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 will be presenting at our Brisbane Modellers’ Meetup group on 6th August on “Working to client specifications: can you build a financial model in Google Sheets?” Lisa will take 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.