Even with spreadsheet use fading, it's still an Excel world

Other accounting platforms advance, but U.S. corporations remain dominated by spreadsheet use, according to an FERF/Robert Half survey.

CFOworld –

As California-based manufacturer GoPro prepares to go public later this year, it has high hopes of expanding its reach among the surfers, mountain climbers and other so-called adventure photographers to whom GoPro wants to sell its novel 3D video devices and gear-mounted cameras.

But despite the company's arguable place in the technological vanguard, its finance function must first acquire the agility possessed by its customers -- if, that is, it is to succeed in meeting both the operational and regulatory challenges of a becoming a public company.

In the meantime, GoPro makes heavy use of spreadsheets when it comes to keeping the books. And, of course, Microsoft's Excel remains the dominant producer of spreadsheet platforms.

Kurt Amundsen, the company's CFO, recalls he was the "first full-time person in finance and accounting" to come on board after the company began operations nearly a decade ago. That figure is now up to 20, he says.

Up until now, according to Amundsen, the Excel approach was sufficient to enable him to address the "purely operational" concerns driving GoPro's finance function. "For operational processes, it's not GAAP," with its fair value and other thorny standards, that drives the process. "For the outside world, we use GAAP." He adds, "Originally, we had what I would call generalists, people who do everything. As we get bigger, the roles narrow and we go for specialists."

While he relies mainly on Excel now, Amundsen also used a "Cognos tool" for budget and planning and is looking at ERP systems, he says.

Moving Past the 'Manual' Approach

In the need to move beyond Excel, GoPro is far from alone.

Some 64% of public and private companies in the U.S. still use spreadsheets or other "manual" solutions to perform their finance functions, according to a survey of 262 financial executives conducted by the Financial Executives Research Foundation and Robert Half, a specialized staffing firm.

That figure soars as high as 74% among companies with annual revenues less than $100 million, according to the survey.

But "as revenue increases, the number of full-time equivalents needed for finance increases," says Paul MacDonald, executive director of Robert Half Management Resources, speaking in a webcast devoted to discussing the survey results. [Registration required.] Amundsen and Raymond Castonguay, senior vice president for finance at Morneau Shepell, a Toronto-based human resource consulting and outsourcing firm, participated in the webinar.

Working 25 Days on a Quarterly Report

With accounting mandates on the rise, financial executives in the U.S. report spending an average 25 days to complete quarterly reports and a whopping 55 days to prepare annual 10Ks, he says, and most companies expect this compliance-driven burden to increase, especially if IFRS is eventually adopted.

Castonguay notes that his company, like other public Canadian firms, began having to use IFRS, as opposed to local GAAP, for interim statements starting last year.

Morneau Shepell, he says, is "definitely an Excel user, but we're moving to a new ERP platform." Given the growth of his company and the need to comply with the new accounting, "we need to move away from Excel to an integrated system."

In addition to Excel, Castonguay says, he is using "one of the Oracle tools," and is also in the process of installing a solution from J.D. Edwards, which is "very flexible" and "not overly complicated to implement."

Says Castonguay, "The first quarter was extremely painful. Year end was a bit more intense than normal year end, but I expect it will get easier."

That being said, "There's definitely fatigue in the financial market. After Sarbanes-Oxley and IFRS people are tired."

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