Business analytics for small businesses is the great frontier these days. It’s an area where most SMB’s just haven’t taken the time to explore, it’s a tool that accounting professionals should implement in their quest to become a trusted advisor to their clients. A new tool in this area is Finagraph, which brings a different approach to business analytics for users of QuickBooks desktop, QuickBooks Online, and Xero.
Finagraph for Business Analytics
Finagraph was established in 2010, but their focus originally was on the banking/lending industry. They have expanded to work with accounting professionals earlier this year. Their aim is to provide “automated financial metrics” so that business owners and their accounting professionals can see a clear presentation of important business analytics metrics without having to perform complex manipulations. This includes comparisons with industry averages to see how the business stacks up against similar companies in the same geographic area.
Emphasis is placed on easy setup, easy generation of the analytics dashboard, explanations of terms and concepts at every step, but also the ability to drill into details to see the source information. After setting up the system for a QuickBooks or Xero user you will be presented with a dashboard similar to the following (this is just a portion of the dashboard):
Their business model matches what The Sleeter Group has talked about on multiple occasions, the accounting professional becoming the most trusted advisor to their clients, performing added services to help the client understand where their business is now and see how they can improve their business processes. Rather than be mired in data entry, the accounting professional can use a tool like Finagraph to easily provide a high level analysis of the current state of the client’s business and point out areas that can be improved.
Finagraph is an SaaS product so there isn’t a lot to do as far as installation. Most of the work involves connecting to the accounting software that you want to use, and setting up users. Finagraph does a good job in making the process as simple as possible.
An accounting professional will have a Finagraph account and a list of client businesses, as shown below.
To add a new business to the list you will click the Add Business button.
There are just four simple questions to answer for a new business:
- Company name
- Business zip code
- NAICS industry code
- Accounting system
Finagraph is going to use the NAICS industry code to provide information on businesses that are similar to yours. The zip code will be used to refine this to businesses of that type that are in the client’s same general area.
The next step is to select the accounting system to work with. Finagraph works with US versions of QuickBooks desktop from 2008 forward, QuickBooks Online, and they are starting to roll out a Xero integration.
Once you select the accounting system Finagraph will lead you through the steps necessary to integrate with that product. This is very straight-forward with the online accounting products. Connecting to the desktop product is a bit more involved because of the requirements of QuickBooks, but Finagraph handles that as smoothly as possible.
I tested the QuickBooks Desktop integration. Since Finagraph is a web based product you need to get the data out of the desktop database and into the Finagraph online system. There are several ways that this can be done by a software developer: using the “Sync Manager” from Intuit, use the SDK “Web Connector” from Intuit, or building a proprietary sync/extraction tool. Finagraph has built their own tool, and this is good as it avoids the complications that you can run into when using the Intuit Sync Manager or web connector.
Once you have the connection established you can periodically extract the data from your accounting system and create a snapshot (called a “Finagraph”) for examination, as I’ll describe below.
Working with Finagraph
Once you have connected the accounting system to Finagraph you can take a snapshot of the current state of the business. Finagraph will export all of the company data into their system and perform an analysis. There are three steps (which may overlap) – collecting the data from the financial product, securely transmitting this to their server, and calculating the “Finagraph” or dashboard. If you have a large file with QuickBooks desktop this may take some time – in all of my tests this usually took five minutes or less, but I’ve seen comments in some discussion forums that talk about long delays for very large company files. I suspect that the big delays are going to be with QuickBooks Desktop files that are very, very large, where performance on the desktop may already be slow. There are many factors involved, and older files may be slower – size of the customer list, number of invoices, things of that sort that accumulate in files that have been around for a long time. Again, I’ve not run into this kind of issue in my tests, but I haven’t worked with a huge file. Note, though, that this transfer can run unattended on your system – and you wouldn’t be doing this every day.
So, now you have your “Finagraph”, a snapshot of your accounting system data as of today, with a number of analytics calculations and comparisons to industry averages for businesses that match your NAIC code and location. All of the key information is displayed in one “dashboard” that you can easily navigate.
Keep in mind that this is a snapshot of the company at this moment. The dashboard can be examined and analyzed, the data won’t dynamically be updated as time goes on. This is an interesting concept – Finagraph provides you with the ability to look back at snapshots you have taken in the past so that you can compare the results with your latest efforts.
Let’s take a quick look at the various sections of this dashboard.
The Health Overview section looks at the overall financial status of the company. You can click on lines that are flagged to see how the value is calculated, with a comparison to the industry average.
Don’t know what “DSCR” or “EBITDA” mean? Hold the cursor over the term and a “hover bubble” pops up with an explanation.
The Finagraph contains a number of business analytics ratios (two tables, “Ratios” and “Asset Ratios”), with flags to indicate how you are doing when compared to industry averages. Click on the line to see the calculation, hover the cursor over the flag to see a brief note of why it was flagged.
In some cases the hover bubble will provide some further analysis of the number, such as what you see below for gross margin:
Again, if you don’t understand the definition of a term, the hover bubble will define the ratio for you and provide you with a statement on “why you care”.
