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Release Cashflow to client

Release unlocked version of cashflow to client or not?

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What would you do?

I have prepared an extensive cashflow forecast to include P&L and BS for 3 years for a client on Excel to be used formally in an application for a large loan. The spreadsheet contains linked formulas and pivot tables etc. After sending a locked copy over to them, (to restrict alterations by the client and to protect my own work and integrity), they are now requesting an unlocked version.

Would you release an unlocked version for others to amend/adjust after spending hours preparing it, possibly manipulating to 'look better'...?

Thanks in advance

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By the_drookit_dug
06th Jan 2021 22:37

Unlock but replace all formulas with values?

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By I'msorryIhaven'taclue
06th Jan 2021 23:38

I had a similar experience, whereby the client broke my trust by taking my integrated forecast workbook (which I'd developed over many years) to a firm of Excel programmers who hi-jacked and developed it, not to mention carried out a further £40k of work for the client.

If you're going to grant access to an unlocked copy you could try time-bombing it. It's not absolutely secure, even if you use VBA to code in the time-bomb. Mind you, your client hasn't yet figured how to get past your existing security by downloading a password cracker, so presumably is not very tech-savvy.

For simplicity, how about planting a simple if statement in the sheet? Here's a quick example:

Create a front page to your workbook, containing your copyright notice and a warning that your code is not intended to be altered by third parties, and that attempting to do so might well cause instability and corrupt the workbook. Then create two cells in that front page containing the following formulae:

Cell A10: in which you insert a date (say) 7 days hence;
Cell A11: =IF(NOW()>A10,ROUND(1,0),"expired")

Now hide each of these cells' output (click "cell" / "format" / "custom" / and enter ;;; (three semi-colons) in the "type" field / click "ok").

Now protect your front page sheet in the normal way ("permissions" / "protect workbook" / "protect current sheet") to prevent your client from amending it, and to make the code invisible.

Finally, link as many cells in the unprotected worksheet(s) as you please to cell A11 of your protected front page worksheet by extending each of their individual formulae to *A11 (i.e. multiply by the value returned in cell A11) so that during the set seven days those formulae will multiply by a value of one (i.e.remain the same); and thereafter multiply by zero (i.e. by the value of "expired" in cell A11).

For Brucie-bonus points, you could alternatively code some of the unprotected worksheet cells along the lines of:
=IF(front page!A11=1,[insert a good formula],[insert a naff formula])

Of course, the more variety the better to deter your client from hiring third-party help.

The client will have been warned on the front page of the copyright, and not to meddle with the formulae. Upon expiry of the date you set in cell A10 of the protected front page worksheet the cell A11 value will of course become zero, affecting all cells linked to it. Zero, or anything you want it to be; or, if you prefer, even apply a naff formula to each linked cell. I'm sure you've got the idea.

Good hunting!

Thanks (6)
Replying to I'msorryIhaven'taclue:
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By Jonesbach
06th Jan 2021 23:45

That it some integrated reply...I do love a good formula, and some of those do indeed have place in future sheets!!

Thanks!

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Replying to Jonesbach:
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By I'msorryIhaven'taclue
07th Jan 2021 00:00

You're welcome. I guess a combo of a zero formula and a naff formula, with two different date cells, could work rather well. Just add them in to your existing workbook before sharing with your client.

Excuse the post's granular detail, but I thought it might be of interest for anyone else in the same boat or, for that matter, malcontent trainees.

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Replying to I'msorryIhaven'taclue:
ALISK
By atleastisoundknowledgable...
07th Jan 2021 08:48

Excellent and a v useful detailed practical response.

Thanks (1)
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By paulwakefield1
07th Jan 2021 08:29

This sounds like a bespoke model for a specific client. What were the terms of engagement?- this is the most critical question. Development of a model for them to use? Creation of a forecast based on info and assumptions given to you which only you will process? IP rights? Is it unreasonable for them to change input assumptions (what if basis) and for just those to be unlocked? Is your name associated with the forecast? Do you trust your client - for integrity and/or competence?

I have clients where I develop models purely as a developer and how they use them is up to them but they are fairly well locked down apart from the input variables (and with lengthy disclaimers and explanations in the engagement letter). I would release the model to those clients.

Others I insist on doing absolutely everything myself and they only get output - sometimes just as pdf. The client never gets near those.

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Replying to paulwakefield1:
A Putey FACA
By Arthur Putey
07th Jan 2021 09:55

+1
And also consider rhe "support" question, are they expecting you to fix/be liable for any problems and errors?

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Replying to Arthur Putey:
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By Jonesbach
07th Jan 2021 11:52

Any adjustments have been carried out by myself to date, the client has emphasised that they don't have the knowledge nor ability to create or maintain them.

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By bernard michael
07th Jan 2021 09:04

Have you asked the client why they wanted the unlocked version.if so what was their reply?? Any unlocked version should then be accompanied by a clearance letter stating the given reason

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Replying to bernard michael:
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By Jonesbach
07th Jan 2021 11:48

It's the 3rd party funding director that has requested I forward two copies of the spreadsheet...one locked and 'signed off', and another unlocked version - "DBW want the ability to run some sensitivity analysis on aspects of the financials". When the original was sent over and it was requested it was unlocked, I explained at the time it was locked to maintain integrity and ensure no adjustments could be made while still claiming it was produced by a qualified person.

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Replying to Jonesbach:
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By bernard michael
07th Jan 2021 11:54

Jonesbach wrote:

It's the 3rd party funding director that has requested I forward two copies of the spreadsheet...one locked and 'signed off', and another unlocked version - "DBW want the ability to run some sensitivity analysis on aspects of the financials". When the original was sent over and it was requested it was unlocked, I explained at the time it was locked to maintain integrity and ensure no adjustments could be made while still claiming it was produced by a qualified person.

It actually makes some sense provided the sensitivity results aren't used for any purpose other than internal management However what were the terms on
which you prepared the cash flow - just for the fund raising or also to be used as they now indicate ??

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Replying to bernard michael:
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By Jonesbach
07th Jan 2021 12:25

It was requested initially as a stand alone cashflow forecast for a New company , and then it escalated to be a request for the purpose of funding with an additional need for a supporting PL an BS .

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Replying to Jonesbach:
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By paulwakefield1
07th Jan 2021 12:16

The request in itself is not unreasonable if it is made clear that you are only responsible for the locked down version and its output and take no responsibility whatsoever for the unlocked version or its output.

However it sounds as if this is being used by a 3rd party and not your client. I would be very careful with establishing a liability to a 3rd party.

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By David Gordon FCCA
12th Jan 2021 14:46

Many of us, including me, forget that such work should be covered by certificates or caveats similar to unaudited accounts.
The moot point is:
If you did the work to client's instructions, from client's information supplied, and the client paid you for the work then, who does the spreadsheet belong to?
Especially as the program does not belong to you- (Read Microsoft's terms and conditions)
I believe that some years ago there was a judgment which rules that spreadsheets or similar computer work could not be copyright, because copyright requires original creative work. One hopes your numbers were not original creative work!!
This may be why Microsoft et al so ferociously tie up their stuff with conditions of Byzantine complexity.
Additionally, your words suggest you prepared the information knowing it would be presented to third parties. Your fee would therefore be deemed to cover this eventuality.
The best you may do, in my layman's opinion is to diplomatically, in writing, make the client understand that if anyone fraudulently messes with your numbers, and holds out they came from you, in order for client to obtain a financial advantage, this is a criminal offense.
I do not, personally, believe that you may refuse the client's request, if you did not have any conditions of supply in place beforehand.

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