Top 10 excel skills for finance and accounting need to know in 2020

Accountants are part of every organization, and they are important because they manage the monetary aspects of the business. They must be able to work with different types of people and across various departments. Therefore, they must use various tools, one of which is MS Excel. In order to use it productively, they must have the necessary skills and know when to apply them.

Below are top 10 excel skills for finance and accounting!

1. Visual Basic for Applications

As an accountant, you need to create a lot of reports and with VBA‌ you can all automate all those reports which you usually create manually. The best example is, using a macro to create a pivot table.

excel pivot table tips tricks to use vba code

2. Using templates

You don’t have to reinvent the wheel every time you need to use Excel. Familiarizing yourself with the ever-expanding library of templates that are available for any Excel version can exponentially shorten your time between problem and solution. You can gain access to templates through the Insert command that is under the Spreadsheet Solutions tab. Here you will find many different kinds of templates including amortization schedules. Even if you do not necessarily want to go through the library of available templates, you can create your own as you problem solve by simply saving a worksheet as a template.

3. Filling and formatting

No less than Warren Buffett has explained the importance of business efficiency in every profession. Whether you subscribe to the 80/20 rule of productivity or Buffett’s 5/25 of goal setting, shortening the time you spend in rote data entry and formatting helps to increase your efficacy as an accountant.

Excel has the ability to auto-fill cells and add special formatting to cell batches more easily than ever. Learn the shortcut keys and pay attention to Excel’s new automation features to accelerate your work rate in the platform immensely. For instance, holding Ctrl + Shift with the numerals below allows you to quickly apply common formats to large amounts of data:

  • + 1 – Format numbers with two decimal places
  • + 2 – Format cells as time
  • + 3 – Format cells as date
  • + 4 – Format cells as currency
  • + 5 – Format cells as a percentage
  • Ctrl + Shift + 6 – Format cells in exponential or scientific form

4. Data validation

This function is a huge shortcut for worksheets that have many different forms of data. Using Data Validation ensures that a user immediately knows the data type that a cell holds. The user will also know if the cell can hold anything at all. If the data is not properly validated, an error message pops up that will certainly shorten the time that the user needs to go back over long stretches of data after formatting.

Depending on the option that you use, you can enter formulas, times and dates, floats or whole numbers. Users also have the ability to select from a wide set of options, including the option to enter only integer numbers. The custom formula feature lets the user set their own conditions using the built-in formulas from the program.

5. Making charts visually appealing

Excel Charts has many features for not only creating reports but also making them look attractive to readers. Here are a few tricks that you can use to quickly increase the visual appeal of your charts.

  • Time series charts – Bar and line charts are usually the best option for plotting data over a specific period of time. You can use the following shortcut keys to create a line chart (Alt+N+L+N) or a bar chart (Alt+N+C).
  • Breaking down data into components – If you are trying to show data with multiple components, the pie chart is usually the best option. You can enter information as percentages or absolute values. The shortcut key for this is Alt+N+Q.
  • Scatter plotting – This is a great tool for exploring the trends in data points. The shortcut for plotting points this way is Alt+N+D.
  • Trend line– Your line and bar charts have the ability to add trendlines and scatterplots to more easily interpret the data and understand the relationships there.

The art vs. the science of Excel

Accounting certifications are a great way to quantify Excel skills for accountants, but they are by no means foolproof. Even the switch of the AICPA to Excel as its testing standard can only help to determine if an accountant knows the basics, not whether they can get creative with Excel’s vast array of options.

One of the core concepts of developing a business regardless of industry is the ability to move beyond the stated function of your tools. The modern accountant is expected to provide a unique value to their client base – after all, everyone has access to Excel in the cloud.

The skills mentioned below are more artistic in nature, and there are very few limits to the problems that a motivated accountant can’t solve after mastering these techniques. It can be difficult to determine how to prioritize these job skills for a resume, but these are likely the skills that you will need as your baseline to serve an accounting function in the modern business industry.

6. Auditing formulas

You no longer have to be a calculus whiz to get the most out of Excel formulas. The Formula Auditing toolbar gives you quick and dirty access to an error checking function that works especially well on large and complicated worksheets. Even if you are working with a smaller worksheet, you can still make the process of creating and auditing your formulas speed along much more quickly.

The Formula Tab is where you will find the Formula Auditing toolbar. From here, you can choose from a number of options, including formula execution, tracing formula precedents, hunting down errors and locating dependent cells.


7. Using pivot tables

Newer versions of Excel have sophisticated pivot tables that allow a user to simplify and analyze complex data manipulations. Pivot tables are interactive, giving users the ability to detect trends and make data comparisons. The PivotTable selection under the Data menu takes you straight into a Wizard that lets you choose the data for a PivotChart and easily format that data however you need.

Insert a pivot table with the Alt+N+V shortcut. Add fields in your Column, Rows, Filter and Values boxes and select the way to tally the data – averaging, counting or adding. You can then use Excel’s built-in functions or create your own calculated items to further shape your data. Your calculated fields are defined by the formulas you set, making it easy to draw derivative findings from a set of data.

8. Sparkline charts

A chart line is a feature that allows you to embed charts inside cells, greatly improving your ability to consolidate large amounts of information into a single spreadsheet. The chart can be in a number of formats, including win/loss, bar or line format. Creating these charts is a relatively simple procedure:

  1. Select your range of numbers
  2. Click on the Insert menu
  3. Choose one of the built-in chart options
  4. Select a location range that is in the same worksheet as your data range


9. Data Analysis with Pivot Table

A pivot table is the most important tool when it comes to data analysis in Excel. You can create a pivot table to create instant financial reports and account summaries of a large set of data.

Well, creating a pivot table is easy.

You need to have source data just like I have in the below example, but make sure there shouldn’t be any blank row or column.

  • Now, go to the Insert Tab and click on the insert pivot table.
  • It will show you a dialog box to define the source data range but as you have already selected the data it takes it automatically.
  • Once you click OK, you will have sidebar just like below where you can define the rows, columns, and values for the pivot table. You can simply drag and drop.
  • So now, add “Age” to the rows, “Education” to the column, and “First Name” to the values.
  • In the end, once you define all, you’ll have a pivot chart like below.

10. What If analysis

Excel also has the ability to analyze hypothetical scenarios with three main options – Goal Seek, the Data Tables, and the Scenario Manager. The Scenario Manager is perhaps the most robust of these three options, giving the user the ability to input variables of different values in different situations. Users have the option of numbering the scenarios and comparing them against each other, along with the ability to refer to the cells that are changing between scenarios.

The option for the Goal Seek iterates a situation until a preset requirement is met. This is a great way to shorten up the search for a particular cell value that you need to move forward with a set of data. The Data Table lets the user display more than one scenario at a time, which helps to increase productivity if many situations need to be compared against each other. Expanding the scope of this feature beyond bookkeeping, Excel serves as an excellent tool for the financial analytics of business development, especially for analysts and solopreneurs who prefer independent contracts with clients.

Regardless of how long you have been using Excel, is always a good idea to reboot your skills every so often. You can create accounting magic with Excel that is instantly translatable across business disciplines since everyone knows Excel as the industry standard. Make sure that you keep up with new versions of Excel and take note of the new features that are consistently being added to this landmark program.

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