A Guide to Management Accounts: Definition, How to Present Them Effectively and their Uses

17 March 2024

Imagine getting in your car not knowing where you are going and not having a speedo or a fuel gauge. You might be running your business just like this. 

Management accounts play a crucial role in providing businesses with vital financial information that helps in decision-making and strategic planning. In this article, we will explore the definition of management accounts, their significance to business owners, steps to prepare and present effective management accounts, the difference between management and statutory accounts, the frequency of producing management accounts, and their role in evaluating a business’s financial position.

What are management accounts and why are they important?

Definition of management accounts

A management account is a set of financial reports that provide a tailored view of its financial performance. These reports typically include profit and loss statements, balance sheets, and cash flow statements.

Importance of management accounts for business owners

For business owners, management accounts are essential in assessing the company’s financial health and making informed decisions. They offer insights into the company’s profitability, liquidity, and overall financial position, enabling owners to strategise and forecast effectively.

Management accounts can be helpful for more than just the owners. Stakeholder analysis will help you understand who your stakeholders are and what their needs are. By ranking their importance, and cross addressing their needs, you can ensure that your set of management accounts includes the information required for their particular needs. 

For example, investors will likely want to see an appropriate risk-adjusted return on investment while regulators will want to see compliance to rules and norms. Understanding who needs what, what power each stakeholder has, the urgency of their needs, and the legitimacy of their actions and opinions will all help inform the exact information you include in your management accounts to make them effective.


How management accounts help with making informed business decisions

Management accounts aid in evaluating the performance of specific aspects of the business, such as the profitability of a particular product or service. They provide valuable financial data that allows business owners to assess different areas of their operations and make informed decisions to improve overall performance.

20% of new business formed in the UK failed within the first year, and only a third make it past the 10 year mark. The main reason businesses cited for their failure was a lack of financing, closely followed by cash flow issues. These are just two common issues that are make or break for a business but can be solved with robust financial practices. Management accounts are key for understanding the state of your business, and communicating that confidently to investors and creditors, protecting your future and improving your performance. 

Key components to include in your management accounts

Management accounts (as a minimum) should typically include profit and loss statements, balance sheets, cash flow statements, and key performance indicators (KPIs) to provide a comprehensive overview of the company’s financial performance.

What are these documents?

Profit and loss statements (or income statement) show the income and expenses of a business over a specific period of time, such as monthly, quarterly, or annually. It is used to calculate the net profit or loss of the business.
Balance sheets provide a snapshot of a company’s financial position at a specific point in time, showing assets, liabilities, and shareholders’ equity. It helps to analyse the overall financial health and stability of the business.
Cash flow statements track the inflow and outflow of cash within a business during a specific period, such as a month or a year. It shows how changes in balance sheet and income accounts affect cash and cash equivalents, providing insights into the liquidity and solvency of the business.


Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) play a pivotal role in effective management accounts, offering insights beyond traditional financial reports. When assessing performance, it’s essential to compare against benchmarks, whether it’s budgets, forecasts, or historical data. This comparison provides a contextual understanding of how well the business is performing against expectations.

It’s important to recognise that management accounts are personalised to suit the specific needs of the business. They are not one-size-fits-all; rather, they are tailored to the unique requirements and objectives of the company.

Management accounts go beyond mere financial numbers; they encompass both financial and non-financial metrics. This comprehensive approach allows for a more insightful analysis, enabling a deeper understanding of the factors driving variances in both volume and value. For example, consider comparing sales figures against marketing spending to assess the return on investment.

Trends are a crucial aspect of KPI monitoring. Consistency over time provides a reliable foundation for decision-making. By identifying trends, businesses can adapt strategies, capitalise on strengths, and address weaknesses.

Monitoring costs is a fundamental aspect of KPIs in management accounts. Understanding where costs are incurred allows for strategic decision-making to optimise spending and improve overall financial health.

Additionally, management accounts contribute to tax planning by introducing the concept of ‘free-cash.’ This involves assessing available cash after all obligations, providing a clearer picture of the business’s financial flexibility. This concept is closely linked to the balance sheet and can guide tax-saving strategies.

Effective KPIs within management accounts involve meaningful comparisons, consideration of both financial and non-financial metrics, recognition of trends, personalisation to the business’s and stakeholder needs, vigilant cost monitoring, and leveraging ‘free-cash’ for strategic financial planning.

