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How a new cloud-based excel add-on is changing the world of FP&A modelling

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How a new cloud-based excel add-on is changing the world of FP&A modelling

CFOs reveal their biggest FP&A (Financial Planning & Analysis) Modelling concerns as file linkages, broken formulae and lack of time to create and analyse multiple scenarios 

By Simon Hurst, ACA, a chartered accountant who regularly lectures on the subject of spreadsheets throughout the UK and Europe. Much of Simon’s writing concerns his belief that £billions is wasted each year by organisations through inappropriate and inefficient spreadsheet use. Simon was part of the ICAEW team that produced the influential documents: ’20 Principles for Good Spreadsheet Practice’ and ‘The Spreadsheet Competency Framework’.

Individual Excel spreadsheets can be complicated and confusing enough but, when links to multiple other spreadsheets are also involved in FP&A Modelling, problems can increase dramatically.

In a recent webinar run by the Institute of Chartered Accountants in England and Wales in association with Synapse on how to resolve FP&A Modelling challenges, some interesting insights were revealed during an online poll.  File linkages and broken formulae came out on top with 44% of respondents saying they see this as a major challenge, followed closely behind by 36% of respondents citing creation and maintenance as their main worry.

Excel is loved universally because of its immense power and also because of its flexibility. However, it is this very flexibility than can cause the most problems. What starts off feeling like the freedom to be creative, and to use hard-earned skills to their utmost, can quickly turn into the nightmare of struggling to track down seemingly untraceable errors through a maze of formula references. This is particularly true when having to deal with spreadsheets created by others and over 10% of those who took part in the webinar poll say that the direct costs of wasted management time represents a significant and ongoing obstacle.

There’s a possibility that most of the time spent in Excel is in the areas where accountants’ skills are least valuable. The real skill lies in understanding what is being modelled and working out how to translate this understanding into a grid-based model. At the other end of the process, expertise can be used to report the result in a way that communicates the message behind the numbers with maximum clarity and impact. However, it’s probably the mechanical bit in the middle that takes most time: entering thousands of formulae, checking and testing, and often troubleshooting problems and issues.

Amongst those attending the webinar, the sheer lack of time to create and analyse multiple scenarios was regarded as the largest business problem facing finance teams today with half of respondents citing this as their primary concern.

To replace the mechanical element with an automated process would allow the opportunity to focus skills in the areas where they can provide the most benefit. More general developments in the world of spreadsheets suggest that the time might be exactly right for organisations to consider seeking new ways to maximise the benefits, and minimise the risks, associated with spreadsheet use. It is this risk of publishing unreliable data that is galvanising a move to simplify the modelling process, with a third of those who took part in the online poll expressing worries about data reliability.

A newly-developed, simple Cloud-based Excel add-in, which is discussed during the ICAEW webinar, addresses the concerns surrounding the use of Excel in FP&A and seeks to make it possible to retain all of Excel’s flexibility whilst adding the benefits of remote access, control, auditability and integrity.

By using the Cloud, issues with remote access, collaboration and workbook proliferation can also be solved. The Cloud can make models securely available to all authorised users at all times, and wherever they happen to be, with enormous practical benefits and can also avoid the need to create multiple, potentially conflicting, versions of the same spreadsheet that are then distributed via email.

This has great advantages for organisations of all sizes. Even an individual would benefit from the increased convenience and simplification of the modelling process. For large organisations, one person can be working on the costs side of the model, another on growth projections and staff in remote entities can update their actuals into the rolling forecast – just as they would with SAP or any 6-figure modelling system – but now with desktop Excel.

Can a simple Cloud-based Excel add-on deliver the seemingly impossible ideal of ensuring vital structural integrity and control, without compromising the freedom and flexibility that is such an important part of the fatal attraction of using a spreadsheet?

There have been many attempts in the past to tame Excel, but most have secured only niche acceptance at best, and none have really changed the way that the majority of Excel spreadsheets are constructed, used and managed. The time might be right for a radical change in our relationship with the spreadsheet.

Several factors are converging to change spreadsheet expectations:

  • There is growing recognition of the need to control the spreadsheet habit, not only to reduce expensive and career-threatening errors, but also to avoid the £billions lost through the insidious waste of time and resources caused by poor spreadsheet design and inappropriate usage;
  • The chasm between spreadsheet skills and database skills is being bridged by Microsoft’s incorporation of database methodology into the heart of Excel;
  • A new generation of spreadsheet users will find the idea of a single document fixed to a single device very restrictive, having become used to the freedom provided by mobile apps and the Cloud. That same generation will also be more ready to trust the security of their data to the Cloud.

