The Pitfalls of Tables in Financial Reports: A New Approach to Data Presentation

In the world of finance, it’s common practice to inundate reports and presentations with an overwhelming number of tables, charts, and bullet points. However, it’s time to pause and reconsider this age-old tradition. Are we truly effectively communicating our financial data to our audience? More often than not, the answer is a resounding no.

Tables, those intricate grids of numbers and figures, have long been the go-to method for displaying financial data in reports and presentations. But let’s face it—tables are the single worst way to bring numbers to life. Nothing can make eyes glaze over faster than a P&L account or a balance sheet rendered in rows and columns.

The problem lies in the fact that 99.9% of finance reports are designed by finance professionals, for finance professionals. We craft our reports with meticulous attention to detail, aiming to account for every financial nuance. However, we often forget that the end-users of these reports are not fellow finance experts.

When you ask a non-finance person what they want to see in a financial report, very few will respond with enthusiasm to the prospect of sifting through:

❌ 30 or 40 slides filled with tables of numbers

❌ Bullet points describing accounting adjustments

❌ Waterfall charts attempting to reconcile everything to everything

Yet, that’s precisely what we serve them on a silver platter. It’s time to shift our perspective and address what our audience truly desires:

✅ They want to understand the commercial drivers behind today’s numbers—what happened and why.

✅ They crave insights into the implications these numbers hold for the future.

✅ They seek actionable steps they can take to address financial challenges and opportunities.

Our tendency to inundate them with 40+ slides of glorified data puke hinders our ability to influence and be active participants in important discussions. It’s time for a change.

So, where should we begin? The answer lies in ditching the tables and instead focusing on the three most important messages. In essence, we should strive to convey the key takeaways concisely and clearly. By presenting financial information in a more digestible and actionable format, we can bridge the gap between finance and the broader business community.

In conclusion, it’s high time we reassess our approach to presenting financial data. Tables may have been the norm, but they are far from effective in conveying the insights that truly matter. By shifting our focus to what our audience needs—understanding the “why,” deciphering future implications, and identifying actionable steps—we can become more influential players in the grand scheme of business decisions. Let’s ditch the tables and embrace a more impactful way of sharing financial information.


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