James Kipling, Product Manager, Quantrix
Spreadsheets are used by nearly every organization in the world. Some estimates suggest that 98% of businesses, including banks, use an Excel document at some point every single day – for tasks from the mundane such as petty case management, all the way through to business-critical functions such as budgeting, forecasting and regular financial analysis.
It’s common knowledge that the world is run on spreadsheets. But, is the world’s most ubiquitous financial planning tool really the right one for your organization?
For banks and businesses alike, building for long-term growth and success requires the right preparation, planning, and forecasting.It’s a simple concept, but every hour spent planning and preparing for growth now could end up saving 20 times that investment in future – meaning your business could be in a far better position to respond to any future market or regulatory changes. And using the right tools to get this planning right is critical for your organization.
The challenge for fast-growing businesses
For fast-growing businesses, banks and financial services organizations, the problem can be magnified. With so much going on requiring immediate attention, it can be a real challenge to see past the short term, let alone plan for scenarios that are several years in the future. Planning ahead can be a low on the list of priorities – so when a gap in the calendar does arise, it’s easy to just open an Excel document and plough ahead. After all time is short.
In the most successful companies, forecasting is the primary driver that guides strategic decision making across the business. With this in mind, its essential that forecast models are built with up-to-date and reliable data, encompass the full spectrum of possible scenarios and can be integrated with the rest of the business. This in turn, will help demonstrate the full ‘cause and effect’ of any scenario changes as they ripple through the organization. Banks today also sit on a wealth of customer data, and will need to ensure this is integrated with the rest of the business to ensure their forecasting is as accurate as possible.
With so much data available, it’s no surprise that spreadsheets are becoming increasingly complex and cumbersome.
At Quantrix, we regularly speak with banks and forward-looking organizations that are looking for a different approach. Many have found themselves in some rather unforgiving ruts: with monolithic, inflexible spreadsheets dominating the entirety of their processes, wasting vital time, money, resources, and patience.
The rise of ‘big data’ has only added to this problem. As businesses look to increase the speed and efficiency in how they analyze trends in customer and financial data, there’s often temptation to analyze historical trends using every bit of data available, using the latest and greatest business intelligence tools.In practice, the businesses with superior forecasting abilities are those that will truly thrive in an increasingly competitive market.Forecasting isn’t about having all the data. It’s about having the right data. Which is where many organizations today are falling short.
Back to the future
That spreadsheet we discussed earlier, pulled together in a rush by a time-short executive during the early phases of creating a new business, is likely to still be in use. Not only that– the spreadsheet is likely to have grown in size and complexity in tandem with the business. Originally intended to be used for basic forecasting in a start-up’s early years, workbooks like these can evolve into a large team effort, spanning different cities, time-zones and even countries as the business grows.This then becomes the go-to tool for both business analysts and the finance department.But all too often we see scenarios where multiple-versions of the spreadsheet are distributed, introducing risks and room for error to occur.
When multiple versions of a spreadsheet need to be compared, contrasted and edited to create a true ‘master file’, the integrity of data will always be in doubt. It’s also a very inefficient and time-consuming way to work. If spreadsheet versions aren’t consistently maintained, all it takes is one incorrect version being circulated for errors to start to appear. If an error is ever noticed, the lack of controls provided by typical spreadsheet software today makes it hard to determine when and where in the process any critical changes, or errors, occurred. ‘Big data’ only further adds to this minefield.
Traditional spreadsheet limitations
Traditional spreadsheets have attempted to solve problems with collaboration, but solutions such as ‘cell protection’ can make models inflexible, hard to edit, and also remove the capacity for ‘self-service modelling’, decreasing employee efficiency and productivity.
Single spreadsheets can become integral to the running of a business almost overnight and it can subsequently be very difficult for organizations to reign back their use.
Technology continues to evolve at breakneck speed, and it’s up to businesses to make sure they keep up in all aspects. Just as a paper filing system isn’t suitable for managing sensitive customer records, and Microsoft Paint isn’t the right tool for even the most talented graphic designer, the same applies to spreadsheets. Whether you are a bank, business or a financial institution, organizations today must use the most relevant technology to meet their needs which might even mean giving up traditional spreadsheets.
It sounds obvious, but using the right tools for the right job will ensure that efficiency time-drains such as formula writing, error checking and auditing are all alleviated through the use of professional features such as natural language formula writing, a built-in audit trail and a visual dependency inspector.
To truly succeed in a fast-growing environment, banks and businesses should look to implement collaborative, multi-dimensional modelling technology to enhance their financial planning and forecasting capabilities.When you’re spending thousands of pounds on capturing and analyzing data, it’s too costly to have a spreadsheet let you down. The future of your business could depend on it.