Strategy, Legal & Operations

What is a financial statement?

Financial statements enable you to identify trends, forecast future performance, and make strategic decisions backed by concrete data.

Imagine you’re planning a road trip. You’ve got a destination in mind, but to get there efficiently, you need a map.

In the world of business, that map is a financial statement.

It’s not just a collection of numbers and accounting jargon, it’s the blueprint of your business’s financial health.

Understanding financial statements can be the difference between wandering aimlessly and driving your business towards success. These statements narrate the financial story of your business. By delving into them, you gain insights into your business’s financial health, operational efficiency, and growth potential.

Financial statements enable you to identify trends, forecast future performance, and make strategic decisions backed by concrete data.

With a firm grasp on your financial statements, you’re not just running your business; you have a better chance of steering it with precision towards a more profitable and sustainable future.

Understanding financial statements

At its core, a financial statement is a formal record of a company’s financial activities. It tells you where your money came from, where it went, and where it is now.

Think of it as a financial health report card for your business.

Whether you’re a budding entrepreneur or a seasoned business owner, grasping this concept is crucial for making informed decisions.

Financial statements offer a comprehensive view of your business’s financial landscape, highlighting areas of strength and pinpointing where improvements are needed. They act as a reality check, revealing the true impact of your business decisions in monetary terms.

By regularly reviewing and analyzing your financial statements, you cultivate a deeper understanding of your business’s operational dynamics.

This understanding is invaluable, enabling you to adapt to changing market conditions, manage risks effectively, and seize opportunities with confidence.

In essence, becoming proficient in reading financial statements is not just about understanding numbers, it’s about gaining a strategic advantage in the competitive world of business.

Types of financial statements

A company’s financial statements are made up of several smaller statements:

  • Income statement
  • Balance sheet
  • Cash flow statement
  • Statement of changes in equity
  • Notes to the financial statements.

Each of these statements serves a unique purpose.

For publicly traded companies listed on the Toronto Stock Exchange (TSX) their financial statements are often part of a much larger report called an annual report.

The annual report also includes things such as the CEO’s letter and a management discussion and analysis (MD&A) where the management team of the company breaks down the highlights of the last year and suggests areas where improvement is needed.

Here is an can find an example of the Royal Bank of Canada annual report.

Income statement

This is the report card of your business’s profitability over a specific period (one year or one month is the most common).

It lists your revenues and expenses, culminating in a net profit or a net loss.

For instance, if your business sold $100,000 in goods but had expenses of $60,000, your income statement would show a net profit of $40,000. Conversely, if you sold $100,000 in goods and had expenses of $160,000, your business would show a net loss of $60,000 on the income statement.

The top of every income statement will indicate what period it is for. For example, it will say, “For the Month Ended July 31, 2023” or, “For the Year Ended December 31, 2023.” This is to make it clear to stakeholders what they are reading.

An income statement may also be referred to as:

  • Profit and Loss Statement (P&L)

  • Statement of Profit and Loss

  • Statement of Operations

  • Operating Statement

  • Revenue Statement

  • Expense Statement

  • Statement of Financial Performance

Balance sheet

The balance sheet is a snapshot of your financial position on a certain date.

For this reason, unlike the income statement that indicates which period it is for, the balance sheet indicates the date.

Following the two examples in the income statement section, a balance sheet that accompanies the income statement for the month ending July 31, 2023 would say, “As at July 31, 2023.”

The balance sheet that accompanies the income statement for the year ending December 31, 2023 would say, “As at December 31, 2023.”

The balance sheet lists your company’s assets, liabilities, and shareholders’ equity.

Your assets (what you own) must equal your liabilities (what you owe), plus any equity in the business (what’s left for the owners).

A balance sheet may also be referred to as:

  • Statement of Financial Position
  • Statement of Financial Condition
  • Statement of Assets and Liabilities
  • Net Worth Statement
  • Statement of Solvency

Cash flow statement

This statement tracks the flow of cash in and out of your business.

It’s split into three parts: cash from operating activities, investing activities, and financing activities. The cash flow statement is crucial for understanding where your business’s money is going and how your bills are being paid.

The operating activities section reflects the cash generated or used by the company’s core business operations. Items belonging in this section include net income adjusted for non-cash items and changes in working capital.

For example, if a company reports a net income of $100,000, but this includes $20,000 of depreciation (a non-cash expense), and there’s a decrease in accounts receivable by $10,000, the net cash from operating activities would be adjusted accordingly.

