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How critical is it for a CFO to be an Excel expert and why?


Topic Expert
Wayne Spivak
Title: President & CFO
LinkedIn Profile
(President & CFO, |

What is an "expert"? What types of spreadsheets do you need and do you need Thai person to make them themselves or design them?

Answer these and other qualitative types of questions and you'll have your answer, but each situation is different.

Topic Expert
Jim Quinlan
Title: CFO, Managing Director
Company: Trinity Group, BlueGold, Genergy, Wellco..
LinkedIn Profile
(CFO, Managing Director, Trinity Group, BlueGold, Genergy, Wellcount) |

Good point, Wayne. Usually, when I come into a business, I see that they need to get them to use their accounting software and get away from Excel.

Jaime Campbell
Title: Chief Financial Officer
Company: Tier One Services, LLC
(Chief Financial Officer, Tier One Services, LLC) |

A CFO needs to be an expert at understanding what is included and excluded in a report, manipulating scenarios, and using tools to quickly make changes so her or she can act swiftly and share a report or insight without having to hand it back to a manager or bookkeeper and wait for it to come back.

I agree with Wayne that deep expertise is required at any level, and it's a matter of what that expertise entails - it's different for every level.

Topic Expert
Brenda Goudey
Title: CFO/VP of Finance
Company: KDR Designer Showrooms
(CFO/VP of Finance, KDR Designer Showrooms) |

There are so many other aspects of the position that are usually much more important that I don't believe I would make hiring decisions based on Excel expertise. It really isn't that hard to become competent in Excel, lots of universities offer continuing ed classes if a refresher is needed. If you need an Excel expert to do tons of spreadsheets, I'd assume you'd hire a less expensive analyst.

Anonymous User
Title: CFO
Company: Local Government Agency
(CFO, Local Government Agency) |

Interesting! You have no idea how many exec level job opportunities I've looked at and/or interviewed for where abilities with Excel and other common office software as well as brand specific knowledge and experience in accounting software was the first criterion addressed.

The accounting software one is a pet peeve of mine. It doesn't matter whether they us SAP or QuickBooks or even ten column ledger paper, debits are still debits and credits are still credits. Tech knowledge for software can easily be taught or acquired through judicious OJT.

Besides, at the exec level, other than in a very, very small organization, how many spreadsheets will the exec be making? What level of involvement in the accounting system will the exec have?

Duncan Williamson
Title: Consultant and Trainer
Company: duncan williamson ltd
(Consultant and Trainer, duncan williamson ltd) |

Brenda I gave your comment a 1 BUT I disagree with your idea that Excel is easy. Yes it is easy when using it as a calculator but how about array formulas, the AGGREGATE function, SUMIFS, INDEX - MATCH, data tables, pivot table calculated fields and VBA? Just to name a few potentially tricky things!!

Ernie Humphrey CTP
Title: VP, Thought Leadership
Company: Stampli
LinkedIn Profile
(VP, Thought Leadership, Stampli) |

I would not want to see any CFO who is an expert in Excel unless these skills have been acquired in his or her journey to being a CFO. Any time in Excel spent by a CFO is generally a waste or at best a poor use of his or her time (even in a start-up company).

Title: CFO
Company: C-Suite Services
LinkedIn Profile
(CFO, C-Suite Services) |

To answer your is NOT critical. I do however require myself to be knowledgeable enough to know what is happening inside the spreadsheet and at the same time be able to enter my own set of what I call TEST OR CHECK CELLS. I use these test/check cells to check on the accuracy of computations in the spreadsheet that I am reviewing.

Chris Holtzer
Title: Senior Manager - Strategic Analysis
Company: Sargento
(Senior Manager - Strategic Analysis, Sargento) |

The thing about Excel experts is that most who claim to be "experts" are proficient at best. The more you know about the guts of Excel and the VBA that drives it, the more you will realize how much of an expert you are not. I have been the "in-house expert" on Excel at 3 different companies now, one of which owned an IT company, and I would say at best I am 7 or 8 of 10. Ironically, most people I have interviewed would rate themselves 9-10, and would barely crack 5 on my scale. So my first concern is the subjectivity of "Expert".

Your CFO being an "Excel" expert is likely going to have more to do with age, than competency. The 30 somethings coming up the ladder have lived and breathed Excel their whole life. (I am 32 and my first exposure to spreadsheets was in middle school) They are Excel skilled by accident more than by design. They don't know analytic any other way. Wayne hit on the subject pretty well, but I would add your CFO needs to be an Analytic expert, what tool they use, is relatively unimportant.

In my opinion, the CFO needs to be able to analyze on the fly, with and without Excel. Some of the best I have come across do it as well in their heads as I do in Excel. It is a little scary how quickly they can pull out the anomaly in the data after a quick 60 second scan. The CFO doesn't need to be able to do the analytics but they should understand the structure and how the results they are viewing were achieved.

Charley Kyd
Title: Founder
Company: ExcelUser
(Founder, ExcelUser) |

Excel knowledge has little to do with your CFO's age. I'm 66 and have been using spreadsheets to report and analyze business performance since I was 31.

