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Story Telling in Financial Reports

by | Aug 26, 2020 | 0 comments

When was the last time you found yourself nodding off while listening to an accountant speak about Tax Compliance or Understanding The Complexities Of Form 5472 And Its Transfer Pricing Implications? Seriously, if we are honest with ourselves, accounting can be considered a boring subject. Ask most accounts, they even think so! On the flip side, accounting is an extremely vital subject that can have dire consequences if not understood.

“Accounting is possibly the most boring subject in the world. It also could be the most confusing. But if you want to be rich, long term, it could be the most important subject.”

-Robert Kiyosaki, author of Rich Dad, Poor Dad. 

The big question is, “How do you take a dull but crucial subject and turn it into something exciting and memorable?” Add stories. Add metaphors. Make it relatable to real life. It is the same for accounting and financials. Include those stories, create silly metaphors, and teach how those numbers relate to everyday decisions. Countless studies have shown that stories help us process and remember information more effectively. 

Stories give meaning to the data.

Stories can reshape information into something much more meaningful. Anytime you present information, especially financial data, constructing it around a story is the best route to go down. When you absorb the complexity of financial information and transform it into a story with meaning, you have changed the relationship your clients have with you and, more importantly, their finances. 

Stories get people talking.

We all love a good story, and we all love to repeat a good story! For centuries, repeating stories was how history was passed down from one generation to the next. When we hear about something we understand and love, we naturally want to share it with others. Believe it or not, this can apply to financials as well. 

When you present a financial story to anyone, the business owner, the CFO, a board member, or a potential investor, I guarantee you, if you tell a fantastic story, they will repeat it to others. No one will hustle back to the office and tell their co-workers about this Profit and Loss Statement you showed them. But if you use that P&L statement to explain that the numbers mean they can now expand their shop or retire or pay off a substantial debt, they will share with anyone who will listen. 

Stories are memorable.

Do you have a story from your childhood that you can remember to this day?  I have several thanks to friends, teachers, parents, and grandparents. When we hear a well-told story, one that resonates with us, we remember it. 

Again, this applies to financial reporting. How often have you sent a report to a client, and when you mention it at a meeting, they have a blank stare on their face because they already forgot what it contained? A memorable story will be remembered and built upon each month (or quarter or year) when you create and send the next one.   

Stories are motivating and make people feel. 

Has a chart or graph ever moved you to tears? When was the last time a PowerPoint gave you goose-bumps?  Yeah, me neither. To the other extreme, I have cried during commercials before (Thanks Procter and Gamble). Why? Because it related to me, it meant something to me. I cared. Stories can motivate us to change our behavior, have a better attitude toward what we need to accomplish and feel connected to what is being taught. 

The same applies to financial reporting. If the data is in story form, it will motivate your client to reach their financial goals and truly feel like they understand their books. Imagine the story you tell them lets them know they had their best month in sales ever, that will motivate them to study why this month was better and what they can do to repeat it next month. The opposite is also correct; the story may not always be good news, but if they understand the news, changes can be made before the news is catastrophic. 

 

Your goal when gathering financial information into story form is to translate data into wisdom for your clients. When this happens, the magic begins. You will see a change in your client’s understanding and decision making. Their relationship with you, as their CPA, becomes invaluable, and you become a trusted advisor. 

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