Accepting a little background help with spreadsheet structure and management with the help of simple Excel add-on can free up time to unleash the real power of Excel to concentrate on ensuring that robust spreadsheets are created with sufficient impact to drive correct business decisions.

The ICAEW webinar – A new and practical approach to FP&A Modelling Problems – is available now to watch as a download and the accompanying white paper written by Simon Hurst ACA & Dr Josef Baker PhD looks at how it is possible to harness the power of spreadsheets and eliminate their disadvantages with CloudModeller.

www.synapseinformation.com

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Exclusive: Portugal sees green hydrogen output by end-2022, $12 billion in investment lined up

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Exclusive: Portugal sees green hydrogen output by end-2022, $12 billion in investment lined up 1

By Sergio Goncalves

LISBON (Reuters) – Portugal will start producing green hydrogen by the end of 2022 and already has private investment worth around 10 billion euros ($12 billion) lined up for eight projects that are expected to move forward, Environment Minister Joao Matos Fernandes said.

He told Reuters in a telephone interview there were also several “pre-contracts for the purchase and assembly of electrolysers” to produce the zero-carbon fuel made by electrolysis out of water using renewable wind and solar energy.

Such hydrogen is more expensive to extract than the heavily polluting conventional method of using heat and chemical reactions to release hydrogen from coal or natural gas, known as brown and grey hydrogen respectively.

Hydrogen is now mostly used in the oil refining industry and to produce ammonia fertilisers, but sectors such as steelmaking, transportation and chemicals are beginning to develop large-scale hydrogen applications to gradually replace fossil fuels as countries try to reduce pollution.

The European Commission has mapped out a plan to scale up green hydrogen projects across polluting sectors to meet a net zero emissions goal by 2050 and become a leader in a market analysts expect to be worth $1.2 trillion by that date.

“By the end of 2022, there will certainly be green hydrogen production in Portugal,” Matos Fernandes said. “Green hydrogen will, over time, allow Portugal to completely change its paradigm and become an energy exporting country.”

He said seven groups had submitted applications under Europe’s IPCEI scheme for common-interest projects to make part of a planned export-oriented “hydrogen cluster” near the port of Sines, from where hydrogen could be shipped to Rotterdam. Total investment there is estimated at some 7 billion euros.

A consortium including Portugal’s main utility EDP, oil company Galp, world’s largest wind turbine maker Vestas, among others, is behind one of the projects.

In Estarreja in north Portugal, local firm Bondalti Chemicals aims to invest 2.4 billion euros in a hydrogen plant.

Altogether, these envisage an installed capacity of over 1,000 megawatts (MW).

Matos Fernandes said Portugal was also negotiating with Spain the construction of a pipeline for renewable gases, including hydrogen, from Sines to France, crossing Spain.

LITHIUM PLANS

Spain and Portugal also want to develop an ambitious cross-border lithium project taking advantage of the geographical proximity of their lithium deposits and aiming to cover the entire value chain from mining to refining, cell and battery manufacturing to battery recycling, he said.

Portugal is already a large producer of low-grade lithium mainly for the ceramics industry, but is preparing to make higher-grade metal used in electric car batteries.

A much-awaited licensing tender for lithium-bearing areas that has been delayed by the COVID-19 pandemic should take place by the year-end, Matos Fernandes said.

He promised the tender would address environmental concerns by local communities and there would be no lithium mining “at any cost”.

The minister also said Portugal would use its six-month presidency of the Council of the European Union to finalise a landmark law that would make the bloc’s climate targets irreversible and speed up emissions cuts this decade, expecting it to be approved in the first half of 2021.

(Reporting by Sergio Goncalves; Editing by Andrei Khalip and David Evans)

 

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Under fire in EU, AstraZeneca CEO says ‘hopefully’ will meet vaccine supply goals

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Under fire in EU, AstraZeneca CEO says 'hopefully' will meet vaccine supply goals 2

BRUSSELS (Reuters) – AstraZeneca boss Pascal Soriot said on Thursday he hoped to meet the European Union’s expectations on the number of COVID-19 vaccines the company can deliver to the bloc in the second quarter, after big cuts in the first three months of the year.

The Anglo-Swedish drugmaker has been under fire in the EU for its delayed supplies of shots to the 27-nation bloc, which ordered 300 million doses by the end of June.

“We are working 24/7 to improve delivery and hopefully catch up to the expectations for Q2,” Soriot told EU lawmakers in a public hearing.

Under its contract with the EU, the company has committed to delivering 180 million doses in the second quarter.

Soriot did not mention the 180 million target, but said he was confident the company will be able to increase production in the second quarter using factories outside the EU that had no production problems, including in the United States.

