Collaboration is an inevitable feature of today’s working environment, and financial modellers are no exception. In the interests of building good working relationships and reliable outcomes when building a financial model, it’s important to cultivate processes that take Excel version compatibility into account.
Danielle Stein Fairhurst graduated from Griffith University with a Bachelor of International Business Relations. Since then, she has completed a Diploma of Accounting and Finance from ACCA in London and an MBA at Macquarie University and now runs Plum Solutions, a consultancy specialising in financial modelling and analysis. She is the author of two books and travels regularly to deliver specialised training courses and consulting services. Griffith University visited Danielle at her home in Sydney to find out more about how her first degree contributed to her career path.
What would you say if a client asked you to build a financial model using…. Google Sheets? This is exactly what happened to management consultant Lisa Barham. Lisa uses financial modelling as a key part of her toolkit in providing CFO services to her clients and like most modellers and finance professionals, she feels most at home using Excel. It’s generally assumed that if a client wants a financial model built, it will be built in Microsoft Excel but earlier this year, she was engaged to build a model to aid in a key decision. The client relied heavily G-Suite products and the CEO asked if the model could be built in Google Sheets.
Guest Blog Post: Google Sheets versus Excel
by Lisa Barham
Whilst a serious financial modeller will always need a full-fledged version of MS Excel, there are some benefits to using Google Sheets that make it worth some consideration. Microsoft and Google parent Alphabet were recently valued as the third and fourth most valuable companies in the world and with just 2% between them in market capitalisation, it’s clear the battle is not over. For the time being, Google Sheets is here to stay, and it’s prudent for financial modellers to arm themselves with knowledge in the Sheets versus Excel debate.
Google Sheets is part of the Google G Suite (formerly Google Apps). It is a free app that can be used to create new spreadsheets or open existing MS Excel spreadsheets. G Suite is growing in popularity at a faster rate than Office 365 and is used across a range of industries.
Image source: Okta
Office 365 and Google Apps usage by industry
Image source: Okta
The Google Sheets interface has drop-down menus as well as a “ribbon” of commands. The platform mirrors MS Excel and is quite intuitive, although some functionality does take a bit of getting used to, such as “Enter” jumping to edit a cell rather than moving down a row and the fx function builder being displayed but inactive (!).
Cost and Collaboration
Google Sheets is included in the G Suite basic professional office suite which is currently priced at $5/month/user, making it free for anyone with a business Gmail account.
The main strength of Google Sheets is its collaboration capability, which supports multiple team members providing input to a spreadsheet. Of course, with Office 365 you can co-author files on the cloud (via OneDrive) just like you can with Google Sheets, however issues arise if users do not have the latest version of Excel downloaded and an active Office 365 subscription. Sheets are easily accessed via a web browser and team members can make changes to the spreadsheet at the same time with updates displaying instantly.
Because Sheets integrates with the Google Platform, there are certain functions that you can use to enhance your work. For example you can translate the contents of a cell using the function GOOGLETRANSLATE(). Other functions such as GOOGLEFINANCE() lets you use the power of Google to retrieve current or historical information about specific securities.
Version control has long been an issue when dealing with multiple users and iterations of a file. Google Sheets (File>Version history) allows you to see every edit made by every user, and the time the change was made. Owners can choose to revert to former versions or accept changes. Although this is a useful feature, when combined with multiple users with varied levels of sophistication, changes can get out of control and files can quickly become corrupted. In situations with multiple users, a backup version should be housed in a separate location or sheet protection may be enabled.
Many of MS Excel’s features are available in Google Sheets but with basic functionality. For example, Sheets lets you protect data at a user level, but any input cell ranges must be manually added one by one making protecting sheets more time consuming than Excel. MS Excel’s Cell Styles is a more user-friendly way of achieving the same outcome.
From a model build perspective, one option is to develop the model in Excel and open the completed model with Google Sheets, where changes can be made collaboratively. It’s relatively easy to move between Sheets and Excel using the Open With Sheets and Download as MS Excel functions. The ability to move between Sheets and Excel means the two can be used interchangeably in some instances, but not all.
Opening an Excel file with Sheets will result in the loss of some functionality, for example: hyperlinks; graphs; data tables; and pivot tables, although some of these functions are available if built natively in Google Sheets. Google continues to add functionality such as row and column grouping, which was previously unavailable. For the more technically minded, Google Sheets allows users to build their own functions using Java Script. New functions can be shared / accessed via the add-in store. One such function is Solver, which is not available in Sheets but can be accessed via a free add-on. Speed of function execution is problematic: a basic Goal Seek equation took 7 seconds to execute.
Google Sheets is built to be fast and nimble when dealing with simple files, however page load speed is compromised by complex files containing large amounts of data. Model development in a native Google Sheets environment will naturally be slower for an experience modeller when compared with MS Excel although this gap will reduce as modellers develop experience with Sheets.