Budgets and forecasts

Budgets and forecasts are pivotal tools that can sit within management accounts. A budget outlines expected income, expenses, and goals for a specific period, providing a roadmap for decision-making and resource allocation. Forecasts extend this by predicting future financial outcomes based on current and historical data. Regularly comparing actual performance against budgets and forecasts empowers businesses to make informed adjustments, track progress, and ensure financial stability and growth.

How to prepare and present effective management accounts

Steps to create management accounts

The process of creating management accounts involves gathering financial data from the company’s accounting system and company data, organising it into the relevant categories, and analysing the information to produce the necessary financial reports

Matching Principle

Incorporate the matching principle, encompassing revenue recognition, accruals, and prepayments. This often-overlooked aspect plays a massive role in aligning financial reporting with the actual economic activities of the business.

In practical terms, the matching principle aligns financial reporting with real economic activities. When creating management accounts, this principle guides the transition from cash to accrual accounting, ensuring revenue recognition matches earned income. In this process, expenses like accruals and prepayments are vital, reflecting the economic reality even if cash transactions differ. It’s crucial to grasp the distinction between the Profit and Loss Statement, emphasising profitability on an accrual basis, and the Cash Flow Statement, offering insights into actual cash movements. Both statements serve different purposes, providing a comprehensive view of a company’s financial health.

Review of Chart of Accounts

Regularly look at your chart of accounts, which is like your financial filing system. Pay attention to how detailed, grouped, and named things are. This helps keep your numbers clear and accurate. It’s like tidying up your financial information so you can understand it better.

Steps to Create Management Accounts

  • Gather Data: Begin the process by collecting data from the accounting software, making a crucial shift from cash to accrual accounting to better reflect the economic reality of the business. When you gather data for management accounts, the emphasis on accrual accounting means you’re capturing a broader financial perspective, considering not just the actual cash movements but also recognizing income and expenses when they are incurred, offering a more accurate reflection of the business’s financial health.
  • Ensure Accuracy: Prioritise accuracy by addressing adjustments according to the matching principle. Ensure that every item on the balance sheet contributes meaningfully to the overall financial picture.
  • Draft Financial Statements: Use the accurately organised data to draft tailored financial statements, with a specific focus on the balance sheet and its components.
  • Incorporate Operational Metrics: Elevate the management accounts by incorporating operational metrics. This could include satisfaction scores, inventory turnover rates, and employee productivity. This step goes beyond traditional financial reporting, providing a holistic view of the business’s performance.
  • Analyse and Interpret: Dive into a detailed analysis of financial data. Interpret the findings to extract meaningful insights that can guide strategic decision-making.
  • Share the Insights: Share these insights with key stakeholders. Effective communication of financial information ensures a collaborative approach to decision-making, aligning the entire organisation toward common goals.

In essence, management accounts transcend the boundaries of standard accounting practices. They serve as a dynamic tool, enabling businesses to not only understand their financial standing but also strategically plan for the future. By meticulously following these steps and considering broader operational aspects, businesses can unlock the true potential of their financial data.

While essential for stakeholder management, management accounts serve internal purposes, allowing for the inclusion of “overlays” or elements not accounted for in your ledger. For instance, consider adding a commercial salary. If you’re optimising tax efficiency with a combination of salary and dividends, it’s crucial to assess the commercial viability. Ask yourself: If you were to step away, could the business afford to pay someone to fulfil your role? This approach provides flexibility and strategic choices for your business.

Benefits of using management accounts to access new funding

When seeking new funding, management accounts can be instrumental in demonstrating the company’s financial health and potential for growth. They provide potential investors and lenders with a clear understanding of the business’s financial capabilities, making it easier to secure funding.

What is the difference between management accounts and statutory accounts?

Comparison of management accounts and statutory accounts

The primary distinction between management and statutory accounts lies in their purpose. Management accounts are designed to provide the management team with internal financial information for decision-making, while statutory accounts are prepared for legal and regulatory purposes and produced at the year end and reflect performance over the financial year and used to meet compliance and tax filings requirements for Companies House and HMRC – the format is very prescriptive and complies with reporting standards, whereas management accounts can be tailored and flexible to suit your needs.

How management accounts are used to help with statutory reporting requirements

While management accounts are not intended for external use, they can still support the preparation of statutory accounts by providing detailed financial data and insights into the company’s financial position, ensuring accurate and compliant reporting.

Key considerations when preparing both types of accounts

When preparing both management and statutory accounts, it’s crucial to ensure accuracy, consistency, and compliance with relevant accounting standards and regulations such as those set by HMRC.

How often should management accounts be produced and how can they help your business?