This section shows whether the company can generate enough cash flow to maintain and grow its operations.

The investing activities section deals with the cash used in or generated from investment-related activities.

This includes purchasing or selling assets, such as property and equipment, or investments in other businesses.

For instance, if a company spends $50,000 on new machinery, this amount is listed as a negative cash flow under investing activities. Conversely, if it sells an asset, the proceeds from the sale are recorded as positive cash flow.

In the third section, financing activities, the cash flow between the company and its owners and creditors is shown.

This includes activities such as issuing stocks, paying dividends, and borrowing or repaying loans.

If a company issues new shares and raises $200,000, this is noted as positive cash flow. Similarly, if it pays out $30,000 in dividends, this is recorded as a negative cash flow.

By analyzing these three sections, stakeholders can gain a comprehensive view of how a company is managing its cash, where its cash is coming from, and how it’s being used. This information is vital for assessing the company’s liquidity, solvency, and overall financial health.

The cash flow statement is sometimes referred to as:

  • The statement of cash flows
  • The cash flow report.

Statement of changes in equity

Often overlooked, this statement shows how the company’s equity has changed over time, reflecting investments, dividends, and earnings or losses.

Equity is the residual interest in the assets of a business after deducting liabilities.

In simpler terms, it represents the value that would be returned to a company’s shareholders if all the assets were liquidated and all its debts were paid off.

Equity can be seen as a measure of a company’s net worth and is often referred to as shareholder’s equity or owner’s equity. It includes elements such as common stock, preferred stock, retained earnings (the amount of income kept in the business), and additional paid-in capital.

For example, if a company has total assets of $500,000 and total liabilities of $300,000, the equity of the company would be $200,000.

This equity value can fluctuate over time as the company earns profits or incurs losses, issues more shares, or buys back existing shares.

Equity is a critical indicator of a company’s financial health and its ability to generate value for its shareholders.

For an incorporated business, the statement of changes in equity is referred to as the statement of retained earnings.

Notes to the financial statements

The notes to the financial statements, often considered the fine print of a company’s financial disclosure, play a crucial role in providing a complete picture of its financial health.

These notes include detailed information on the accounting methodologies used, breakdowns of individual line items, disclosures about potential liabilities or risks, and insights into future financial commitments of the business.

The notes serve to clarify and expand upon the figures presented in the primary financial statements, offering context and explanations that can significantly impact the interpretation of the company’s financial position and performance.

For stakeholders, these notes are indispensable as they often contain vital information that could influence investment decisions, such as details about legal disputes, regulatory requirements, or significant contracts.

In essence, the notes act as a narrative that complements the numerical data, ensuring transparency and aiding in a more informed and nuanced understanding of the financial statements.

Elements of a financial statement

Now you’ve been introduced to the individual statements that make up the financial statements as a whole, let’s break down the key elements.


Assets are what your company owns. They can be current (cash or inventory) or fixed (buildings or machinery).

For instance, a laptop purchased for business use is an asset.


Liabilities are obligations your company needs to pay off, such as loans or accounts payable. They’re crucial in assessing financial risk.


Equity is the owner’s (or shareholders’) interest in the company. It’s what’s left after you subtract liabilities from assets.

If your business has assets of $100,000 and liabilities of $60,000, your equity stands at $40,000.


This is the income generated from normal business operations. It’s the top line of your income statement.

Small businesses will generally have one line on their income statement for revenue.


Expenses are the costs incurred in the process of generating revenue, such as rent, utilities, and salaries.

The importance of financial statements in business

Understanding financial statements is critical for several reasons:

  • Decision-making: They help you make informed business decisions, such as whether to expand operations or cut costs.
  • Tracking performance: By regularly reviewing the financial statements, you can monitor your business’s financial health.
  • Investor relations: Financial statements are essential for attracting investors, as they show your business’s profitability and growth potential.
  • Legal and tax compliance: Properly prepared financial statements ensure your business meets legal requirements and accurately reports taxes.

Final thoughts on financial statements

Financial statements are more than just numbers; they’re the story of your business’s financial journey. By understanding them, you equip yourself with the knowledge to steer your business in the right direction.

Remember, these statements are tools to help you make better business decisions.

Regularly reviewing and understanding them can provide insights into improving profitability, managing cash flow, and driving sustainable growth.

In conclusion, your financial statements are your business’s roadmaps. Learning to read them effectively is like having a GPS for your business journey. They show where you’ve been, where you are, and can help chart the course to where you want to be.