Accountants show Excel knowledge gaps

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Despite maintaining high levels of usage in the profession accountants' spreadsheet knowledge gaps are still abundant, according to training platform Filtered, following the biggest spreadsheet study of its kind – surveying 45,000 professionals.

In the ‘Do accountants really know Excel?’ whitepaper, the 12,000 accountants participating in the research answered almost half the proficiency questions incorrectly. Despite this, accountants still displayed greater Excel knowledge than the other professions involved, which included sales and marketing, HR, law, science and admin workers.

The overall results showed that accountants were tripped up by data handling as their biggest knowledge gap, with only 20% of those surveyed correctly answering questions in this category. The report pondered as to whether the spreadsheet questions were too difficult, and whether businesses deem VLOOKUP knowledge or having a grasp of data validation important amongst their workers.

Regardless, the report believes accountants and spreadsheet users should view the results as an opportunity to readdress their Excel learning and development.

So how can accountants improve their spreadsheet skills?

The answer lies in the amount of time spent working with spreadsheets, which the report logs at 2.5 hours a day. Spreadsheet expert and ICAEW IT faculty vice chairman Simon Hurst believes accountants can increase their productivity gains by spending a few more hours of focused spreadsheet training.

“As an Excel trainer myself I would say this, but my many years of experience of lecturing, training and consulting on the use of spreadsheets have convinced me that vast amounts of time are wasted through inefficient use and the need for extensive troubleshooting.”

He added: “This report seems to support the view that: with relatively little additional training, a significant proportion of the accountancy profession could achieve better results, with reduced risk, while saving at least half the time currently devoted to struggling with spreadsheets.”

The results echo the ICAEW’s spreadsheet competency findings, where the professional body has released the twenty principles of good spreadsheet practice and the spreadsheet competency framework.  

Writing in his monthly AccountingWEB blog, the IT faculty’s technical manager David Lyford-Smith backed this sentiment.

“You can’t just sleepwalk into how spreadsheets are used in your business”, said Lyford-Smith, “it’s important to consider how important they are and how they are used, and then consider how to create, implement, and communicate a plan of best practice based on that information.”   

Responding to the results and the importance of correct spreadsheet use in the whitepaper’s foreword, Richard Anning, ICAEW head of IT faculty, said: “The more we can use Excel to draw out business insight, spot problems and solve them, spot opportunities and exploit them, the more we elevate ourselves to clients or within our businesses and add most value.”   

You can read the full report by downloading the ‘Do accountants really know Excel’ whitepaper, which includes detailed training recommendations and the full results.

Richard Hattersley
Community Assistant
AccountingWEB
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04th Aug 2016 09:40

Why do people use "Excel" and "Spreadsheet" interchangeably. I have Excel available, I use LibreOffice instead (partly because I have an aversion to Microsoft and will avoid them wherever possible).

Thanks (2)
By Savia
to SteLacca
05th Aug 2016 09:27

This is a fair point - ICAEW tries to use 'spreadsheet' wherever possible, but that decision was made after naming the Excel Community! At its peak the Excel share of the spreadsheet market was over 90%; however with Google Sheets, LibreOffice, Apple Numbers, and other competitors rising, I think 'spreadsheet' is the right default.

To some extent I suppose you could say that 'Excel' has become genericised the way "sellotape" or "coke" have.

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By shurst
to Savia
05th Aug 2016 10:54

Yes indeed, if Excel disappeared it would leave a bit of a hoover.

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By seeroo
04th Aug 2016 14:45

I work in practice and in most firms that I have worked in I would say about 50-75% of the staff there have poor Excel knowledge. I once discovered a colleague typing in a list of figures then adding them up on his calculator and typing the total into the sheet (argh)!

I have come up against a lot of resistance when trying to train colleagues. They say they prefer their way because it is quicker for them. If they just took the time to practice manipulating data in Excel they could save themselves so much time. I think a lot of people are resistant to change.

Seems my next task should be to make some time for internal training!

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08th Aug 2016 10:14

Of course the other issue is that Spreadsheets can do so much these days that the vast majority of users will never ever need to use, and the investment in time it takes to learn the more esoteric functions doesn't pay off unless you are a regular user of that those particular functionalities.

Stll - nice to see that accountants are the best.

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