What is a variance report?

A variance report is a document that compares planned financial outcomes with the actual financial outcome. In other words: a variance report compares what was supposed to happen with what happened. Usually, variance reports are used to analyze the difference between budgets and actual performance. The variance report is also called, “budget variance” or simply “variance,” depending on the financial outcomes you’re comparing. “Variance” is the difference between the budgeted/baseline goal and the actual reality. You can express variance as a percent or a dollar figure.

How to write a variance report:

To write a variance report, you must complete the following steps:

  • Collect and organize the data you wish to analyze in a spreadsheet. This could mean: budget data for a given time period in one column vs. actual data from the same time period in another column.
  • Determine the variance in separate columns. You can choose to express variance as a financial figure and then again as a percent.
  • Explain the variance. You must explain what occurred to cause the variance, whether positive or negative. Best practices dictate that you should use unemotional language and be short and concise. Indicate the variance you’re speaking about. Then describe the cause of the variance. Finally, outline potential or actual effect on your organization. 

What is the indication of a good variance report?

There are two indications of a favorable budget variance:

  • Revenue is higher than the budget or,
  • The expense is less than the budget.

Any result that puts funds back into the corporate wallet is a good variance. On the contrary, an unfavorable budget variance is marked by a financial loss. Unfavorable budget variance signals that you used a poor baseline for measuring future results.

When is variance reporting used?

Variance reporting is used in: budgetary analysis, sales target analysis, trend reports, and spending analysis.

How can you improve budget variance?

Improving budget variance begins when you’re establishing your budget targets. To establish realistic targets, you must have the ability to:

  • Access past budgets
  • View current performance data, including: expenses/costs, revenue, customer data, market data and historical trends
  • Create accurate forecasts and construct models based on real-time and historical data
  • Play out what-if scenarios
  • Understand how finance affects operations and vice versa
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Variance Analysis Reporting
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