Tools for financial analysis: boost your consulting practice to a higher level.

Author:Estes, James
 
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What do you do when a client asks you to look beyond the standard financial statements and help develop financial goals, forecasts and what-if scenarios? If you re like many accountants, you'd hunker down with a spreadsheet and begin cobbling together an array of custom worksheets. Then you'd probably spend several more hours explaining to the company's managers, most of whom have little or no financial background, what all those numbers mean.

You can perform the task faster and create a more sophisticated presentation with financial analysis software. These products condense complex data analyses into easy-to-understand graphic presentations. And there's a bonus: Such software can vault your practice to a more advanced business consulting level and help you attract new clients.

To help you find a program that best fits your needs--and your budget--we examined seven of the leading packages that represent, by vendors' estimates, more than 90% of the market for such products. The products' features are summarized in Exhibit 1.

Although all the packages are marketed as financial analysis software, they don't all perform every function needed for full-spectrum analyses; however, as a practical matter, not every accountant needs every bell and whistle for his or her practice. As you'll see, the prices for the products vary widely--from less than $200 to several thousand dollars.

Some vendors offer a trial version of the product. Take advantage of that offer. By testing the product with live data you can be sure the software meets your needs and satisfies your clients' requirements.

Financial analysis software is a relatively inexpensive tool that introduces your practice to a wide assortment of engagements. It should allow you to provide a unique service to clients.

THE PRODUCTS

* ACCPAC CFO (Comprehensive Financial Optimizer) is designed for small and medium-size enterprises and can help make business-planning decisions by modeling the impact of various options. This is accomplished by demonstrating the what-if outcomes of small changes. A roll forward feature prepares budgets or forecast reports in minutes. The program also generates a financial scorecard of key financial information and indicators.

* Customized Financial Analysis by BizBench provides financial benchmarking to determine how a company compares to others in its industry by using the Risk Management Association (RMA) database. It also highlights key ratios...

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