Get your figures to tell a story and support decision-making

Carol Lupiya said finance professionals should avoid "elevator commentary" and provide insight that drives change.

At too many of the financial results’ presentations professionals attend, there’s what Carol Lupiya, director at The Finance Business Partner, calls “elevator commentary.” Lupiya was speaking at the Finance Indaba 2018 on 3 October in Sandton.

Elevator commentary is when the presenter points to the PowerPoint presentation projected on a big screen and shows that ‘x’ went up and ‘y’ went down. While people may nod their heads or look engaged, they’re grasping what’s happening only superficially.

“People already know what you are showing them. The sales manager knows the sales are low. The economist knows the market is tough,” says Carol.

She added:

“Much of what we tell business is devoid of meaning.”

The trick is to provide further insight that will drive change. Interpreting figures and trends for business clarifies the bigger picture too. On the surface, a figure could indicate doom and gloom, but the story could be more positive if greater context was provided.

Carol suggested removing the clutter from the key messages in the financial results presentation.

“People are bombarded with information about market growth, sales, market share and sales impact, but how do we simplify this and then add further value by providing a path forward?”

Carol said that financial results presentations must help business – such as analysts and procurement officers – make decisions. “This is a finance business partner’s chief role.”

Carol noted that a finance business partner’s chief skills include influencing and negotiating, communication and presentation, and commercial insight. She said that there are tools for this, including Evolution Index – which is instrumental for explaining changes in market share and company ranking.

Carol said that while there are more than 40,000 chartered accountants in South Africa, only about 186 companies are implementing finance business partnering and upskilling finance professionals to take on this important role. “It’s a finance person’s core role in fact, to collaborate with business.”

Carol and her team aim to change the lack of clarity about finance business partnering through their training and collaboration with other companies. Carol aims to enhance critical skills required for successful business partnering via workshops, on job application support and extended e-learning.”

“Ultimately, we transform presentations into interactive dialogues.”