Breaking the Stress Cycle in Accounting: How to Streamline Financial Reporting Processes


Today’s business structures make financial and managerial reporting daunting, overwhelming, and just downright frustrating. With businesses implementing more systems that need reporting and each company seeming different from the other, accountants are exhausted trying to keep up. The accountant must also comply with several reporting standards, which adds another level of complexity and frustration. Most accountants report that their organization’s reporting process is antiquated and tedious. It is no surprise that research by AAT found that 90% of people who work in accountancy have been stressed out, with 43% having to take time off due to stress—making accountancy one of the most stressful industries. I am preaching to the choir unless you are the 10% unaffected by stress.

Here are some contributing factors to Accounting stress:

  • Being overworked (41%)
  • Office politics (33%)
  • Feeling undervalued (29%)
  • Failure to increase pay or rewards (29%)
  • Having to attend too many meetings (28%)

More clients want more information – and a better understanding of that data, which requires more hours from accountants. This demand on their time accounts (no pun intended) for a large percentage of the stress accountants feel. Now, more than ever, businesses need more understandable information to make wise decisions. The volume of requested reports continues to rise steadily, with companies looking to their accountants to create and provide them. Accountants are in a catch-22. They want less stress but must provide more reports, and more reports bring more stress. And all of this comes when firms are having a difficult time staying. So here we sit, needing to provide more reports with fewer resources.

Reporting Tools

Archaic tools utilized for reporting in the accounting world have not kept up with the change in business reporting requirements and place firms behind the eight ball. Most accountants use restrictive reporting tools that don’t play well with others. This lack of interaction creates a frustrating environment when it comes to reporting. 60% of small business owners feel they aren’t knowledgeable about accounting. For this reason, it is vital that accountants implement the right tools to gather, input, and analyze client data in an effective, efficient way that improves their client’s financial prowess.

Reporting Process

Looking beyond the tools most firms utilize, some processes must be reviewed and restructured. You might not know that you have more bandaids in your reporting process than you have processes. However, if you are like most firms, you don’t have the time to overhaul the way you do reports. It is easier to put on another bandaid and keep going. Your current process is likely littered with bandaids that require additional bandaids. These bandaids and archaic tools create a painful, inefficient process that firms seem to blindly accept as the cost of doing business. Manually updating data in a spreadsheet or report is painful, no matter how much you love numbers. According to a recent FP&A survey, 66% of financial professionals surveyed said they spend more than nine hours on non-value-added activities, while 27% said they spend 20+ hours a month. Imagine reallocating 20+ hours a month from 27% of your firm. What would be possible?

So now what?

I have presented some data, pointed out problems, and made you scratch your head with more frustration. Breath. Let’s not bite off more than we can chew. Take Bill Murray’s advice; “Baby steps, one tiny step at a time, and I can do anything.” Before tearing down the process and burning your tools, you need to understand what you want to accomplish.

What is your financial reporting objective?

Understanding what your objective is before you change your process is vital. Changing things willy nilly, yes I said willy nilly, will cause frustration and heartache. So what is it that your team wants to accomplish? What is it that will increase your value to your client? Start by looking at your current process. Is it accomplishing your objective? Is it providing your clients with what they need? You might realize it is hitting the mark, or maybe you don’t know what it’s accomplishing. That is ok. If you see room for improvement, ask yourself a few questions. With every step, make sure to ask yourself why you are doing everything you do. What information do you need to gather to achieve your objective? Can you collect the data from the resources you have? With every answer you give, follow it up with the question ‘Why?’. You will be surprised that asking yourself ‘why?’ will force you to go beyond the surface and help you genuinely understand your objective and how you will get there. Once you understand your objective and what data you want to provide, you can decide what reports you want to offer and how you will produce and deliver each report.

Understand your reporting process.

Stay curious. Why are you providing the reports you do? Are you delivering them in a way that is best for both you and your client? What are your data sources? Now that you know the what and why of the reports you provide, let’s look at how we move from concept to deliverable.

The phases of the reporting process.

There are four phases of the reporting process, and the preparation between these phases is where most of the work occurs. The four phases are collect, organize, analyze and deliver. When working with several clients and providing hundreds if not thousands of reports a year, these phases and the work that goes with them seem crippling. But, if you step back, you will see similarities between clients and the reports you provide. Once you see the similarities, you can identify bottlenecks, redundancy, and risks, allowing you to standardize and standardize the reports you provide. Breaking up your process into these four phases will help you look for opportunities to improve efficiency and deliver effective reports that clients will appreciate.

Phase 1: Collect Data

Standardize your collection process by standardizing your client’s general ledgers. Take the time upfront to create templates to consistently submit unstructured, structured, non-financial, and disconnected data. This simple process will help automate your process for quick and accurate collection of data.

Phase 2: Organize Data

Organize data in a way that makes the reader’s understanding clear and straightforward. Tables, columns, and rows seem to be the preference of most accountants, but presenting data in such a way can be confusing and overwhelming for non-accountants. However, data is more fully understood if presented visually through graphs, bars, charts, etc. Take the time to understand which metrics best present data visually to your clients.

Phase 3: Analyze Data

Businesses want to understand their data and what that data represents with respect to their goals. Unfortunately, accountants have not had the resources to provide this vital service to their repertoire. Mainly due to time constraints. With more demands from clients, accountants understand that to stay viable, they must provide advisory services to their clients. By looking at your reporting processes and tools, you can save time and reallocate that time to providing and enhancing your advisory offering.

Phase 4: Deliver Data

Establish a delivery process that is automated, consistent, and accurate every time. Reporting software will drastically reduce your time gathering, creating, ensuring accuracy, and delivering reports as electronic pdf or interactive web-based dashboards. Provide more than basic financial reports. Reach Reporting allows accountants to standardize their reporting process by building multiple reports from scratch, turning them into templates, and automating reports that differentiate their offerings for every one of their clients. These solutions also provide an environment where clients can access published electronic PDFs and interactive dashboards while sharing multiple views with departments throughout their company in one secure location.

Don’t worry, be happy.

I understand there is a lot to do, and there is no ‘little song’ that will make all your worries go away. But I know you can do it! Take a look at your objective, review your current process, be curious about why you are doing what you are doing, create a process that saves you time and provides better reports, and then break it down into ‘baby steps.’ Reassess the tools you are currently using and consider if there are better tools that will save you time. Don’t be afraid to use technology to your advantage. Don’t wait any longer. The longer you wait, the more behind the eight ball your firm will be.

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