MS Excel is best for handling large amounts of data and advanced features, however if growth in prevalence continues modellers will increasingly find themselves asked to work with Sheets.
Recommendation: you should trial Google Sheets and start familiarising yourself with the product, allowing you to speak from a position of authority when you find yourself drawn into the Excel versus Sheets debate.
This guest post was written by by Lisa Barham, Director of Effigy Consulting. Lisa presented at our Brisbane Modellers’ Meetup group in August on “Working to client specifications: can you build a financial model in Google Sheets?” Lisa took us through how she worked with the CEO to let the business use Google Sheets for the aspects of the model best served by it, while still building the core functionality in Excel. You can view the recording of this session in our private Facebook Group.
Since the introduction of Microsoft Excel 2010 several versions ago, Excel has been available in 64‐bit; this has been a topic of discussion and interest for many Excel users. With all the buzz around the 64‐bit version, many of us wonder: Is 64‐bit Excel better than 32‐bit Excel? Should I make the switch? Is 64‐bit MS Excel the solution to poor Excel performance?
I’m writing to you from the beautiful Sunshine Coast where I’ve been holidaying this week. We spent a day at the Gold Coast on the way to soak in some sunshine and the exciting atmosphere of the Commonwealth Games. I wanted to share with you this link to a special data visualisation that Chandoo has built especially for the games. Rather than just looking at the medal tally, it calculates medals per participant and has been built using Power Query (Get & Transform) and it is connected to gc2018.com, so all you have to do is refresh (Ctrl+Alt+F5) to automatically update medal tallies – very cool!
Chandoo (otherwise known as Purna Duggirala) is best known as the founder of chandoo.org, an award-winning Excel and visualisation site which has over 50,000 members and 1.6 million visitors each month. He will be visiting Australia next month for a special Australian Masterclass event. Book before 27th April to take advantage of the earlybird prices. Download the Brochure Here
Advanced Excel & Dashboard Reporting
Sydney 21-22 May
Brisbane 4-5 June
Melbourne 18-19 June
Perth 25-26 June
Power Excel – Power BI, Power Pivot, Power Query
Sydney 23-24 May
Brisbane 6-7 June
Melbourne 20-21 June
Perth 27-28 June
Chandoo is also available for a limited number of in-house sessions. Please enquire to book Chandoo to come to your organisation during his trip to Australia for a private in-house session on the following dates:
- 17-18 May – booked out
- 28-29th May – booked out
- 31st May – 1st June – available
- 11-15th June – available
- 2-6th July – available
Purna Duggirala (Chandoo) is the founder of chandoo.org, an award-winning Excel and visualisation site which has over 50,000 members and 1.6 million visitors each month and over the past few years, he has held dashboard contests on his blog to find the “world’s best dashboard”. Throughout the contests he has received hundreds of entries, ranging from interesting, awesome and truly mind-blowing. So, what does it take to create a truly awesome dashboard? Review the recording of this interactive webinar as Chandoo takes us through his critiquing process as he assesses the good, the bad and ugly of dashboard hopefuls in their pursuit of data visualisation fame and glory.
Enter your details below to view the recording and download the accompanying files.
Chandoo is returning to Australia this year in June for his Dashboard and Power Excel training Masterclasses in Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane and Perth so if you’re planning to attend the classes, be sure to listen in to the webinar recording to get a sneak peek of what Chandoo has in store for these live classes!
Hosted by The Grid Media, Danielle Stein Fairhurst from Plum Solutions will be visiting the UK for a special event in August/September 2018. Download the brochure
Building a Business Case: Don’t Let your Boss Rip your Financial Model Apart
In this interactive workshop we will integrate concepts such as pricing, costing and returns on investment into an Excel based financial model that we will build from scratch individually to assess the viability of a new product or venture.
Advanced Financial Modelling: Change the Game
This fast-paced course build on existing Excel modelling skills and apply new techniques to better analyse financial data, predict revenues and costs, assess risks and forecast economic inputs in a time-efficient and effective way.
Data Storytelling in Excel: Soar out of the Debris
Learn to interpret data and summarise its meaning into a format that we will each then transform into easy-to-read tables, graphs and infographs using Excel that can be taken home and used again and again.
Danielle will also be available for in-house sessions in the UK in September, so please get in touch if you’d like to book her in.
Last month I posed the question why, yet again, we didn’t see any female faces in finals of the 2017 ModelOff Financial Modelling World Championships. Boy, did that open a can of worms. I was inundated by public and private messages of both support and rancour, and I was blown away by some of the responses, particularly the private comments along the lines of “Women aren’t good at Financial Modelling because it’s just not in their nature” by a genuinely well-meaning gentleman who felt the need to very sweetly mansplain the reasons behind the low rates of female participation. Wow, it’s worse than I thought.
The lack of female representation in the financial modelling industry as well as in the ModelOff competition has always bugged me but hey, it’s a competition of skills and the best candidate won. End of story, right? I’m not so sure any more. All of the current research tells us that girls are doing as well as boys at high school and that STEM subjects are no longer considered purely the purview of ‘the boys’ with girls also topping many science subjects.