Having a good grasp of Excel is critical for CFOs in my experience. Some quick reasons...

...CFOs often need to do quick analyses, projections, and calculations, and then often change their plans and assumptions based on the results. Excel is the best tool for this, and assigning the task to others can be time-consuming and risky.

...CFOs need to understand the strength and weaknesses of the tool that their staff uses frequently. If they can't, it's like working in an office where the staff speaks in a foreign language.

...Large software vendors urge companies to replace Excel with BI software, which can cost $10,000 per report according to Boris Evelson at Forrester Research. CFOs who don't understand Excel will likely make wrong decisions about this issue.

...I've taught intermediate-level Excel techniques to many management accountants, who use Excel daily and who often are CFOs in training. In my experience, few management accountants are Excel experts.

...CFOs often need to hire Excel experts. But if CFOs lack a good understanding about Excel, they won't be qualified to recognize the absence of Excel expertise among possible candidates.

However, most CEOs--who often know little about Excel--would have a problem identifying a CFO candidate who's an "expert" in Excel. Instead, the best they can do is to find a CFO with a solid understanding about Excel...a level of expertise that is both necessary and sufficient.

Tarun Joshi
Title: Manager
Company: Deutsche Bank
(Manager, Deutsche Bank) |

A CFO should have good working knowledge of excel to the extent he needs it. He need not be an expert though. A CFO has many more things to do and having more knowledge of excel would not help in those areas.

David Ringstrom
Title: CPA, author, Microsoft Excel trainer and..
Company: Accounting Advisors, Inc.
(CPA, author, Microsoft Excel trainer and consultant, Accounting Advisors, Inc.) |

Back in the day I had a boss could vet results from a complex Excel spreadsheet on his HP 12C calculator. He didn't know Excel on a deep level, but he knew what was possible in Excel. His ability to "sniff test" the numbers was far more valuable to the company than his ability to run Excel itself. This isn't to say that Excel skills aren't valuable to a CFO, but rather to say sometimes other talents can trump spreadsheet knowledge itself.

Topic Expert
Regis Quirin
Title: Director of Finance
Company: Gibney Anthony & Flaherty LLP
LinkedIn Profile
(Director of Finance, Gibney Anthony & Flaherty LLP) |

I think we are all in agreement - excel is just a tool. The important piece is the ability to understand the numbers and derive conclusions. However, a CFO that can only ask questions and not manipulate a data set is limiting. The best CFO's I have worked with know the numbers cold. And they know them because after reviewing all the reports, they come away with additional questions. These questions are addressed through them manipulating the data.

You don't go home on the weekend with a stack of month-end reports; and come back Monday with questions for others to pull and manipulate data. That is inefficient.

(Director, Finance and Accounting) |

I worked as Controller for a company. The CFO had a computer on his desk for show. In fact, the IT group had removed parts to repair other computers.

Pre me, when the CFO would ask for a report the, the staff would tell him that it would take days to complete the report. The reality, most of the reports requested could be done in less than an hour, but the CFO had no knowledge of day to day accounting or excel and did not realize that he was being miss-led.

After i got there and he began getting information in a much shorter period of time, I think he may have realized that for years he was being miss-led and that the accounting staff spent a lot of time playing.

In my humble opinion, the CFO has to have an understanding of excel in order to set reasonable expectation on how long it should take to do the tasks assigned.

Dan Jebens
Title: CFO
Company: ToolWatch Corp
(CFO, ToolWatch Corp) |

I agree with Regis. Probably more importantly is understanding good spreadsheet design, documenting the goals and design of complex spreadsheets within the file, making the results accurate, and most importantly knowing when to NOT use Excel and find a better tool. There are countless stories of Excel errors causing financial statement errors and then restatements.

(Chief Financial Officer) |

I work for a CFO who is a former investment banker. Everything we do must be in Excel. He even evaluates people based on how well they know spreadsheet shortcuts and how well they prepare spreadsheets. This is an extreme. I do not recommend this for anyone pursuing a CFO role, Think of your college courses emphasizing developing communication skills as you move up in rank. This means less technical skills, but more "soft" skills.

ArLyne Diamond
Title: Owner - President
Company: Diamond Associates
LinkedIn Profile
(Owner - President, Diamond Associates) |

i think we confuse brains from fingers. There are so many things the CFO must know and be able to accomplish, typing - or using excel isn't one of the higher priorities. Yes, it's helpful - and certain he/she should understand how to read the date on excel spreadsheets - but the actual input of data can always be done by assistants.

We make big mistakes when we hire for tasks rather than for the quality of the brain, character, and personality - to get the job needed done.

Topic Expert
Wayne Spivak
Title: President & CFO
LinkedIn Profile
(President & CFO, |

I would disagree with typing, in today's environment, the 1950/60 relationship between executive and secretary is long gone (which is one reason the title has migrated).

Everyone needs to know how to type.

