Financial Modelling: Diamonds in the rough


Why is it so hard to find Finance staff with good financial modelling skills?

Surely all accountants and professional finance people are good financial modelers?

When I was leading a large team within the Finance function of a major Australian bank it was difficult to find good modelling skills.

This isn't just a skills gap in banks but across all Finance teams in corporates and small to medium sized entities.

It's nobody’s fault, we were never trained and everyone just got tips off the resident "Excel expert" in the team. There is always one...Or we used Google and learnt from Chandoo and YouTube videos to solve problems in spreadsheets….just like you solve anything really…YouTube saviour.

When joining a company it was expected that everyone knew how to use Excel with a high degree of competency in Financial Modelling.

But the problem, in my experience, most don't have this competency, no matter how many years they have been in Finance, even in the largest companies in Australia. 

The general level of financial modelling skills in Finance is pretty poor...period.

Most just think having good financial modelling skills means you are good at Excel but its way more than that.

Let’s break it down into 2 key questions:

1)    What does competency actually mean?

2)    How do you solve this skills gap?

Competency in Financial Modelling

Is having excellent Excel skills means you are great at financial modelling?

There is certainly a strong correlation but FM is way more than just Excel formulas, functions and shortcut keys.

Does knowing how to use Vlookup qualify or is Index (Match) an absolute dead set requirement? What is your opinion?

Firstly, I believe that it really doesn't matter which formula you use in theory provided you can build a financial model that is flexible (expandable vertically and horizontally), dynamic (cope with unlimited what-if scenario analysis and possibly Monte Carlo simulation) and well structured (no hardcoded formulas and organised content)

Secondly once you have nailed the above you need to be able to comfortably build a 3-way model, the bedrock of any good modeler.

Lastly you need to be able to use the model in delivering insight, foresight and influence decision making.

Being the CFO of a fintech start-up, amongst building models for many other small and medium-sized businesses, this is where the value lies.

In reality most people don't care about the model but the decision that is made with it. Some complex decisions on working capital, global expansion and multiple debt tranches is not simply solved without a robust financial model.

But don't lose sight of the real prize here and that is influencing key decisions made by non-financial people or customers.

I originally thought competency in financial modelling consisted of 3 main technical skills, as I wrote in one of my first blogs   ….but I am now absolutely convinced that this is actually 5 key areas having presented in front of over 300 finance professionals over the past 2 years. The first 3 are a repeat of the earlier post.

1.    Excel - Understanding how to construct formula logic and model structure within Excel. This is really a competency in using Excel for more than just a fancy calculator.

Building consistent logic horizontally for example. I still see many people not able to construct a formula that is consistent and reverting to hardcoding. Learning how to build a multi-dimensional scenario managers and run monte carlo simulation using Excel formulas and perhaps a bit of VBA can be important in some instances (not all).

2.    Accounting – understanding how to build a balance sheet and have it balance is the bedrock of a good model.

3.    Business Acumen – understanding what drives value in a business and the drivers.

4.    Problem solving skills – this is something that has become probably one of the biggest skills gaps. The rest one can learn through experience and practice but problem-solving skills goes more into the way your brain works and solves problems. Some people are really good at this, others just cannot “crack the code”.  It important to understand your strengths and also areas of improvement.

5.    Technology – in particular learning how to use new technologies that sit inside and outside of Excel can enhance your existing modelling skills to build models quicker, more accurately and visualise the results in a way that is more engaging.

To get started you should probably take a look at the Financial Modelling Institute (FMI) and the Advanced Financial Modeler (AFM) level 1 accreditation. This will at least cover off on 1-4 above.

Thereafter you can explore some of the technology we use in the Future of Financial Modelling world tour. See our YouTube channel for more information.

How do you solve this skills gap?

When I started at Investec Bank as a financial modeler within the Property Investment Banking division I remember being behind the pack in my financial modelling skills.

But, with a bit…well a lot actually, of practice by the time I was in the Corporate Finance and later the Property Private Equity teams I had even surpassed those that I trailed.

Solid practical experience, late nights, learning to apply the best practice spreadsheet modelling standards and a few deals under my belt I closed in on the pack and was near the front.

Then I built one of the most complex models with multi tax, multi entity and multi currency to assist the Toga hospitality group (Adina brand) expand their presence into Denmark and Germany.

The bottom line is practice. It's in the 70% of your knowledge and skills development vs the 20% observing and 10% studying.

I also recently submitted an alternative FMI solution to the example case study. You can find it here.


Financial Modelling opens new doors of opportunity today and into the future.

If you don't have them in your team and don't have the time to learn it yourself here are some steps you can take.

1. Sponsor and support your team in learning through the FMI and the approved trainers (yes we happen to be one).

2. Look out for upcoming webinars and a series of workshops as part of our global tour on the Future of Financial Modelling. Consider sending them to learn some of most advanced tools for model building and visual influence.

3. Hire a gun financial modeler using the Vervoe financial modelling interview scripts. It will help you find that needle in a haystack. It will certainly give you the confidence of finding competent financial modelers.

I used it to hire our contractors now located in 5 countries, without wasting time interviewing all potential candidates who were only good at Excel.

And lastly, don’t give up and remember in the words of Dr Carol Dweck….master the art of “Yet”.

We have also redesigned our website to help you along your journey of levelling up in this space.

We will continue to discuss this topic and you can click to follow me on Twitter or LinkedIn or subscribe to our short but sweet newsletter.

Be sure to check out our pods and video page.

Here are also some past/present blogs that might be of interest.

Forecasting skills doesn't guarantee good modelling skills

How Technology Will Change FP&A Forever

Why so many unemployed accountants are already struggling..and how I can help?

Father battles cancer, son battles career extinction

Why being a 1-man/women VCFO business is a really bad idea?

Why Vlookup (vs Index(match) shows your lack of embracing change, innovation and better Excel skills

Why a Truly Integrated Business Planning Solution Requires a Flexible Dual Architecture known as Core and Edge.

Excel is dead!

Financial Modelling Innovation: Predictive analytics vs Financial Modelling

Why Monte Carlo will change the way you make financial decisions and think about scenarios?

Driver Based Planning & Forecasting in the context of FP&A

Inside the mind of a spreadsheeter vs a financial modeler

Virtual CFO the Good, Bad and the Ugly

Part 3 of Finance Innovation – The Airbnb of spreadsheets - first major wave of spreadsheet innovation

Do You Model Off against the Masters of Financial Modelling?

NEED HELP searching for the best advisory tool in the market?

Part 2 of Finance Innovation - Data Analytics / Big Data is not Financial Modelling

Why I disrupted my own role and you should do the same?

Consulting, Advisory, Finance and the art of influencing is about to change forever.

Your Financial Model can save lives !

The Machines Are Not Coming… they are here!

Why financial modelling skills will be a big career door opener for emerging accounting and finance talent.

The Demand for Financial Modelling Skills Reaches new Heights

Lance Rubin is the Founder of Model Citizn, partner of theOutperformer, approved training provider to the Financial Modelling Institute and Group CFO for SequelCFO.

I have more than 20 years of combined experience working in model audit, investment banking, corporate finance, finance business partner and Fintech CFO.

Organisations I have worked with include PwC, KPMG, National Australia Bank, Investec Bank and Banjo small business lender.

I have a YouTube channel dedicates to the Future of Financial Modelling and also provide access to Models via Eloquens with thousands of viewers and downloads.