A Financial Analyst Who Doesn’t Trust Excel? You’re Not Alone
As a financial planner and analyst, I’m sure it comes as no surprise that I love using numbers to solve problems. But when my team at Cherwell recognized the shortcomings of outdated budgeting and forecasting methods, we knew we needed a new tool to ensure our answers to these financial questions were accurate and our processes were efficient. What was the solution to our spreadsheet nightmare? Keep reading to find out.
Analyzing numbers is engrained into who I am. As a child, I used to count out my allowance and thought I was rich beyond my wildest dreams. I was fascinated with counting coins and money management. I simply loved to use numbers to solve problems. As a financial professional, I get to meticulously analyze numbers each day. I take great pride in sharing my team’s financial results and achievements with the folks who trust me with the financial health of their business.
For the first six or seven years of my career, I worked at a regional insurance company out of Madison, WI. I was in a rotational program and had the opportunity to work in each financial facet of the company. In April of 2015, my wife and I decided we were ready for a new adventure and relocated to Denver, CO. Within four months of the move, I landed a job at Cherwell, a global leader in IT service management and IT asset management.
Using the skills I acquired throughout my career, I run the financial planning and analysis function for Cherwell. My position entails putting together an accurate budget and then making sure we can stick to that budget. If we run into any hiccups, it’s my responsibility to explain why we’re not managing to expectation. The rest of my role consists of broadly supporting the business from a financial perspective and general business strategy, because at the end of the day everything comes back to money management. As a result, I need to understand every facet of the company so I can do my part in helping the business succeed to its maximum potential.
How to Streamline Financial Planning and Forecasting
As the financial planning and analysis manager, I was hired to streamline our financial planning and forecasting process while ensuring accuracy. To do this, I needed to overhaul an almost
Honestly, when I joined the team we were 100 percent Excel based and bogged down in a spreadsheet nightmare, which is terrible for accuracy and efficiency. Problems arise when your financial data is dependent on the integrity of an Excel sheet. You find yourself spending most of your time building new spreadsheets and formulas and crossing your fingers as you consolidate everything and hope you didn’t break something new. From there, it’s not a matter of if there are errors but whether or not you can find them all, which means going through the entire consolidation process again. It’s a tedious and unreliable method, and I knew there had to be a better solution.
I reached out to some peers at different companies to see what solutions they were using. I was familiar with the older and more entrenched on-premise solutions, but was interested in exploring a cloud-based solution. A trusted peer pointed me in the direction of Anaplan, a cloud-based planning and performance management platform.
Basically, I watched a few YouTube videos and found that Anaplan was absolutely the solution that I wanted to use. Built into its functionality is automated spreadsheet generation and management. I knew immediately that Anaplan’s feature-rich platform could provide the tools we needed in order to overhaul our outdated process and assist us with progressive financial forecasting. Once a decision was made, we went through the alignment process to get everyone on board with the product.
How Technology Boosts Efficiency
I'm a self-starter and problem solver by nature, so for me it was essential that I had a thorough understanding of the product—how to build and how to use it. Plus, I knew my job performance and knowledge of this platform were intimately linked. Therefore, I made myself a product expert. I’ve found Anaplan to be dynamic and flexible in so many different ways; I have yet to come across something that doesn’t work for us. Our setup is 100 percent customized to our business needs and our functionality is based on the models that Anaplan provided.
In fact, one of my favorite features is Anaplan’s reporting functionality. Before we adopted the software, I was creating multiple mappings with giant formulas in order to take our general ledger data and convert it to our reporting format. I spent countless hours verifying the accuracy of the data because something was always broken. With Anaplan, you build it once and it’s there. Once it’s built, you can slice and dice it in different ways, whether you’re looking at it by date, currency or some other dimension. Additionally, when folks around the organization need access to data, they can easily look up the necessary information without accidently jeopardizing the integrity of the data.
From an efficiency perspective, it's night and day from our old manual process. It's a completely different animal, and we are looking at things in a new way. We no longer spend our days working on and worried about spreadsheets. Now, we get to focus on the value-added questions. For example, what's in our budget? What's in our numbers? How do certain relationships impact each another?
Ultimately, Anaplan has made us more efficient and look good in the company's eyes. In 2016, we finished our budget for the year in January 2016—and I only felt 60 percent confident that it was accurate. Going into 2017, we finished our budget prior to the start of the year, and I was 95 percent confident that it was accurate.
At this point, our main use case is budgeting and forecasting expenses. However, I feel we have only scratched the surface regarding the platform’s potential and I am looking forward to building out even more use cases in 2017. I can honestly say that I couldn’t do my job and achieve the high standards I set for myself without Anaplan’s solution.