Every student accountant will be introduced to a wealth of technology that each promise to be ‘the’ bread and butter tool they will come to rely on for the remainder of their career. However, there is one program which has long outlasted any innovation introduced to the industry, thanks to the flexibility and empowerment it offers to accountants to more proficiently manage, assess and analyse forensic financial data.
Excel is, and will likely remain for some time, the most powerful asset we could ever have in the industry, and the most important skill that accounting students can teach themselves is how to unlock the software’s full potential. If Excel is used poorly by an accountant at any stage in their career, there can be serious consequences. These include large financial losses, unhappy banks, clients, or solicitors, damage to a personal or corporate image, and negative staff appraisals which prevent promotions and pay rises.
So, at every step in an accountant’s career, it pays to continually asses what it is they need Excel for, how it can support them in their role, and how training could ensure it’s helping them achieve efficiencies, positioning them as the expert they are really are striving to be.
Using Excel as a trainee Despite being keen to enter the industry and demonstrating a passion for accounting, poor practice in firms can see trainees receive very little support, leaving them unconfident and untrained.
Investing their own time to upskill in Excel – by learning skills to match key tasks for their day-to-day role, such as sort, filter, conditional formatting – and apply their learnings will demonstrate a skill set that will see them stand out from other trainees in these very early days, meaning they are given first dibs on graduate roles.
Using Excel when newly qualified Having been accepted a role within a firm, a major challenge can be to then build up an internal and external profile, to construct a network that will lead to future opportunities. With their existing Excel knowledge, newly qualified accountants should focus on spotting opportunities to offer peer-to-peer training in Excel, finding the gaps in their peers’ and managers’ skillsets that could be quickly plugged with a few basic commands in Excel. They should notice the repetitive tasks undertaken, and source solutions that help create efficiencies, and use this tenacity to identify their own path for improvement.
Using Excel as a manager Having climbed the ranks with clever use of Excel used as a tool to seize opportunities for promotion, managers then often find themselves with little to no budget to focus on training up others in how to use the software to its best potential, or for recruiting those who already know how. In which case, any budget that is available should be invested in tried and trusted programs which eliminate errors and automate time consuming activities to create a robust culture for compliance. Focus on building team skills that close off any potential for error so that the wider company becomes seen as a trusted professional firm to which referrals are made, driving extra revenue that can then be reinvested to enable rigorous and fast financial analysis with 100% consistency in accuracy.
Using Excel as an executive
Executives in a more strategically operational role than ever before come to understand the high costs associated with running a business, and the risk that low credibility around that business can have on long term growth. Here, it is imperative to implement and uphold the highest and standards and controls across a company, using Excel-complementary technologies to meet audit trail requirements to inspire and build a positive internal narrative which builds firm confidence and can then be exuded externally. Having the belief that you have everything in place to overturn negative perceptions with clever use of automation, team training and a positive culture can see even the most struggling companies overturn their challenges in a short period of time.
Accounting students, whether wishing to enter audit or conduct forensic financial investigation, should make it a priority to improve and build on their Excel knowledge from the very first day they begin their training, to the day they retire, sharing the knowledge at every opportunity. As they progress throughout the industry, they should come back to it as the stalwart tool that can open so many doors for opportunities, by using it to strengthen relationships, create efficiencies and improve reputations.