Welcome to the first of a series of articles on the design of client reports for wealth and asset managers. The concept of this series is to bring together ideas and guidelines for how we place data on a page or screen. The first few articals should be applicable to reports created in PDF, Powerpoint, Excel and web formats. At the end of the series we will be more focused on printed reports and then web content.
This first article explains how we display numbers.
Text Alignment and Spacing
For factual content such as client reports, text should be left aligned and numbers should be right aligned. Never use central or fully justified alignment. If there is a table, the table headers should have the same alignment as the table content.
On any particular table, every number will need the same spacing. This will usually mean that the font size is consistent. Be careful about making particular columns or rows bold – having consistent spacing will often mean that that bold items will appear crowded if when at the spacing of non-bold items. Highlighting particular columns or rows can is better done through changing the background colour or adding lines of other space dividers.
A special case for alignment is alphabetical or alphanumeric identifiers which have a consistent number of characters (ISINS, SEDOLS, CUSIPS). These should be fixed width spacing, and the alignment should not matter (as they should all then have the exact same width).
One disadvantage with mono-spaced fonts is that they are spaced for the widest letters and numbers. The content looks “thinner” and “spaced out” compared to the typefaces we are used to. To compensate, we would normally uses heavier weighted (bold) text all the time. The table below shows some alternatives on how to highlight content when using mono-spaced fonts.
Although most currencies are denominated with 2 decimal places there are some exceptions. The most notable being Japanese Yen and Korean Won, with no decimal places. There are also some other currencies that have 3dp, and sometimes that 3rd place just represents a 1/2 value, so is either zero or five. These currencies include Kuwaiti, Bahraini, Iraqi and Jordanian Fils.
If your clients are based in these currencies, it is important that your numbers are correctly denominated. Otherwise your reports are going to look (and be) wrong compared to locally produced reports. Even if your reports are not to be sent to these countries, it is good practice to get this right, and you may gain new clients that will demand the correct decimalisation.
When these currencies are mixed, make sure that it is the decimal point that is aligned.
Decimal Mark and Thousand Separator
There are 2 methods for formatting currencies in western character sets.
- Comma as a thousand separator and period as a decimal point (usually used in english speaking countries)
- Period as a thousand separator and comma as a decimal point (usually used in non-english speaking countries)
The reasons behind the different standards are long and compicated – if you have some spare time, it is explained at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Decimal_mark, and includes the full list of countries using each standard.
If there is a need to offer both styles, the selection should be made on a per-client basis . Within a single produced report, the formatting must be consistent.
Scaling of numbers on reports is common to save space and allow focus on the material values being presented. The common scales are thousands, millions and billions. I always want to display the full numbers every time a “raw” value is displayed, such as the settlement amount on a single transaction, of the valuation of a single holding. It does improve readability, such as shown below. One note of caution when considering scaling is that the values may differ substantially over time and between clients, so make sure that any scaling chosen makes sense for the scenarios that you are reporting on.
Total of Rounded Values or Rounded Total Values?
Which of the last 2 columns are correct?
It is mathematically correct to use the option on the left (and most accounting and reporting systems would do this). However, some readers of the report will be confused when seeing numbers in front of them to not total correctly. The difference is unlikely to be material, so either could be argued to be correct. I would choose depending on how I thought the data is to be used. If it is likely to be compared with other data, go with the “rounded total” option on the left, if the data is just be read on a single page, go with the “total of rounded” option on the right.
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