The Most Valuable Excel Skills for Finance and Accounting

Feb 06, 2015 • 2 min read
small business influencers
Table of Contents

      When you are preparing to work in accounting, you need to know how to make accounting work for the people around you. Much of your time is spent managing the ledger and preparing reports. However, you cannot do any of this if you are not aware of how to make the reports make sense.

      When you are manipulating data in your reports, you are removing columns or rows that will help you get down to the bottom line. If you do not get down to the bottom line, people are going to get confused or bored.

      You also need to make sure that you are aware of how to work with other financial institutions. You are the person who is required to work with the IRS at tax time, and you are the person who submits payments for payroll tax during the year. You need to have the people skills to manage these accounts while also creating an environment where people in the office understand what is going on.

      Records are at the heart of any good business, particularly its accounting and finance records. Excel is an important tool that can help finance and accounting professionals create reports, analyze data, and prepare financial strategies. Although you may have a basic knowledge of Excel, you might not know about specialized functions that can make your job easier.

      Making the Spreadsheets Accessible: General and Number Formatting

      Custom formatting is key if you want other people to understand the model you’ve spent so much time creating.  So it is important to pay attention to presentation. For example, color coding can be tremendously useful. Designate colors for each field. Use blue for hardcoded inputs, black for calculated fields, and red or green for assumptions. Make sure you use a consistent style for numbers. Use custom formatting to turn 1000000 into $1 million (1e6) to make the report more easily readable and effective.

      Pulling the Numbers All Together: VLOOKUP and HLOOKUP

      VLOOKUP allows you to easily find data. For example, you might want to find all entries containing a particular product to put together a financial model or to prepare a financial report. VLOOKUP allows you to find this information (even if it’s contained in multiple spreadsheets) if that item has a unique identifier, such as an item code number. HLOOKUP provides a horizontal lookup function across table entries. Both are important and provide accounting and finance professionals with an overview of the financial picture.

      Data Manipulation and Navigation

      Data manipulation is key to presenting financial reports of models. When you use data manipulation, you can insert or delete rows or columns and hide and unhide data, which gives you the ability to simplify reports and cut to the bottom line. It is also important to learn the shortcuts that provide accessible path for navigating the pages of the report. Data manipulation and navigation are tools that help both accounting personnel and management access information.

      While some pundits say that thinking and planning is the most important aspect of success, there are some necessary basic Excel skills that will help you create accessible, clear, concise reports. Master general and number formatting, understand lookup functions such as VLOOKUP, and learn the ropes of data manipulation and navigation.

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