So why are there so few senior females in finance, and why, with the exception of Hilary Smart’s victory in 2013, do we continue to see no female faces at ModelOff, when I know there are plenty of well qualified women? Where are they, and why aren’t they represented?
Besides my obvious qualifications as a female financial modeller and author I’m no diversity expert but I feel a responsibility to try to understand and explain the reasons behind the disparity and hopefully make some positive changes for future competitions. I’ve been working closely with the organisers at ModelOff who are keen to encourage more women to enter, and to achieve our goal of at least one female face in the 2018 finals.
Without turning this into a battle of the sexes, I’d like to lay out some of the arguments I received. Basically, the lines of reasoning fall in to the following areas:
What problem? I don’t see an issue at all. None of the women made the grade but neither did anyone over the age of 44.
This is – to my mind, the most insidious of all arguments because it promotes the status quo. If it wasn’t an issue, why the disparity? It didn’t occur to me that I’d need to articulate the problem because to me it’s perfectly obvious that every industry at its peak should have a representation of both male and female but judging by the response, it seems that it needs to be spelt out. This is a systematic problem; a case of nurture, not nature (despite what my mansplaining friend seems to think). We need to challenge and change the status quo.
The ModelOff competition is being organised and promoted by mostly white males and attracts mostly white males. We need to figure out how to break this “circular reference” (forgive the pun) by adding a few more women into the mix.
Lack of gender diversity is bad for everyone in the financial modelling industry for many reasons but the one that bothers me the most is that it discourages other women from entering this field. If a new female finance or accounting graduate considering her career prospects, sees no other women at the top – or even near the top, it makes her wonder if she can make it. She wonders if it is worthwhile pursuing a career as a financial modeller if she’s unlikely to make it to the top. With a lack of female role models, she’s more likely to pursue a different career.
The ModelOff Competition brands itself as the pinnacle of achievement in the industry. Ask yourself, men, if you saw a page full of women in the ModelOff competition, would you feel like it was a place you should definitely head to for a career – or would you consider that maybe this group, being all women, probably isn’t a place for you to thrive. Who will mentor you? Who is like you? Who will you shoot the breeze with about life? Do you think ‘new graduate you’ would have seen a group of white women 20 years older than you and thought – yes, my place is here, I’ve found my calling? Consider the future of your daughters, do you only want your sons to achieve and be recognised or do you want your daughter to have the confidence to stride forward in any career she chooses? Women like New Zealand’s Prime Minister, Jacinda Ardern who has just announced she is planning to have her baby and go back to leading the country after six weeks are certainly great role models for aspiring career women who also want to have a family.
Financial modelling is a fantastic career choice for those with the right temperament but the skills needed for financial modelling are many and varied. Diversity leads to a smarter and more creative workforce, and financial modelling teams can benefit by including from those of differing backgrounds, gender and ethnicity. In most fields diversity of backgrounds, gender and ethnicity ads depth and understanding to any project, collegial thinking is not just words, it’s diversity of thought in action. Both men and women bring different perspectives and perceptions to the financial modelling world.
Women have better things to do. They aren’t interested in competing
I’m wondering what better things women have to do…maybe they’re home cooking dinner for their families if some of the responses I received were anything to go by; while their husbands are working late improving their skills? There are highly skilled female financial modellers out there. A glance at my own LinkedIn connections shows that roughly 20% of those who are confident enough of their skills to list “financial modeller” in their title are women. This is a woefully small percentage, considering 52% of all new accounting graduates are women but even if perhaps only 20% of financial modellers are women, then out of 16 finalists we should be seeing at least 3 female finalists, so surely we can get at least one, if not more, to make it to the finals?
I’m convinced that there’s no conscious or unconscious bias in the questions or in the way the competition is run. One of the three judges is Maria Shevchenko and 2013 champion Hilary Smart is on the question design team. But the competition simply doesn’t attract its fair share of female competitors. Possibly one of the reasons for this comes down to the way the event is promoted and the gung-ho, take-no-prisoners approach of the marketing in previous years, such as calling the finals “The XL Smackdown”. I can recall attending the first ModelOff Meetup in Sydney which had remote control cars racing around the room. No prizes for guessing who the target market was! I’ve asked many women why they haven’t entered, and although the competition results are never made public, they often just don’t want to compete even if they are confident of their skills. Research suggests that women simply aren’t motivated to compete against others, but are happy to compete against themselves, so an approach of “beating your personal best” would be more attractive to female competitors.
By raising this as an issue you are reducing the achievement of the men who worked hard to get there.
Not at all. Those who make it to the finals should be very proud of their achievements and can enjoy the status of having been a “ModelOff Financial Modelling World Championship Finalist” right throughout their career and champions even have to suffer Excel geeks bothering them for fan pics at every function they attend.
To join in the conversation about this topic, please see this post on LinkedIn.