Microsoft Excel and Financial Users
Excel is such a versatile tool that it’s no surprise that so many financial professionals use it, even if there are arguably better tools for most of the specialist tasks for which it’s used. The point is, there is nothing else that can do so much.
It’s such an excellent general purpose tool that skills in MS Excel are in great demand amongst employers. Indeed, it’s one of the ‘essential requirements’ most often set out in office-based job descriptions.
One of the reasons for its popularity is – well… its popularity. There’s barely an office in the developed world that won’t have a copy of MS Excel on at least one of its devices, whether that’s a PC, an iPad or a laptop. Any Excel user can work with any other Excel user, and so it provides a common language for the exchange of data, much as does MS Word when it comes to written documents.
The widespread acceptance of Excel also means that there is a huge body of workers with at least some level of familiarity with it. Most will only use its surface functions but, again, there’s a common language and new employees can very often move into a new role and hit the ground running, without the need for extensive bespoke training.
However, for all the success of Excel, Microsoft hasn’t just sat back on its laurels. It has been busily developing new and complimentary tools, such as Power BI, a business analytics service that provides interactive visualisations. This is at least a step or two beyond the simple chart and graph-making capabilities of the trust Excel software, and it shows Microsoft’s intention to deliver added functionality to those financial professionals who need it.
Nevertheless, for many tasks Excel remains more than adequate and when combined with new tools and processes – such as online collaboration platforms – it continues to be valuable and relevant to the needs of modern businesses.
In fact, for the great majority of financial users, Excel tends to be an under-exploited resource. It contains a wealth of features that most users never touch – features that, if they were properly understood, could deliver huge time-savings. Automation is one obvious example; this can be achieved with macros and customisation via Visual Basic for Applications – features that can greatly enhance the efficiency and accuracy of complex but frequently performed operations.
Excel is also the go-to solution for many businesses because it can handle the most universal file formats such as .csv and .txt. Data can readily be brought into Excel, sorted and cleaned and then, where necessary, exported in a form that can then be used by other systems. This is another facet of the software that Microsoft has set about improving. The latest iterations of Excel boast new tools from Microsoft Research that make data movement considerably easier. Take, for example, the Get and Transform tools, which can strip extraneous code and formatting from data, so imports are cleaner and simpler.
Excel, then, is continuing to evolve but its developers aren’t trying to turn it into something very specialised. Its greatest strength is and always has been its versatility. As a general purpose data-handling system, it’s pretty much unrivalled and it can be expected to be around for many years to come.
If you’d like to make more of the many functions of MS Excel, call us on 0800 368 7730 or register for one of our forthcoming Excel training sessions.
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Liam C Marshall