the recipient and the yellow copy was filed away. No-one questioned that important things had to be typewritten, on paper, and stored in metal cabinets.

Fast forward more than thirty years and the means of producing reports and letters is vastly different. Everyone has their own computer and smartphone. They create their own documents because there are no typing pools. They can even use their voice rather than their fingers to compose the text. And the vast majority of all these words are conveyed to their recipients in digital form. No longer is there one file copy but there could be 5 or 10 or a 100 copies held in dark data centres.

It’s all so very different, and yet it’s just the same. The reports that accountants and auditors write are still formatted into A4 pages with margins. They still demand the receiver to read them … although we all know that they probably only skim the document looking for the good bits.

There are more fonts and colours available than in the days of typewriters but that is as much a curse and blessing because lots of people don’t know the first thing about effective typography and graphic design. I’m sorry to report that very many of the documents I see would be much improved if their author had been constrained to a single font and black text. (This is especially true when it comes to tables within documents, but that will have to be the subject of another article.)

My point in this article, though, is to call for accountants and auditors to embrace modern technology to improve their communication. There are so many opportunities to communicate financial information that are more effective than the conventional written document.

I think there are two dimensions to consider. One is the content and the second is the delivery.

In terms of content, less is more. Too many of us write too much. There is the temptation to write everything we know when we should be writing only what the reader needs to know.

Paper reports were comprehensive, with appendices, etc. because it was hard for the reader to find the background information. They wanted it attached so that they could refer to it. That’s not the case now. Why include any text in your document that already exists somewhere else? Just include a link to it. This reduces the size of a document and makes it clear to the reader what is essential (the main text) and what is incidental (the linked material).

In terms of delivery, there are lots of ways to communicate these days that are better than a digital document that looks like a paper one. Let me give some examples.

Do you use any of these methods to communicate financial information? Or do you do something else? Let me know.

Gary Bandy Limited is a company registered in Cardiff, number 5660437.

Privacy policy