November 20, 2018

Accountants Should Dump Microsoft Excel for Database Software

Rumor has it that the AICPA is finally integrating Microsoft Excel into the CPA exam starting in 2018. I’ll admit my initial reaction is “it’s about time” since the generic spreadsheet I used was archaic. Apparently, almost 70% of the CPAs surveyed by the AICPA agreed. Go figure — we are all Excel-aholics who can’t get through the day without busting out a spreadsheet.

Rumor has it that the AICPA is finally integrating Microsoft Excel into the CPA exam starting in 2018. I’ll admit my initial reaction is “it’s about time” since the generic spreadsheet I used was archaic. Apparently, almost 70% of the CPAs surveyed by the AICPA agreed. Go figure — we are all Excel-aholics who can’t get through the day without busting out a spreadsheet. 

But, I have to wonder… is our love affair with Excel getting out of hand? It’s really not that great, after all. I know Excel has been declared the winner in the spreadsheet market and stood the test of time. Obviously, it is one of the most versatile applications for accounting and is the third pea in the pod along with Word and PowerPoint. As a part of the Microsoft office suite there no need to shell out any extra mula to start using it. That’s a plus. But, the same can be said for a number of other apps…

I’m here to make a case that it may be time to ditch Excel and indulge in another, more seductive option: database software. If you’re a Windows aficionado it’s most likely Microsoft Access (again, most people already have it because it is part of the Office Suite) or die-hard Apple fans go for FileMaker.

Unruly size

First off, spreadsheets have the tendency to grow larger than your screen. It’s literally a pain in the neck. No wonder people invest in ostentatious 21:9 monitors. The max spreadsheet size is 1,048,576 rows by 16,384 columns! If your spreadsheet is this big… good luck. It is too big for it’s own good. Shame on you for thinking that was a good idea. Or maybe you inherited that out-of-control monstrosity, in which case, I feel sorry for you.

When is the last time a database had this problem? Um, never.

Unresponsive files

As a result of an inexcusably ballooning spreadsheet, don’t tell me you haven’t experienced a slow and unresponsive file when trying to do something easy, like a find and replace. It’s infuriating. Spreadsheets like that are memory sucking behemoths!

The good news is that database software does this all much better. Duplicate data is excluded (thanks, normalization) so it doesn’t need to sift through as much.

Sneaky formula coding errors

You also can’t tell me that Excel hasn’t burned you before…those sneaky formulas that are shielded from view can make or break you. One error and you are out of luck. It’s not college and you don’t get partial credit because of a “flow-through” error. Take a look at these Harvard guys who had an Excel coding error that is to blame for their entire theory falling apart and causing them to look like total schmucks.

Databases can store queries and scripts that are, at least in my opinion, easier to double check and fix. Even this smart PhD candidate agrees with me because “mapping all the formulas to their corresponding results is incredibly difficult [in Excel]. Without any “central” structure interpreting such things or catching any mistakes becomes very difficult.”

With three points (even if Excel does manage to get a point for versatility), I declare database software our winner! It’s time to give Access or FileMaker a try.

Let’s hear it. Are you on #TeamExcel? Do you think a flat file is the bee’s knees and I am just whining because “Either you work Excel, or it works you?” Or, do you think Excel is ruining the world one cell at a time?

Image: iStock/Johnny Kurtz Photography

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