Re-post of a blog from 2009, which is disappointingly accurate still to date…
Following an initial review of a client’s financial model our team often has a conversation on the topic “what do you think of the model?” A discussion on this topic is likely to evolve around structure, formatting, scenarios, flexibility, complexity, level of detail, accuracy, usability, timing, size, number of authors, external links, industry conventions, acronyms, vba macros and a number of other parameters, all equally important in getting an overall understanding of the challenges of a financial model audit of the particular financial model.
[UPDATE: Reader contributions added at the end of the article]
To give a reasonably detailed description of a financial model you need around 5-10 minutes to make sure that you cover off the main areas of importance. I had an idea the other day of a way to make these conversations shorter, and arguably more entertaining (or controversial).
Can you describe a financial model as a city?
Most people have a view of the characteristics of different cities in the world even if you have never visited the particular city. I am thinking about the description that you are likely to get if you ask someone “Could you describe XXX in less than one minute?”
Imagine for a minute that your financial model is a city and you try and find the city that best describes that model. There are a number of cities that you definitely don’t want your model described as: (look, I am fully aware that this is based on a superficial stereotype of a city – don’t take it personally if you happen to live there…)
Bad financial modelling cities
“What once used to be a magnificent and beautiful financial model is now after years of destructive behavior broken, poorly integrated and with abandoned non-functional section”
New York, USA
“A compact, heavy financial model with a lot of attitude and big bold formulas”
Berlin (before 1989), Germany
“The financial model has been built by two different modellers, with a minimum of interaction and zero integration. One half is has a strong structural integrity and the other half excels in creativity and beautiful formatting”
“A very promising model that didn’t quite get completed because the financial modeler moved on to a better job”
“A financial model full of love and care with formulas like romantic poetry that you could show your to your loved one over a glass of red wine. You enjoy spending day after day finding your way around in the small alleyways and keep finding new treasures and secrets” (Thank you Chris McNeill at PwC Sydney for inspiration)
“A minimalist formatted financial model where all cells are of equal importance and no sheet stands out as more important than the others. Beautifully prepared, though it lacks the confidence to recommend the transaction or investment as it is waiting for consensus.”
“On a good day one of the most beautifully constructed financial models in the world but when stressed the infrastructure breaks down and critical functions stop working”
Which city would you like your financial model described as?
This is a lot harder to think of…. Maybe the following ones make sense?
“Oversized infrastructure and sparsely populated makes the financial model ready for growth and it is easily navigated. Working on a ‘no surprises’ approach.”
Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia
“Well structured with strong infrastructure while still maintaining a level of interesting dynamics”
“Clean, comfortable and efficient”
Some of the readers of this blog (back in 2009) has submitted some additional contributions, thanks for helping out! If you have any further suggestions to the list the please let me know and I’ll include them!
Since 2009 we have upgraded the original blogging platform and the names of the contributors has gone missing. Feel free to claim your contribution in the comments!
What would have been financial model built with earlier spreadsheet software (Quattro Pro, Lotus 1-2-3, etc) was then imported into Ms Excel Spreadsheet. The original purpose of the model has been lost and further development was a mere add-on to meet the needs of many different users with different agenda in mind and lacking integration. Just like the transformation from Batavia to Jakarta, the city which built back in more than 400 years ago for as colonial trading post to become a capital city now.
Could be the symbol for a perfect financial model. Well planned, presents well, safe to move around in, welcomes new visitors, has evolved well and large infrastructure changes (the big dig) are possible. Easily accessible and less boring than Canberra
Rio de Janeiro
A lot of upfront dazzle with a carnival of colour and distractingly attractive scantily-clad graphs, but underneath a poorly neglected collection of formula favelas providing very basic coverage and requiring huge investment to restructure or rebuild. Loved by visitors, loathed by the native favela-dwelling developer.
A sub-model that had to be built because the main model just got too big & clunky to include everything. But the designer just didn’t get it quite right. People don’t like using it, but once they are in the model can’t seem to find their way out. The model should really be rebuilt, but the budget has been blown & the designer has to resort to putting lipstick on a pig.
A fantastic model of its time, developed by the boss in VisiCalc (when they were good at programming) and upgraded over the decades. It was well conceived and people like using it, but now it’s a bit old, starting to stink & can’t quite keep it’s head above water as it struggles to cope with all the demands of new technology. It really should be upgraded, but the boss won’t let anyone touch their masterpiece.
Looks nice, people like using it, but a bit unstable – prone to blue screen and going bang.
I guess it would be user-friendly but poorly formatted and dull.