These are some key indicators that Finagraph has chosen as being important to most businesses. Hover over the flag to see a statement.
The Finagraph dashboard presents you with four charts. You have very limited options for manipulating these.
The open invoice concentration chart appears to be the most customizable. If you click on the large chart link you have the ability to change the number of customers included, as well as being able to exclude a particular customer.
Mapping the Chart of Accounts
Some business analytics tools provide you with a standard chart of accounts. You have to create a “map” to configure your imported financial accounts into that standard. Finagraph does not do this kind of mapping, it works with your financial system’s existing structure. This is one of the reasons why the Finagraph setup process is so simple – no complicated mapping.
In many of the tables in the Finagraph dashboard you can click on the column heading and you will be shown the actual financial data that underlies the analysis. As you can see below, Finagraph will show the balance sheet, income statement and list of invoices that were imported from the financial statement. The window on the right is the matching financial statement from QuickBooks that I’ve opened for comparison.
Is this a good approach? Sometimes it is, sometimes it might not be.
It is very good that you can drill down into the charts and see the underlying data. If you had to map your COA to a standard format you would have a harder time relating your data back to the analyzed data.
It also greatly simplifies the setup and import of data. Mapping the accounts to a standard chart of accounts can be very tedious, and if you modify your financial system’s COA at a later date then you have to remember to update the mapping. However, without the mapping, you are relying on the Finagraph system to interpret your information, and that might not always work. In my initial trial, Finagraph misinterpreted my chart of accounts and used the wrong figures in some of the calculations. This was due to the confusing terminology that I used for some of the accounts in the income section. Without being able to create a map, or control how the COA was interpreted, I didn’t have a good way to adjust this other than changing the titles of my accounts, which I didn’t want to do. Note, though, that after I pointed out the issue to the staff at Finagraph, within a few days they had updated their system so that it was no longer a problem.
Comparing Against Industry Data
When you set up a company in Finagraph you are asked for an industry type and location. Finagraph takes this information, and other information that it gleans from your imported file (such as gross revenue) to select the “industry average” values that your company will be compared against.
You do have the ability to either modify the gross revenue range, change specific ratios, or even turn the comparison feature off entirely.
How valuable is this? That is open for debate. Obviously Finagraph believes that this is a key element of their system. Others may argue that this kind of comparison isn’t that important, and might not be applicable to every business. Everyone likes to believe that they are unique, different than everyone else – will adjusting your business practices to meet “industry standards” be a good thing for you or not?
On one hand, if there is a key area where your business isn’t performing as well as comparable businesses, that could be important to know. The Finagraph for one of the companies that I ran through this system pointed out an aspect of inventory management that could use improvement, that I had overlooked.
On the other hand, external benchmarks like this may be of limited value, statistically. They might not take into account all of the variables that differ between various small businesses. Things like the age of the business, for example, may not come through in this type of analysis, and that can be a huge factor.
I’m undecided on this, at this time. I haven’t worked with the system long enough to have a good feel for how important this is. I also don’t know the nitty gritty details of the analysis that Finagraph is doing behind the scenes. Note that with the “custom flag” setting, you can turn off this comparison OR enter your own values for the targets.
You have this nice Finagraph that displays data, and you want to share it with someone. How do you do that?
The options for printing or exporting data are very limited. You can copy the tables and paste the info into Excel fairly easily. The charts can be saved in a number of different formats, but there really isn’t any sort of export or printing feature that packages all of this up nicely. At first, I was disappointed.
But, think about it. The value of this isn’t the static charts and tables. Those are good, but they don’t include a lot of the valuable insight that Finagraph creates if you just look at them in a static report. This system is set up to be an interactive product where you can get popup windows with details, drill down into the underlying data, and more. If you want someone to see this information they really need to get their hands on the website and interact with it. There are two ways to do this: Users and Shareable Links.
There are two kinds of users in Finagraph, client users and accounting users (my terminology). An accounting user is a member of the accounting professional’s firm, and there are limits to the number of these based on the subscription level (as I’ll describe later). These users can work with any of the client files. A client user can only work with their own business information, and there are no limits to the number of client users.
It is very easy to add a user – you click the appropriate add user button, enter the user name and email address, then select the permission level. The user gets a confirming email message, they click the link there and enter a password. Very simple.
The top group are the client users. You don’t have to let them in if you don’t want, but it is better if you do so that they can interact with the system. The key issue is the permission level you allow. “Admin” can use any feature of Finagraph, including making changes. “Write” has more restrictions, some data can be updated. “Read” is a read-only setting.
The second group are the users in the accounting professional’s office, and this is limited by the plan you choose. As before, you can select the permission level per user.
Another way to let someone into the system is a shareable link. As you can see below you can create a time-limited link that you can share with someone, such as a person who may be considering buying that business. This provides read-only access to the Finagraph dashboard.
