Writing financial commentary in a board paper

writing financial commentary in board papers

By Mary Morel | October 2016

Imagine you’re writing a board paper that contains financial information. You’ve crunched the numbers, even done a graph or two, but you’ve been told by your manager that you need to write ‘commentary’.

If you’re a ‘numbers’ person, words may not be your strength.

Here are a few tips about financial information in a board paper. (Note: I am not talking about regular financial reporting, but financials in a one-off decision or noting paper.)

Include key financial information in the recommendation

If you’re writing a decision paper asking for approval for a project, such as a new IT system, the dollars must be in the recommendation. I know that sounds obvious, but some writers just cover the financials in a separate section of the paper. Since the recommendation becomes the resolution in the minutes, it must be complete and include the key financial information.

Flag key financial information in the summary

I like board papers, even short ones, to have a summary because it contextualises the recommendation. In the summary, I expect the key messages, including financial information, to be flagged. I don’t expect them to be dealt with in any depth, but I want to know upfront why I am reading a paper, where it is heading and what it will cover.

I’ve worked with writers who’ve told me they’ve been asked to write a financial section for a paper and it’s been plonked in under a subheading and not integrated with the rest of the paper. This makes for a disjointed reading experience, and the directors have to join the dots.

Write financial commentary that adds value

The commentary about financial information is an opportunity to state what the data means and why it matters.

Too often writers simply re-state in words what is in the table. This is a waste of time and space since all directors must be able to read and understand financial information.

Integrate the financial commentary with the visuals

If you have several tables or other visuals (charts, graphs) with financial data, write a brief summary, then comment on individual visuals as appropriate.

Sometimes I read dollar-heavy text that is followed by several financial tables. Although I am a words person, I find paragraphs with lots of numbers difficult to read.

Use your headings to convey messages

Most writers write bland headings for their financial tables or graphs, but remember you can use your headings to help convey your message. For example: Profits up because widgets selling well.

Take a break

After you’ve finished writing, it helps to put the document aside and come back to it later. You can then look at it more objectively from the directors’ point of view. What questions are they likely to ask?

Good writing is all about anticipating and answering questions.