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Excel Is Finally Keeping Up With the Joneses

Accounting Excel 2019

Two years have passed since I wrote a controversial post about ditching Excel.

And as fate would have it, no one listened. We are as attached to Excel as ever. Maybe we like dealing with unruly and unresponsive files?

But, those rumors about the AICPA integrating Excel into the CPA Exam have finally become a reality as of April 1, 2018. It’s about time. The CPA Exam is hard enough without dealing with a subpar off-brand spreadsheet tool. Accountants should be brand snobs about something as important as the CPA Exam.

And later this year, we’re gearing up for a new edition of Microsoft Office; announced in September 2017 and scheduled to be released some time in mid-2018.

We’ve got some exciting features to look forward to, according to Thurrott:

The new data types, powered by Microsoft’s Knowledge Graph, allows users to embed rich geographic and financial data within their spreadsheets. For example, the new Geography data type allows users to get key information about a country, city, state, postcode, area, or continent. They can easily get access to information such as the population, political leaders, location, time zones, etc. without having to manually search them on the web. This data can be then used to take things to the next level with Excel’s existing filtering systems and rich charts.

I guess some of these features are not that revolutionary since the ticker symbol lookups have been available on Google Sheets for a few years. Excel wasn’t keeping up until now.

Another new feature includes the ability for smart data to auto-refresh, auto-identify, and detect if newly entered data might be a country or a stock symbol, just like it does with dates. For accountants, this feature has the most realistic applications for keeping spreadsheets consistent and up-to-date without relying on any other type of database software or VBA add-in.

Other features that look interesting, as reported by Abacus blog after the announcement of Office 2019, are:

  • A fancy new “Insight” tool that auto-generates interesting graphs and charts that can be used for decision making and don’t require much skill to create.
  • Import for machine learning algorithms that could aid in detecting anomalies in large datasets. I anticipate accounting firms will be excited about the idea of making use of Excel automation to find exceptions and high-risk transactions. I also see this being the start of the trend toward 100% audit sampling and transaction testing. Accountants are less scared to learn new features in Excel so it makes sense that buy-in will be easier. I agree with the Abacus blogger that “Excel 2019 might ultimately mark the moment when AI fully democratized for the business world.” PwC’s Assurance Transformation Leader Bill Brennan was talking about 100% transaction testing as result of artificial intelligence two years ago.
  • Custom data types that go beyond established categories like those we discussed above. “Microsoft offered an example: if you tag a column ‘Company Names,’ Excel will recognize the dataset to be a series of companies for which it can search Bing to find additional data.”

It’s all a big step forward for Excel and makes some of the more robust software solutions I mentioned two years ago less of a necessity going forward. The one huge drawback is that Office 2019 will only work on Windows 10 — that is unless you subscribe to Microsoft Office 365. But, most people are on Windows 10 by now, aren’t they?

Image: iStock/Rawpixel

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