Do You Really Need an ‘Advanced Excel’ Course?

Excel is the backbone to any custom built financial model, and one of the core attributes of a financial modeller is to have good technical Excel skills.  When struggling with their financial models, some managers’ first reaction is to send their staff on an advanced Excel course to improve their modelling skills.  However, with training budgets under constant scrutiny you really need to make sure that you get the best value out of your training options.

Is a training course what you need?

When considering an Advanced Excel course, there are a few points you should consider:

  1. As financial modellers, our use of Excel is quite narrow.  I know it’s hard for us to conceive, but there is a whole world of Excel use outside the finance industry!  Statisticians, database programmers, and engineers to name a few are able to use Excel’s advanced functions to create non-financial spreadsheets.  Most Advanced Excel courses are very broad, and will cover functions and capabilities which do not apply to your needs as a financial modeller.  You may learn a few tricks, but the time and money spent could be invested elsewhere.
  2. Research show that a large percentage of the skills learned in training courses are not retained.  Will you really remember everything that you learned?  A programme of continuous, applied learning is often more effective than an intensive training course.
  3. Are your Excel skills really the problem?  Following best practice and mastering the logic behind a financial model is more important than building in complex formulas, and for the most part you will want to keep formulas as simple as possible.

Alternatives to attending a public ‘Advanced Excel Course’

Other options to improve your financial modelling skills without going on an Advanced Excel Course include:

  1. Take an interest in what your work colleagues have done and how they did it – you can always learn from the techniques of others.
  2. Read other peoples’ models!  Writers read books, actors watch movies to learn techniques.  Sometimes the best way to learn is to see what someone else has done.  Try taking someone else’s model apart and see how they built it.
  3. Read specialist financial modelling publications – there are often useful articles about specific techniques or subscribe to online “Excel Tips” email newsletters

Select the right training option for you

These strategies are great for continually improving your Excel and financial modelling skill set, and they certainly won’t break the budget, but what if you really need to give your skills a quick boost to get you ready for that new project coming up?  There are a number of options available:

  1. Try to find a course specifically aimed at Excel for financial modellers, and even better – find one dedicated to your industry.  Although good financial modelling skills are relevant across many different industries, there is nothing like specialised training dedicated to the modelling issues inherent in your own industry.  In recent years many more specialist financial modelling courses have become available, and most major cities have public courses available.
  2. If your company is able to arrange a group in-house training course, this will be even better as you may be able to use the templates and models actually used within your organisation.  You also have the added advantage of choosing a time and location that suits you.
  3. If you can afford a private session, this is the most convenient and time-efficient method as you can ask questions and only cover topics that are useful to you.  Many specialist training companies provide Excel one-on-one mentoring sessions.
  4. In addition, there are some fantastic publicly online Excel training resources including tutorials, articles, blogs, forums and videos specialising in Excel and Financial Modelling which can be done in your own time rather than taking an entire day or two out to attend a course.

So, do you really need an ‘Advanced Excel Course’?

In summary, an advanced Excel course would certainly benefit someone who plans on extensively using Excel in their role for multiple purposes.   However, if your main objective is to become an expert financial modeller, focus instead on mastering the few tools you need such as logic and methodology, rather than expending time and money to learn tools you won’t use.

Recent posts by Danielle Stein Fairhurst

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Comments for “Do You Really Need an ‘Advanced Excel’ Course?”

  1. nicolas says:

    I couldn’t agree more. Ultimately, an excel course targeting your exact needs such as modelin for LBOs, project finance, acquisitions, etc allows one to both acquire industry specific techniques and excel functions commonly used to solve financial modeling specific issues.

  2. Jon Peltier says:

    “Most Advanced Excel courses are very broad, and will cover functions and capabilities which do not apply to your needs as a financial modeller. You may learn a few tricks, but the time and money spent could be invested elsewhere.
    “Research show that a large percentage of the skills learned in training courses are not retained. Will you really remember everything that you learned?”

    By the same token, sitting in a training course gives you exposure to features you never knew about. You may not recall exactly how to do certain thing, but knowing it’s possible gives you a head start when you Google for it.

  3. @Danielle – Excel training is quite different to financial modelling training and I think you have very clearly identified how to approach this situation. In my view there would be a lot less errors in financial models if there was a stronger focus on financial modelling best practice techniques rather than to learn ‘Advanced Excel’.

    When I audit financial models the biggest errors tend to occur in financial models where it’s clear that the modeller got carried away using above average complexity.

    @Jon – Agree, but if all you are after is to have inspiration then maybe signing up to a decent newsletter could achieve that?

  4. @Rickard – Yes, it’s so easy for financial modellers to to get bogged down in the technical Excel aspects of their model, get carried away with complex formulas and not focus on key high level, best practice procedures such as error checking strategies like model stress-testing.

    @Jon – It’s true that “you don’t know what you don’t know” but most people have got to really think hard before spending the money and taking a day out of their schedules to commit to training workshops. There is no question that face-to-face workshops are very effective, and the best way of learning for many people, however, I would recommend that potential attendees exhaust the available blogs, forum and newsletters first.

  5. Michael L. says:

    Wow, finally I found a group of people with the same thought process.
    I’m a heavy duty Excel VBA Wall St developer and now opened my own Excel training school which will also specialize in training financial modelers with what is needed just for them.

    My training assures that all material will be remembered (pretty neat thing) and it is tailored for the persons needs. It is not one day dinky course but a continuos combination of one-on-one tutoring and self study of the materials.

    Would love to read all of your thoughts here on that.

    michael@sophisoft.com

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