How much Excel do you need to know as a Finance Director?
After all, you should be beyond the detail by this point, busy strategising and partnering, not spending all day with your face in a spreadsheet. Right?
I’m a finance director, and I still love solving problems in Excel. It’s genuinely a form of therapy for me to build a new model or report from scratch. I recognise that this does not apply to everyone in my position, however.
Keeping up to date with developments
Even if it’s not your bag, I think finance directors and other senior finance professionals need to keep up to date with Excel. It’s just the same as keeping up to date with technical developments or tax legislation in their sector.
In fact, it’s probably more important. There have been so many developments that have the power to transform transactional and analytical work.
And if you don’t know about these things, how do you know that your team do? How can you gain assurance that your team are doing things in the most efficient way? And are you confident that the spreadsheets you’re relying on are error free?
Unless you run a big enough team for there to be someone else in charge of Excel development, and you literally never do any work in a spreadsheet, it’s worth getting some form of update.
Give me some examples! What do I need to know more about?
I’ve put together a list here of the most important developments in Excel in the past decade or so for finance teams. There have been loads more than mentioned here, but I’m focussing specifically on areas that have the potential to transform finance team work.
- Power Query (2010 as an add on and above). As I’ve written here, this is not just to do with big data. It will transform the work of bookkeepers and finance administrators as much as management accountants and analysts. If you do nothing else, try to get some kind of training on this
- Flash Fill (2013 and above) – Excel’s first steps into AI.
- SWITCH – a development from the CHOOSE function. It allows you to replace nested IFs with something much easier to write and check. There’s a neat example here showing how this can be used for coming up with multiple budgeting scenarios, for example.
- Ideas – available in Office 365, this suggests patterns in your data and allows you to use “natural language” to interrogate tables and graphs. It’s still in its early stages but it’s already coming for your job.
As I said, this just scratches the surface and is focussed on general developments which everyone will find useful. There will also be more specific functions that will be useful depending on your business needs. For example, there are lots of new toys for financial modelling.
Excel training for finance teams
There are also lots of online blogs – have a look at my suggested links.