One of the biggest determining factors for success with Client Advisory Services (CAS) is the ability to translate data into something easy and actionable for clients to understand.
Accounting firms often have the data down already. You have forecasts, budget variance, and multiple scenarios your clients can use to see where their business is going.
Yet, while the answers lie in the data, it’s also the job of the trusted advisor to help their clients connect the dots. It’s important to communicate what the data is saying in relation to the goals and aspirations of that business owner.
This is where financial storytelling comes in. Over the next several weeks, we’re going to share examples and a framework for financial storytelling, so your advisory services can be as impactful as possible.
In this post, the goal is to provide an overview of financial storytelling you can implement to improve client communication immediately.
Let’s dive in.
Financial Storytelling Begins with Confidence
Financial storytelling doesn’t have to be overcomplicated. The goal is simply to provide context to the data you’re providing clients.
In a business’ financial system, you have nearly an endless sea of data. Great storytelling is about identifying the main point of the plot — if you will. Your role is to simplify the conversation around the key data points that are most meaningful to your client’s goals.
Don’t doubt yourself. Your clients are hungry for this level of clarity. This is what they truly want — to understand their data quickly and get back to building their business.
Simplify Financial Storytelling with Preparation
Like most things in life, if you try to take shortcuts in financial storytelling the results won’t be great. The best advisors come prepared and know their numbers inside and out.
Your preparation starts with deeply understanding your client. What are their goals? Which data points are the key drivers that have the greatest impact on those goals?
Knowing these targets gives tremendous context to your advisory conversation. You can always lead with the data that’s most important to the client, and connect the dots back to their goals.
Translate Facts into Targeted Storytelling
Once you’ve done the work of understanding your client's goals and building out projections toward those goals, your advisory work becomes easier. You’ll have everything you need to provide deep insights and guidance as to why your clients’ business is or is not hitting its targets.
But for an entrepreneur, it’s not always so black-and-white. One example of this is if your client missed their revenue target for the quarter.
The first question to tackle is, why? Were there leading indicators that came up short that were pointing to this outcome? Were the projections too aggressive?
The follow-up question is what to do next? What needs to happen to get the next quarterback on track? Are there deeper issues that need to be addressed?
Financial storytelling means going beyond the numbers and getting to the heart of the root issue. It means carefully considering the outcomes and providing scenario planning based on results.
This is a skill accounting advisors can develop, and it involves leveling up and digging the stories out of the data.
Consistency is Critical: No Surprises
In speaking to firm owners who have successfully built FP&A services through financial storytelling, the most important detail for their practices is consistency.
Consistency means building a repeatable process and cadence for working through the financial model. It means a meeting rhythm where you and your client know the expectations, working through real-world data against assumptions.
With consistent meetings, you avoid surprises. The greatest part about CAS is it should be predictive. This means you know about problems before they arrive. Your regular meeting should be looking forward, constantly making adjustments to the model as data is collected.
Bad news is OK. Surprises are a lot worse. If you have bad news, you can catch it before the results are catastrophic, and make proper adjustments.
Build in consistency for your client communication so you can stay ahead of any potential problems.
Use Automation So You Can Focus on the Story
Financial storytelling means avoiding drowning in data. Your role as an advisor is to see the big picture, and keep a tight focus on the key drivers.
In order to do this well, you need the right tools. Accounting automation, connected with FP&A software, allows advisors to build a financial forecast easily. Then you can use real-time data to constantly test the model.
Without the right tools, you’ll be looking backward and drowning in the data. Create a system where you can look forward, and stay strategic in client communication.
Your clients want to know their numbers. They want to know their cash position, their revenue projections, and how the numbers will impact their decision-making.
Your role as the trusted advisor is to connect those desires with data. Your role is to become proficient in financial storytelling.