Once again I am engaged as CFO in a business where not only management presentation but core accounting transaction handling has been delegated out from an accounting system to spreadsheets. Thousands of lines and scores of tabs developed over years attempt to control thousands and thousands of accounting transactions and multi-currency consolidations. It is not enough to blame system vendors and IT professionals for failing to make accounting systems easier to use and deploy (and blame should be directed there too) but we should also look within our own finance profession and question why we allow this proliferation of insecure and unreliable spreadsheets in the hands of expensive professionals to be used in this way. Surely the engineering profession, if confronted with similar deployed solutions, would be shamed and embarrassed not to have designed and implemented elegant and robust solutions that were streamlined and low cost. Where has the pride of finance gone such that all this proliferation is tolerated and accepted as “a job well done”. Perhaps the answer lies in senior FDs and CFOs not delving down into the weeds of their processes often enough with a hunger to identify and root out mess and inefficiency. Too often directors and boards accept printed output that looks good – even if it is a mass of numbers simply typed into spreadsheets or powerpoint slides. Many boards would be shocked to know how many of the smart monthly report tables are composed off formula definition strings such as [A3=weekly_sales.xls/cell55+15,656]. Come on finance professionals – rediscover the pride of elegant solutions and restore some quality and structure into our work. Brian Muirhead is a serial FD and chairman.
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