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The Art of Storytelling in Accounting: Going Beyond the Numbers

The art and power of storytelling in accounting. ©️ CreateHER Stock.
The art and power of storytelling in accounting. ©️ CreateHER Stock.

In the world of accounting, where precision and accuracy are critical, it's easy to get lost in all the numbers and financial statements. Many people perceive accountants as number crunchers or tax experts, but there's more to us and our profession than that! Beneath the technical and seemingly black-and-white exterior, there's an art, a skill that distinguishes great accountants from the rest – the art of storytelling with numbers.

Every accountant, if y'all haven't already, should embrace the art of storytelling and how it can elevate our roles in the world of business and the reliance on our expertise for decision-making. Storytelling adds value to our work, helping us move beyond the debits and credits and offer insights that truly matter.

The Power of Storytelling

Imagine presenting a deck of financial statements to your audience, showcasing revenue changes, expense fluctuations, and balance sheet movements. You share that revenue is up by X percent, or maybe it's down by X percent, and margins have shifted by a specific number of basis points year over year. But here's the critical question: Does your audience gain anything substantial from your presentation?

In most cases, the answer is no. Your audience can perform basic math and draw these conclusions themselves. So, why bother presenting them with information they already know or can easily figure out? Now your presentation becomes the "meeting that could've been an email" LOL. The true value in our profession lies in telling a compelling story with the numbers.

  1. Diligence and Accuracy: To become a master storyteller in accounting, the first step is diligence and accuracy. If you report that revenue has declined by 14%, you must be absolutely certain about this figure. It's not just about crunching numbers; it's about conducting thorough analyses and deep dives that accountants are renowned for. Pulling reports, invoices, asking questions, all the THINGS. Ensuring the integrity of your data is paramount. Don't make the professional rookie mistake of building a whole business case on bad data.

  2. Comparison and Context: The second aspect of storytelling involves comparing the numbers to expectations. A 14% drop in revenue is significant, but is it in line with what was anticipated? Is this reflected in the forecast or budget? This is where collaboration with your FP&A colleagues comes into play. By aligning your findings with budgeted and forecasted figures, you create context that sparks meaningful conversations. If expectations are aligned and numbers are directionally correct, then comes time to explore what played a role in revenue moving like it did. What is the sales team saying? Is seasonality a factor? Are you clients facing financial challenges? These discussions help identify the drivers behind the revenue decline.

  3. Predictive Insights: Finally, storytelling with numbers extends to predicting the future. Is this decline in revenue a one-time event, a result of unique circumstances, or does it indicate an emerging trend? Management relies on accountants not just to report past performance but to provide insights for proactive decision-making. Predictive analysis becomes a tool for strategic planning.

Accounting is more than numbers. Storytelling is key. ©️CreateHER Stock.
Accounting is more than numbers. Storytelling is key. ©️CreateHER Stock.

Accounting is not just about numbers; it's about weaving those numbers into a compelling narrative. The art of storytelling adds depth and significance to our work as accountants. It transforms us from mere number crunchers into trusted advisors who guide organizations through financial challenges and opportunities.

Here's some commonly asked questions about the art of storytelling in accounting.

Why is storytelling important in accounting?

Storytelling in accounting goes beyond numbers and adds value by providing context, accuracy, and predictive insights. It helps accountants communicate the significance of financial data to stakeholders.

How can I ensure the accuracy of my financial storytelling?

Accuracy is paramount. To ensure precision, conduct thorough analyses, validate data, and cross-reference your findings. Collaboration with colleagues can also help verify your conclusions.

What role does context play in financial storytelling?

Contextualizing financial data by comparing it to expectations, budgets, and forecasts enhances its meaning. It allows for informed discussions and identification of key drivers behind financial changes.

Why is predictive analysis important in storytelling with numbers?

Predictive analysis helps organizations prepare for the future. It identifies trends and potential challenges, enabling proactive decision-making and strategic planning.

How can I become a better storyteller in accounting?

Practice is key. Continuously develop your analytical skills, collaborate with colleagues, and work on presenting financial information in a clear and compelling manner.

By diligently arriving at accurate conclusions, providing context through comparisons, and offering predictive insights, accountants become storytellers who drive positive change. Embrace the art of storytelling in accounting, and you'll find yourself not only mastering the numbers but also shaping the future of your organization.

This is the first of a 3-part series about the Art of Storytelling for Accountants. If you found this post helpful, leave a comment below or share it with your network.

The second post walks you through how to organize your data and create your presentation. The third post helps with presentation skills, knowing your audience, and how to follow up after the meeting.



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