You can do some pretty useful things with Excel. Templates offer hundreds of ways to organize, budget, chart, invoice, and manage data. Need to be reimbursed for that business trip? Use the preformatted Expense Report. Want to track income and expenses? Use the Business Budget Template.
Every accountant knows that you can also use Excel to process the month-end financial close, manually performing account reconciliations or matching transactions on spreadsheets.
But should you?
As a supercharged visible calculator (how “VisiCalc” derived its name, for any accounting history buffs out there), Excel is at its finest when it’s doing just that: making calculations. But when it comes to managing large amounts of critical data—say, account reconciliations—Excel is a catastrophe just waiting to happen.
It might not be today or tomorrow, but Excel’s trifecta of unique cells, multiple users, and hidden formulas (not to mention those dastardly hidden rows) will eventually spark a financial fiasco. Like it did for AstraZeneca, when confidential information was accidentally embedded in a spreadsheet—and then distributed to outside analysts.[i] Or when an “operator error” in a spreadsheet caused the municipality of West Baraboo, Wisconsin, to underestimate the total cost of a critical bond. By $400,000.[ii]
But blaming Excel is a nonstarter. The responsibility lies, like most technology problems, with the user. We’ve taken great spreadsheet software and tried to make it behave like an all-powerful platform with the capability for complex financial analysis and real-time reporting.
The better way? Use Excel for its intended purpose, as a visible calculator. And then use a finance controls and automation platform for its intended purpose, automating and streamlining your financial close in more ways than you thought possible. Instead of aggregating, sorting, double-checking, and otherwise wrangling hundreds of spreadsheets during your close, a finance controls and automation platform enables you to:
- Centralize account reconciliations and enable staff and auditors to access data on their own time, from their own location
- Electronically certify journals
- Automatically match millions of transactions in minutes
- Create rule-based workflows and automatic escalations, so the close stays on track even if someone misses a task
- Instantly view the close progress and create reports from real-time data
- Reduce the chaos of the close period by completing a few close tasks every day, an approach known as Continuous Accounting, instead of pulling all-nighters at the end of every month
- Eliminate manual data entry so accountants have more time for the real work of accounting—analysis and strategy
What else can a finance controls and automation platform help you do that spreadsheets simply can’t? Find out here.
[i] Kate Kelland and Kate Holton. “AstraZeneca reaffirms outlook after mistaken release.” Reuters. January 9, 2012. Accessed on January 18, 2017, at http://uk.reuters.com/article/uk-astrazeneca-idUKTRE8080BX20120109.
[ii] Brian D. Bridgeford. “W. Baraboo to pay more for borrowed money than believed.” News Republic. December 9, 2011. Accessed on January 18, 2017, at http://www.wiscnews.com/baraboonewsrepublic/news/local/article_7672b6c6-22d5-11e1-8398-001871e3ce6c.html.