Power Query for accountants – enhance your trial balance

Power Query has been out for over a decade and yet the majority of accountants I meet still seem unaware of what it can do for them.

A possible issue is that it is usually presented in the context of Power BI, and analysing Big Data. And the type of people who like to talk about that also like to talk about other scary things such as VBA and SQL. There aren’t many training resources or articles focussing on Power Query for accountants more generally.

Perhaps we all need a lightbulb moment. Photo by Zach Lucero on Unsplash
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Why aren’t you using Excel Tables?

Cells A2 – F8 show an Excel Table. The data in rows 10-12 is in a tabular format but is not a Table.

Excel Tables (capital T) have been part of Excel since the 2007 edition. Given it is now well into adolescence, why is it still common to see spreadsheets holding and calculating data but not using Tables?

A quick internet search will reveal tonnes of articles about why you should use Excel tables.

Here is a really good one, for example.

However, in this post, I thought I would explore this from a different angle, to try to understand people’s reluctance to use this amazingly useful tool.

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Excel design tips for non-designers

I have the visual sense of a blind goat, but over the years I have picked up a number of Excel design tips which I apply to any spreadsheet that someone else has to look at.

This post sets out ten areas which you can look at to make your spreadsheets cleaner and more professional.

I’ve written this post on the assumption that you are reading spreadsheets online, but most of these Excel design tips also work for printed documents.

1. Turn off Gridlines

The first tip is the easiest – turn off gridlines. Gridlines are the lines marking the rows and columns.

With gridlines
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Finance team recruitment

Photo by Christina @ wocintechchat.com on Unsplash

With over ten years experience in senior finance positions, I’ve recruited quite a few finance team members, and helped others do the same. I’ve learned what works for me when it comes to finance team recruitment.

Most of this is applicable to any candidate search process but I’ve added a few thoughts throughout about what might be different about recruiting finance team members.

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How to be a good Excel user

What do you need to learn to be “good at Excel”? What Excel training should be mandatory for finance teams?

I really rate the ICAEW’s spreadsheet competency framework as a tool to use to diagnose where you and your team are at and where you should be. It breaks down users into four types – Basic, General, Creator and Developer – and allocates the skills that each level should have.

This is much more helpful to me than users saying that they are “intermediate” or “advanced” users. When I recruit for roles I often use the framework in the job description.

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A smooth year end accounts process

Plan ahead to make your year end run smoothly
Photo by Bill Oxford on Unsplash

If you’re managing a finance team, at some point you (or someone in the team) will need to prepare some kind of year end accounts, also known as statutory accounts. I’ve been doing this for many years now and in this post I will share my observations about what makes for a smooth year end process.

The short version of this; planning in advance will always reap dividends. As you will see, most of my advice concerns things you can and should be doing well in advance of year end.

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Why you need Power Query even if you don’t use Big Data

Power query is a fantastic tool for everyone who uses Excel regularly

I’m ashamed to admit I’m one of those who initially thought of Power Query as being a toy for hardcore financial modelling, or manipulating enormous data sets within multinational companies.

This may be because these are often the sort of examples provided. It’s very easy as a busy finance professional in a small or medium finance team to assume based on this that there are better things to spend your time on.

It was only after my second attempt at learning Power Query that I truly grasped how revolutionary it could be for all finance professionals and teams.  If you use Excel to do anything at all, the chances are Power Query will allow you to do it better. In this article I’ve set out four areas where knowledge of a bit of Power Query could transform your professional life.

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