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Why do SMEs Keep Returning to Excel?

“Excel is one of the most successful products in the history of software.” - Andy Lee, Partner Software Development Engineer at Excel

Microsoft Excel is a software that has been used by financial departments for over three decades and is still used by over 750 million professionals today. It is one of the only software types that has not been replaced by a more modern solution. In the 2018 Benchmarking the Accounting & Finance Function report, it was found that 63% of US executives admitted that their companies continue to use Excel as their primary budgeting and planning tool.

Excel is known for being stable, flexible, reliable, and cost-efficient, but why has no other FP&A solution been able to penetrate the market niche excel encompasses for SMEs?

Well, the truth is, many SMEs have tried but they always end up crawling back to the Excel for their FP&A needs - and this is why.

“Excel does give us a throw-away, flexible capability; that is why so many people still use it – despite its limitations.” -

Why Does No Other FP&A Solution Compare?

The majority of Excel alternatives are software types that replace excel-based budget and forecasting systems in their entirety. This creates many obstacles for businesses to overcome:

Require starting from scratch

As companies grow the number of internal processes that have been learned and implemented is vast, especially in regards to financial statements. Financial professionals are familiar with every little trick and formula used within excel report which allows them to be as accurate as possible and truly reflect reality. When attempting to move away to a new CPM, you are required to ditch a large percentage of your previously perfected internal processes to comply with the pre-made CPM models.

Timely Implementation

Implementation of new software across multiple departments is timely with the average accounting software ranging anywhere from 60 days to well over two years to integrate.

Ongoing support As the world progresses your company evolves and of course your planning and reporting change as well. Each of the changes needs to be implemented and used in the new CPM software and, as you can guess, - will require additional professional services from the vendor which is timely and costly. For example, if your company purchases a new factory or acquires a sub-company (that may use a different EPM or different models) enormous investments in CPM software are required. This is a difficult process, which is one of the reasons why many companies resort back to Excel. Once again those who attempted to adopt a new technology find themselves exporting data from the expensive CPM and manipulating the data in their trusted, good old Excel spreadsheet.

Long Learning Curve

A change in FP&A software means the entire company needs to familiarize themselves with a new system and many times even require consultants at the company’s expense. Think about your VP sales who may not be that technical and is accustom to filling out an Excel forecast, now they are required to start using a new system, with no errors, which is practically impossible or a difficult feat to say the least.


Compared to Office 365 which offers a variety of other benefits, these FP&A systems are costly with the average accounting software taking a hefty $50,000 to over $500,000 annually (not including consultant costs). Many CFO’s and decision-makers do not take into consideration the cost of ongoing support, as previously explained, so even if a product initially seems affordable - it can balloon over the years into a large expense.

Due to the many complications and expenses associated with integrating and using current FP&A software types, the majority of companies end up reverting to the tried and true method of using Excel.

The remaining issue is that the highly involved process of using Excel has departments spending more time creating a consolidated file than actually analyzing the data collected. Then the consolidation process is done manually, meaning there is no efficient way to compare and derive instant insights into the acquired data.

Make Excel Work For Your FP&A needs.

Instead of replacing current FP&A software, there are alternatives that work with Excel to provide detailed insights into numerous data sets. It is possible to take advantage of the widely known, easily understood Excel platform while still reaping the benefits of modern software types.

One example is Microsoft’s co-authoring which allows for multiple users to work on the same excel spreadsheet, lighting up which user edited which cell and allowing for easy collaboration within an existing excel based interface. Another alternative is using financial analytics platforms that were created to import and utilize current Excel spreadsheets. These software types provide a means of uploading preexisting Excel formulas, ERP’s, and CRM’s to organize information and deliver results.

Simple to use software platforms can provide organizations actionable insights through the interpretation of data into easily digestible graphs and charts. This data can then be leveraged by senior management for timely, accurate decision making. Rather than uprooting your entire business model - learn how to leverage your current Excel spreadsheets to transform raw data into logical data sets and truly take advantage of modern solutions once and for all.

Have you heard of Fannie Mae?

This mortgage loan giant was attempting to switch to a new accounting system. Calculations needed to be done to comply with a new accounting standard and in doing so, spreadsheet errors were overlooked when implementing this new software. The new models, therefore, were inaccurate resulting in a 1.36 billion dollar error in total shareholder equity. When asked for an explanation the Fannie Mae accountants responded with “honest mistakes made in a spreadsheet used in the implementation of a new accounting standard."

For a smaller business, a catastrophic failure such as this would fall onto the shoulders of the CFO and has the potential to bankrupt a company.

Don’t be susceptible to these common mistakes and adopt a technology that works with your existing processes for easy integration, fast deployment, and a huge reduction in the time spent on manual labor. Check out automated software types that work with your existing interface, stop getting bogged down with manual processes, and see the value that more time to analyze data can have for your business.

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1 Comment

Aug 12, 2020

Good article, on point. SME has a lot of meanings, may want to clarify

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