Talking technology – tools of the trade

The lowdown on financial reports

Financial reporting means different things to different people. The finance director of a steel manufacturer may require hourly financial reports on its electrical consumption; a financial reporting assistant in a law firm may need to produce daily bank reports; the board of a national retail chain may require weekly or monthly analyses based on key performance indicators; and the group accountant of a multinational pharmaceutical giant may oversee the production of half-yearly and yearly consolidated accounts for operations in 40 different countries, with 20 different sets of accounting standards.

Just as the frequency and focus of financial reports can vary, so can their scope. Some financial reports are purely accounting and measuring exercises, while others also focus on analysis, or presentation and disclosure; some reports are produced for statutory reasons and must conform to specific external requirements, while the content and format of non-statutory reports can reflect the needs of a variety of internal and/ or external stakeholders. At various times during your finance career, you may find yourself creating reports which reflect some or all of these different priorities and perspectives.

Occasionally, you may be asked to produce financial reports manually, but this is increasingly unlikely. From asset management and corporate performance management, to expense accounting and statutory reporting, via myriad other financial reporting scenarios, you can expect to find yourself working with the support of software and systems.

Spreadsheet-based solutions proliferate, but understanding other people’s spreadsheets, sharing them during iterative processes, and consolidating multiple .csv files can all be tricky. Specialists such as Actuate, Lyquidity, and Mobius, offer tools to make maintenance and management easier, and spreadsheets will be with us for many years to come. Nonetheless, where reports are going to be produced regularly and repeatedly, more sophisticated tools are gaining in popularity. You will find yourself faced with an ever-increasing array of options.

These range from generic tools capable of creating all sorts of pre-defined and user-defined financial reports, to dedicated applications which focus tightly on a particular task or related activities – and they should all be capable of lifting information from a wide range of data sources. Business Objects, Cognos, Hyperion and Microsoft, for instance, are among the organisations that supply multi-purpose business intelligence/financial reporting tools. Suppliers of more focused reporting applications are many and varied and include: Assetware Technology and FMIS, for asset management; Concur and GlobalExpense, for travel and entertainment expense management; and Amtel and Capterra, for telecoms management – to name just a few. So, no matter what sort of financial reporting task you need to undertake, if you are looking for software support, you may well find yourself spoiled for choice.



"Some financial reports are purely accounting and measuring exercises, while others also focus on analysis, or presentation and disclosure"