However, as I said previously and here we agree, you should know Excel basics, but how advanced is dependent on so many factors. Today, if you moved up the ranks in an accounting organization your skill sets would be at least in the mid-range. That doesn't make you an expert, it probably makes you proficient (or not).

Barry Wallace
Title: Superintendent
Company: Searles Valley Minerals
LinkedIn Profile
(Superintendent, Searles Valley Minerals) |

I think it's extremely important that a CFO be an expert, or at least proficient, in Excel. Honestly, I can't envision how someone in this day and age could get to a CFO level position without having learned Excel along the way.

I use Excel on a regular basis despite the fact that we have a very good ERP system, SAP Business One. In my experience, most ERP systems will only come with a few standard reports. As a result, you must know how to extract the data from the system or have access to someone that does. Larger companies usually have access to an IT department that can create the necessary queries but smaller companies usually have to pay an outside firm for these queries/reports.

All that said, I don't necessarily think that companies should make hiring decisions based upon a person's experience in Excel. Like most software, Excel can be easily learned with the proper classes. I've often hired candidates that didn't necessarily have the skill set needed, but I knew they had the aptitude to learn quickly.

Like it or not, we live in a digital age where technology is practically obsolete as soon as you buy it. You either keep up or you get left behind.

Randy Moore
Title: CFO
Company: SJB Bagel Makers of Boston
(CFO, SJB Bagel Makers of Boston) |

I consider myself more than just proficient but not an expert at excel. A few years ago my boss hired, against my recommendation, an analyst who was an absolute whiz at putting together a spreadsheet.She could do it much faster than I could.
The only problem was she had no idea what the numbers meant once she had them. Ask her a question and she would be dumbfounded. She was an expert at excel and wore training wheels when it came to comprehension.

Topic Expert
Wayne Spivak
Title: President & CFO
LinkedIn Profile
(President & CFO, |

How bout the whiz who understands both Excel and numbers, but doesn't document a cell, a worksheet or the spreadsheet.

I'm involved in one of those situations now. Documentation, that programming 101 (and creation of Excel spreadsheets is programming!).

Nikhil Pattni
Title: Business Analyst
Company: Choice Financial Services
(Business Analyst, Choice Financial Services) |

I believe, like many here on this thread, that a CFO is required to analyze and be decisive. The idea behind using excel or any other application for that matter is to make sense out of the unprocessed data or numbers.

Since excel is a widely used medium, it is important for a CFO to know how it works. Being an expert on excel is again subjective. For someone young, like Chris pointed out, who wants to scale up the ladder has to be competitive. For them, being an expert in excel, adds more value compared to their contemporaries. But for someone who has been working as a CFO (50+ yrs of age) for a decent amount of time in a particular company in a specific industry, has already an advantage of understanding the dynamics of the financials of this company due to lengthy exposure. For such a person, being an expert in excel does not change his position to take decisions radically. It surely eases off certain tasks where you might not need your analyst's assistance for operating excel.

My conclusion is that its a subjective matter depending on person and his career level. Nevertheless, if a baseball player is to do a commentary about a baseball match then you are to be sure that more light will be shed on the insights of the game compared to a commentator who follows baseball but has never played. Likewise, a CFO with excel expertise can not only be analytical and decisive but be more creative and accurate while doing so.

(Agent, JKS Solutions, Inc.) |

If you are hiring a CFO consultant to help you with process efficiency and cost cutting, yes they need to be very handy with Excel since all their analysis will be done in excel. If you are talking about a corporate CFO then the answer is no. Most of them don't manipulate data.

CA Ajay Gulati
Title: CFO & ERP Functional Consultant
Company: An Internet E Commerce Healthcare IT St..
(CFO & ERP Functional Consultant, An Internet E Commerce Healthcare IT Start Up) |

It is most important that CFO knows Excel Skills or rather advanced Excel Skills. This is more so in Small and Medium Enterprises where CFO does not have luxury of employing too many people or hiring different area experts.

Besides, the excel knowledge make it easier to understand the report and CFO himself can make changes to those reports and improve presentation formats they way he /she wants. No matter how much you tell it to your subordinates, they shall not be able to do the same. A best presentation shall do wonders and Excel does it.

CFO can also guide its staff on how to make the reports fast with excel skills and this shall improve over all productivity.

To give an example , about 6 years back , I had tough time in getting the Financials ready . Since it was a listed company we had very small time to present it to stock exchanges. The 10 number of trial balances to be taken from ERP and then this was to be prepared with all accounting complications etc which does not need to be explained. Then holding and subsidiary financials were to be merged.

I simply applied two macros to convert the text format if trial to excel ( done by most junior employee) and then V look up was applied to connect trails and Notes to Financials. The Balance sheet got ready.

We called it a Factory of Balance Sheet since we were able to do the job in hours instead of days and night.

Similarly I guided my staff on lot of simple macros to do the repetitive work( no programming skills)

I my myself when I receive a report shall manipulate the report in my own way and then present the same to Management.

CFO does not need to think but also perform. I can understand for large corporation CFO this ( Excel Skills) might not be required but a must for SME's CFO.

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