He confirmed the company was trying to get 40 million doses of the COVID-19 vaccine to the EU by the end of March, which is less than half the amount it promised for the quarter in its contract.

The EU, which has fallen far behind the United States and former member Britain in vaccinating its public, has repeatedly urged the firm to deliver more.

Lower-than-expected yields – the amount of vaccine that can be produced from base ingredients – at its factories hurt output in the first three months.

Asked about supplies to Britain, which relies on the same factories used by the EU, Soriot said the former EU member with a population of around 66 million was smaller, and noted that most doses produced in the EU were used to serve the EU which has a population of about 450 million.

Executives from rival drugmakers that have developed or are testing COVID-19 vaccines, including Moderna Inc and CureVac NV were also part of the panel.

But most questions were directed at Soriot amid anger that the company has failed to deliver promised vaccine quantities to the bloc on schedule.

Moderna Chief Executive Officer Stephane Bancel said the company has experienced fluctuations as the U.S. biotech group ramps up output of its COVID-19 vaccine.

He said usually a company would stockpile product ahead of a launch, but it is shipping every dose it makes, leaving it without any spare inventory.

His comments came a day after the company increased its output target for this year and 2022 as it invests in additional manufacturing capacity.

(Reporting by Josephine Mason in London and Francesco Guarascio in Brussels; Editing by Susan Fenton, Bill Berkrot and Keith Weir)

 

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Shift to sun, ski and suburbs gives Airbnb advantage over hotels

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Shift to sun, ski and suburbs gives Airbnb advantage over hotels 3

By Ankit Ajmera

(Reuters) – Airbnb’s quarterly results are likely to show the pandemic may have helped the home rental company lure leisure travelers away from big hotels during the global travel collapse of 2020.

Weary of being locked up in their homes for months, travelers hit the road and booked homes and cottages on Airbnb, while avoiding flights and downtown hotels, analysts said.

Airbnb accounted for 18% of the total U.S. lodging revenue in 2020, up from 11.5% in 2019, data from hotel analytics provider STR and vacation rental data company AirDNA showed.

It outperformed the hotel industry and online travel agents such as Expedia and Booking.com thanks to its greater offer of ‘sun, ski, and suburban’ rental homes, Cowen & Co analysts said.

Shift to sun, ski and suburbs gives Airbnb advantage over hotels 4

(Graphic: Airbnb grabs bigger share of U.S. lodging market in pandemic: https://graphics.reuters.com/AIRBNB-RESULTS/yxmpjxqdopr/chart.png)

For an interactive graphic, click here: https://tmsnrt.rs/3pPbQwH

THE CONTEXT

In 2019, about 90% of Airbnb’s bookings came from leisure travels compared with about 20%-30% for large hotels chains, including Marriott and Hilton, that rely on business travel to grow their profits.

“Unfortunately, the hotel operators do not have as much supply in locations where people are willing to travel,” said Jamie Lane, vice president of research at AirDNA.

Lane said with mass vaccinations later in the year, the share of alternative accommodations including Airbnb will drop before continuing to grow at 2%-3% per year once normal travel patterns return.

Shift to sun, ski and suburbs gives Airbnb advantage over hotels 5

(Graphic: Airbnb U.S. sales against top hotels: https://graphics.reuters.com/AIRBNB-RESULTS/gjnpwzkdbvw/chart.png)

For an interactive graphic, click here: https://tmsnrt.rs/3dPKvsd

THE FUNDAMENTALS

* The San Francisco-based company is expected to report gross bookings of $23.10 billion in 2020, down from about $38 billion a year earlier, according to the mean estimate of 12 analysts according to Refinitiv; gross bookings are seen rising by 50% in 2021.

* Analysts’ mean estimate for Airbnb’s full-year net loss is $3.52 billion, bigger than a loss of $674.3 million a year earlier. Full-year revenue is expected to drop 32% to $3.27 billion.

WALL STREET SENTIMENT

* Of 34 brokerages, 20 rate Airbnb’s stock “hold”, 12 “buy” or higher and two “sell” or lower

* Wall Street’s median 12-month price target for Airbnb is $156​, about 22% below its last closing price of $200.20.

* The company’s stock has nearly tripled since listing in December

Shift to sun, ski and suburbs gives Airbnb advantage over hotels 6

(Graphic: Airbnb’s stock has nearly tripled since debut: https://graphics.reuters.com/AIRBNB-RESULTS/jznpnoqrlvl/chart.png)

For an interactive graphic, click here: https://tmsnrt.rs/3dG2lOd

(Reporting by Ankit Ajmera in Bengaluru; Editing by Sweta Singh and Saumyadeb Chakrabarty)

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