Controllers Council recently held a panel discussion on Pitfalls of Excel for Financial Consolidation & How to Avoid Them, sponsored by Fluence Technologies.
Fluence Technologies puts control in the hands of finance and accounting teams so that they can close faster, report with confidence, and do more with less. Fluence’s financial close, consolidation, and report management platform delivers a pure cloud out of the box solution for modern high-growth companies. Our expert panelists are Guy Menard, a CPA, and VP of Operations at Fluence Technologies and Andres Ibanez is CFO of PBS Solutions. Our moderator Marisa Ruffles, a chief marketing officer of Fluence Technologies.
Following are key takeaways to this discussion. If you are interested in learning more, view the full webinar archive video here.
What are some of the limitations that you’ve seen companies experience as they grow and scale?
Guy: One limitation is the file getting perhaps a little too big to manage. You’re hitting certain limitations in terms of rows and columns, which forces you then to create multiple workbooks and creating disparate files, so that’s certainly one of the major limitations. Another one, especially if you’re rolling this out to multiple users, perhaps across many different countries, is that there’s no real security. If you have access to the workbook, then you have access to all the information, so security is often mentioned as a key concern with using Excel. Oftentimes people would like to have a little bit more visibility into the close process, and this is where workflow would be nice to have, and Excel as we all know, it doesn’t have any workflow capabilities.
Andres: PBS Solutions is a listed company and as a result we are audited by PWC. The complexity is extremely complex how we operate, we have 18 different component auditors throughout our territories, and how it works basically is PWC uses what they call reporting packages; it’s your primary financial statements and all the disclosure notes associated with that, and what really happens, basically it’s one gigantic Excel spreadsheet with, I believe, it has 61 sheets that link and tie to each other. And we were in the process of closing our 2020 audit year, and that’s when we realized that we had to leave Excel. Another limitation is Excel and the systems we were using were very limited into the depth of information that we could extract from a journal ledger. We really didn’t have any dimensionality in our data. It was really two dimensions of anything.
How has modern technology impacted your team?
Andres: My philosophy has always been throughout my career, and we have in PBS as an example, we’ve implemented shared service platforms and tried to eliminate some of the repetitive tasks. I’m always faced with the question, well is my job getting eliminated by the changes in technology? And my answer is always the same. No, what we’re trying to do is we’re trying to make your job richer, a richer job where you’re more focused on the analytical side of the business and get you out of doing the repetitive tasks that you’re doing. Clearly, it’s up to an individual, whether they’re up to the challenge. Not everybody can make that change, but the people that stick with us and go through the change and the innovation that we bring in end up having a much richer, and I don’t want to say fruitful, but more, there’s more joy in their job. It’s not just an automatic reconciliation, automatic creating the journals or doing processing AP, it’s a richer life, it’s a richer work environment.
Guy: In my job in product management, I’m constantly looking at market trends and different surveys that are conducted, let’s say by the big four, and prior to COVID I was looking at a survey of a thousand CFOs and one of their top priorities was to track and retain talent, and that was prior to COVID. Now post COVID, as you mentioned with such a labor shortage, CFOs just can’t throw bodies at fixing the inefficiency of their Excel based consolidation process. They can’t just have people work nights and weekends or perhaps just hire consultants maybe during a quarter end or a year-end. They’re really forced to solve the problem in different ways.
What were you looking for in that consolidation solution?
Andres: I was really looking for was a mid-size company that could partner with us, and because of our complexity I knew that we would have requirements that would be different, if you will, then your standard tell US company or North American company. And so really, I was looking for a mid-size company that could work with us and if we had changes that we needed to make, and we have worked with Fluence to get those changes in that they would be amenable obviously assuming that the changes made sense.
Why is that Excel interface so important with Fluence?
Andres: The accounting world, the finance world, basically we thrive on Excel. That’s basically our tool that we use to create the on-fly reporting, so to get a tool set that interface seamlessly with Excel is critical for us. It’s our second nature, so it would be very hard to operate in any type of environment without that ability to get the interface of Excel and Fluence does that exceedingly well.
Guy: If I can just look back at my prior life at another company, the thought was you need to replace Excel, not embrace it, but to replace it and we tried. We spent millions of dollars trying to build an Excel like interface for reporting and for data capture, and at the end of the day, well, we failed. We failed because what accounts really wanted was to use Excel. With Fluence, we decided let’s embrace Excel, let’s give exactly what the accountants want, which is a familiar environment, something that they already know and love, and let’s make sure that we surround Excel with the things that they need to have a much faster, more secure close, such as security and workflow.
To view the complete webcast, download full webinar here.
ABOUT THE SPONSOR:
Fluence Technologies puts control in the hands of finance and accounting teams so that they can close faster, report with confidence, and do more with less. Fluence’s financial close, consolidation, and report management platform delivers a pure cloud out of the box solution for modern high-growth companies. For more information, visit fluencetech.com.