Frequency of producing management accounts (monthly or quarterly)

Management accounts are usually produced on a monthly or quarterly basis to provide regular updates on the company’s financial performance, enabling businesses to track their progress and make timely adjustments to their operations.

While speed of production can be a strong competitive advantage, it’s vital to ensure accuracy as well. A balance needs to be found, and this will depend on your individual business needs.

Ways in which management accounts help to assess your business’s financial health

By analysing key financial metrics and KPIs from management accounts, businesses can gain insights into their financial health, identify trends, and pinpoint areas that need improvement, enabling them to make strategic decisions and improve overall performance. The continuous cycle of using actuals to inform the forecast, which then helps set the budgets, forms a dynamic loop of financial planning and evaluation, ensuring businesses stay adaptive and responsive to changing circumstances.

Using key performance indicators (KPIs) from management accounts to improve business performance

KPIs such as gross profit margin, accounts receivable turnover, and inventory turnover derived from management accounts provide valuable indicators of business performance, helping companies to enhance efficiency, profitability, and productivity. Using the right KPIs for your business can be make or break – it’s vital that you rely on realistic and accurate indicators, rather than vanity metrics. There is an endless list of potential numbers to track. Choosing the right ones is what really makes an impact.

The role of management accounts in providing a snapshot of your business’s financial position

Understanding the financial information provided in management accounts

Management accounts offer a detailed view of a company’s financial position, including its cash flow, assets, liabilities, and overall profitability, providing a comprehensive understanding of its financial standing. Ultimately, management accounts are there to serve you and your stakeholders. Use information and formatting that you understand and makes sense in your environment.

Utilising cash flow statements, balance sheets, and profit margins in management accounts

Cash flow statements, balance sheets, and profit margins included in management accounts offer a holistic view of a company’s financial position, assisting management in assessing its liquidity, solvency, and profitability.

How management accounts contribute to a comprehensive business plan

Management accounts provide essential financial data that is integral to crafting a comprehensive business plan. By analysing the insights provided in these accounts, businesses can develop strategic plans for future growth and success.

Software alone can’t solve financial challenges. It’s crucial to get the numbers right and ensure the chart of accounts makes sense. The importance of having a forecast in a set of management accounts not only provides something to compare against but also offers a forward projection, typically spanning six months actuals and six months budget/forecast. This approach opens the debate on whether to fix the budget for the next 12 months once agreed, particularly pertinent for smaller businesses where realism in predictions becomes key. The forecasting element becomes a dynamic tool in predicting where the business is heading and allows for necessary adjustments.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

What Are Management Accounts and Why Are They Important?
Management accounts are internal financial reports that provide detailed insights into a business’s performance, including revenue, expenses, profit, and cash flow. They are crucial for informed decision-making, helping business owners and managers understand where the business stands financially and where it’s heading.

How Often Should Management Accounts Be Prepared?
Ideally, management accounts should be prepared monthly or quarterly. This frequency ensures that business owners have up-to-date financial information to make timely decisions and adjust strategies as needed. Speed can offer a competitive advantage, but that shouldn’t be at the sacrifice of accuracy.

What’s the Difference Between Management Accounts and Statutory Accounts?
While management accounts are for internal use and can be tailored to the specific needs of the business, statutory accounts are formal financial reports prepared annually for external stakeholders, such as investors and tax authorities, according to legal standards. Statutory accounts need to follow strict regulations, management accounts should be tailored to your needs.

Can Small Businesses Benefit from Management Accounts?
Absolutely. Small businesses can gain significant insights from management accounts, as they help identify financial trends, manage cash flow, and improve overall profitability.

Do I Need an Accountant to Prepare Management Accounts?
While an accountant can provide expertise, especially for complex businesses, many small business owners with a basic understanding of finance can prepare simple management accounts using accounting software. However, business owners shouldn’t rely on software alone. Take the time to learn about management accounts and how they’re used so that you can use tools to support your knowledge – and when you don’t have time to do that, get help.


Management accounts play a pivotal role in the financial health and strategic planning of small to medium-sized businesses. They not only shed light on the current financial performance but also guide business owners and entrepreneurs in making informed decisions that drive growth and profitability. By regularly reviewing management accounts, business owners can stay ahead of potential financial issues, optimise their operations, and ultimately achieve their business goals.

We encourage business owners and entrepreneurs, especially those with limited financial knowledge, to embrace the practice of maintaining and reviewing management accounts. This knowledge empowers you to steer your business with confidence and clarity. For further insights and guidance, consider consulting with a financial professional or exploring educational resources on financial management. Engaging with these practices is a step towards securing a prosperous future for your business.