Blog : Many happy returns, accounts, invoices, etc

And so we wish a very Happy Birthday to Microsoft Excel.  It was on the 30th September 1985 that Microsoft launched Excel 1.0 for Mackintosh computers and from its early beginnings, competing with Lotus 1-2-3, it has now become the de facto global standard for spreadsheets.

Its proliferation is something to behold.  There can’t be many organisations or industries where the Excel spreadsheet doesn’t provide support in one or more offices or functions.  Whether it’s an inventory, a mailing list, a balance sheet, Excel has insinuated itself into every corner of every firm.  But, despite its ubiquity, and the fact that it provides superb functionality for most, questions are starting to be asked in some areas as to whether a spreadsheet is really the right tool for the job.

Back in 2010, the FSA, as it was then, expressed concern about the use of spreadsheets within the insurance industry, e.g. for premium recording, claim processing, etc.  In a market presentation on “Solvency II”, it identified 4 potential areas where spreadsheets could be found wanting in data management. These were in areas such as operations that should occur in the input stage, the actual system itself or the output stage, but don’t, as well as those operations that, perhaps, should never occur at all.  The FSA identified the spread as down to a class of user, “spreadsheet jockeys”, who were highly skilled in spreadsheet operations, but relatively poor at thinking about overall data models.

This, in summary, was a great concern to the regulators plus a potential risk to the insurance industry itself. The suggested solution was fairly obvious , namely replacing spreadsheets with proper “IT Solutions”, and for those that remain, introduce appropriate controls and checks.

But the insurance industry isn’t alone in this regard.  It is not unusual for spreadsheets to appear  within other financial markets.  Recent discussions have shown that some firms, both buy and sell-side, are managing their whole CSA processing on spreadsheets.  Most buy-side firms use it as the basis for their ‘broker voting’ tool, plus many firms export their trade data into spreadsheets in order to perform ad hoc analyses and reporting.  Whilst it’s not suggested that any of these are necessarily wrong, eyebrows are starting to be raised about the sense of relying on spreadsheets for some mission-critical tasks.

So good luck Excel, here’s to the next 30 years, but perhaps there are certain functions that should be left to proper IT applications and solutions.

By the way, do you still have that crazy flight simulator embedded in the software?  That used to be fun.


  • 30 Sep, 2015
  • Quinapalus
  • Insurance,

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