Finagraph has several levels of pricing for accounting professionals, but it isn’t that complicated. As an accounting professional you have three factors:
- How many client businesses you want to work with.
- How many people in your firm who will need access to the product.
- Do you want to be able to show a prospective client how this will work with their data.
The main factor is going to be the number of clients you are working with. There is a monthly fee that varies with the number of clients, as shown below:
At each level the “Users” feature refers to the number of accounting professional users from your firm – no relation to the number of users that the client has.
The top group are the client users, and there is no limit to the number you can have within any particular company file. The second group is the users in the accounting professional’s office, limited by your pricing plan.
The other price factor is the “Prospecting Pack”, available for an additional fee. With this you can show your client how Finagraph will work. You have a one-time integration with the client database, so you can talk to a potential client and show them how this will work with their real data. This client is not added to your active business list so there is no additional charge, it is a one-time demo for your prospective clients. I like this feature, but I wish it wasn’t an additional cost. If you don’t subscribe to this additional feature you still can show your client a demo of the system using the built-in demo company, but the impact is much greater if you can use the client’s own data.
I didn’t see this mentioned on the “pricing” page, but Finagraph also has an option for the accounting professional to insert their logo on the site as well as in the notification emails that the system sends out, for a one-time fee of $250.00. If you are going to use this in your practice I would strongly consider using this, but I feel that this is something that should be offered at a lower price – perhaps as a free option with one of the higher volume pricing plans?
As with the other business analytics products I’ve discussed, I see accounting professionals adding this to the list of services that they provide to their clients. Monique Colver of Colver Business Solutions has recently added this service, and has this to say:
“I provide it as part of my monthly service package, which I’m increasing going forward because this gives me the ability to provide so much more information. It definitely helps me provide better service, and even gives me more confidence in what I’m presenting to the clients. My clients like that they just click on the link I provide and they have the information in front of them, with color coded charts and graphs, for quarters, months, or years.”
Is This A Good Business Analytics Option?
Here are some thoughts on the product. Note that I haven’t used this product extensively, so I might have overlooked some feature or capability.
On the plus side:
- Navigation is very easy. I was able to work with this product after just a short demo.
- Setup is extremely simple. Part of that is due to not requiring “mapping” of the chart of accounts, as I described above. Part of that is because this is a SaaS product so that you don’t have to install the whole thing on your local system (just the data connector if you are using QuickBooks Desktop).
- I like the ability to take snapshots of the business at any given time, and to be able to recall those later.
- The ability to invite users to see a read-only Finagraph snapshot is great, and it works very simply.
- The program does a lot of analysis for you behind the scenes. You don’t have to be a business analytics or reporting expert, Finagraph does the job for you. Explanations are available where needed.
- The ease of generating comparisons with “industry standards” that are somewhat tailored to comparable businesses is useful.
On the minus side:
- You have to upload the entire database each time you want to take a snapshot of the current state of your company. They don’t just upload the changed information, as I understand it, they upload all of the data each time. If you have a very large amount of transactions, particularly in a QuickBooks Desktop environment, this can slow things down quite a bit.
- There is no reporting capability, unlike the other business analytics tools that I’ve reviewed. For the most part, that is OK, because the real advantage of this system is that it is all packaged for you and you want to work with it interactively to see all the little details. However, there are times when you want to easily create a report for that client who just doesn’t want to take the time to look at a website.
- There is very little configuration that you can do. If you want to use other KPI’s, you are out of luck. If you want a different chart than what is provided, no dice. If there is a part you never use that you just want to hide, I don’t see a way to manage that.
- I mentioned that not needing to do “mapping” of the COA was a plus, but it can also be a minus. As I pointed out above, sometimes Finagraph doesn’t interpret the chart of accounts properly, and there doesn’t seem to be a way to get around that. Also, without a common COA, you can’t create any consolidated reports that work with multiple business files.
- Some people will have concerns about the reliance on “industry standards”. I know, I listed that as a “plus” as well. I’m still working on this concept – is this comparison, as done in Finagraph, a good thing or not?
- This is a relatively new product, and on occasion you may find something that doesn’t work quite right. Of course, anyone working with a major accounting product is already used to finding something “that doesn’t work quite right”. An example that I found is in the Quick Ratio shown below, where the program couldn’t properly handle a situation where it had to divide by zero. At least the program didn’t crash or throw an “unexpected error” at me!
I think that this kind of product has its place. Some people are going to want a product like webKPI, which is highly configurable and provides you with a huge number of KPI’s that you can include in your customized dashboard. Other people will want the ability to create extensive reports that can easily be exported to Excel, and that go into great depth as far as the integrity of the data analysis provided, such as BizTools Analytics. Finagraph works on a different level. It isn’t as configurable, but it is very, very accessible. Of all the products I have worked with it was by far the simplest to use. There is something to be said for that, as long as the analytics are accurate. With Finagraph I can prepare an analytics dashboard for my clients in a very short time. If you are a small firm working with a large number of clients, this could be a great tool for you to provide added value to those clients.