Why accountants LOVE spreadsheets

This post is a light-hearted look at why accountants just love spreadsheets and the affects of that love affair.

I spent 3 years working with accountants at Xero, now in my Xero consulting business, I work with them every day as well.

I am an accountant. 

My life is a spreadsheet.

The Magic of Accountants

Generally, accountants are technical whizzes. 

To their customers, they are the weirdo, the saviour and the magician. 

They are able use their weird terminology and off-the-planet skill sets to perform live-saving surgery and magic tricks such as:

  1. Making financial figures disappear
  2. Making financial figures change appearance
  3. Making tax office notices disappear 
  4. Making your bank balance magically increase

How could you not love your accountant when they can do this for you?

Kind of like, pulling rabbits out of hats and shXX.

There is NO BETTER place for the magician to perform his tricks than a spreadsheet.

You would put up with all their weird terminology and cold stone-faced talk just so you can sit back and let them perform their tricks for your benefit.

You must fxxking love your accountant.

However, like all geniuses, the price to pay does not lie in inspiration, it lies in perspiration.

"Genius is 1% inspiration and 99% perspiration." Thomas Edison

Under the surface lies the other side of the accountant where the technical magic performance is merely the result of some hard work, long hours and due diligence. 

The technical magic comes from actions such as:

  1. Keeping up with tax law changes
  2. Keeping up with investment law changes
  3. Keeping up with accounting standard changes
  4. Keeping up with state and federal initiatives (In Australia)
  5. Keeping with up popular business software
  6. Be a member of an industry body
  7. Yadda yadda yadda

So they really have a lot of food on their "technical plate".

And that's just the technical side of being an accountant.

What about the "soft side" of being an accountant?

This usually involves a healthy dose of emotional intelligence, so they:

  1. Can manage relationships
  2. Can empathise with customers
  3. Can contribute to a healthy workplace environment

Yup, an accountants cup can be very full.

Ever wondered what psychological side-effects there are of being an accountant?

Change is hard, when it is forced, its even harder

The reality is, we as humans generally hate having to change.

Change is fxxking hard and it can bring out some negative behaviours. 

Especially when change is forced upon us by others.

Many accountants hate having to change.

The classic example I see is when a partner in an accounting firm organises a meeting with all the firm's staff, sits them all down at a board room table and flatly says: 

"Righto, on the first of July, we no longer use MYOB and Excel for financial statements, we are moving to Xero"

Some of the staff cringe because:

  1. They don't know Xero at all
  2. They haven't done their Xero certification
  3. They have been winging it by asking one of their colleagues how Xero works (whilst making out to the customer that they do know)

FEAR, It cuts through the room like a knife. 

The magic show is at risk.

"What? No Excel? No way hoe-zay?"

All those tricks they perform might come undone, for the world to see, up on stage. 

It's like cutting the performance stage's electricity, or shooting that white rabbit in the hat, or losing the key to the locks and chains around the bikini clad model.

The accountant's ego is on the line.

Their skill-set is about to be exposed. 

The cubicle is no longer safe.

They might unleash hell.

"How dare you enter my domain with your cloud software?"

"Walk ten paces and then turn and draw!"

"What say you?"

Lucky me

Lucky me, the Xero consultant, I get to meet and work with these enraged magicians. 

When I scope a customers needs out, I usually have an online meeting with between one and three people.

Many times it is some partners of the firm and someone they have chosen to manage this project.

Many times, when it is three people, there is usually one or maybe two people driving this initiative, and then there is the third person who just doesn't want to know about this shXX but they are totally out numbered by the other two.

So number three has no choice, especially if they are an employee.

Some love it, as they love Xero so they go into this project with thier eyes wide open, brimming with excitement.

If only all my customers were like that..................but then again, maybe I would get bored.

Pushback Central

Some don't love Xero and they don't want change. They complain, sometimes plot and undermine me and their employer.

I call this "Push Back" and it is par for the course I play on.

I see their heads ticking over with the same questions. 

"Why would I use this Xero when I can work magic in Reckon XPA and MS excel?"

"Who is this Donnie guy and why is he wearing a t-shirt?"

"He probably doesn't know shXX about accounting"

"This whole thing will be a debacle and I am going to say I TOLD YOU SO"

This is fXXked! 

I hate this Xero shXX!

This pushback is par for the course in my game and it is totally understandable.

I may take away the magicians magic.

I may take away their perceived value.

I may expose them.

After 7 months of trade, I am used to it.

I also get it, I have been there myself, it is not easy.

I can empathise.

I can also take the piXX because I know my customers end up happy, well as happy as you could be.

The Xero Way

So I deal with accountants and I put their technical skills to the test.

I ask them about Xero.

I train them on Xero.

I flood them with Xero.




I am asking them to look at the world through "blue coloured glasses". 

The whole looks different.

This new world is scary.

The unknown is upon them.

Fear, uncertainty, all the fun stuff.

Where does the accountants mind go?

It goes GREEN.

They look through green coloured glasses.

Green for Microsoft Excel.

Spreadsheet Artwork

If you were an artist, you would want blank canvasses and then you can just unleash that artistic beast that dwells within you.

The artist.

The creator.

Magnifico the magnificent!

Artists spraying paint, scribbling pencil or whatever across the canvas with the objective of creating something that people will value. 

The same applies for an accountant, except the blank canvas is a spreadsheet.

In a spreadsheet you can pretty much create anything.

Rows and columns.

Formulas and ratios.

Pies and bar charts.

Notes and comments.

So to an accountant, a spreadsheet is a blank canvas that is home for them to just unleash and create whatever it is they need to create for almost any objective. 

That feels great.

A safe place to call home.

An accountant could probably build (from scratch) an income statement with 20 line items in about 5-6 minutes. Imagine trying to code up accounting software to create the income statement function in 5-6 minutes. 

More like 5-6 months with 5-6 people.

This kind of thinking can make accountants wonder "why the hell should I bother with Xero when I can just do this myself?"

"I am excel genius, you are pleb"

Spreadsheets Everywhere

Do you know any accountants?

Ask them how many spreadsheets they use to run their personal lives.

Chances are they have one running for Christmas presents right now. 

Maybe one for:

  1. Personal finances
  2. Birthdays
  3. Invitations and events
  4. Task management
  5. Recipes
  6. Shopping lists
  7. Holiday planning

They probably have a master spreadsheet for all the other spreadsheets.

And maybe, just maybe, they actually share it with another person, like their wife or husband.

Wives and husbands suffer greatly from an accountant partner. 

They just want to talk to them but they know they need to avoid talking about anything that involves loose data, lists or items. The partner knows where this leads to.

These chats are just too much for an accountant and the laptop emerges before the conversation ends and data entry is well under way. 

The spreadsheet has taken hold.

Foreplay has become "Row 4-Play".

You name it, if there is some loose data lying around your house, there is a good chance that an accountant has something planned for it.

Addictions come at a cost.

PTSD - Post Traumatic Spreadsheet Disorder

Sometimes accountants can randomly feel a spreadsheet coming on.

It catches them unaware sometimes.

It can be quite unsettling and cause anxiety and stress.

It is called PTSD. Post Traumatic Spreadsheet Disorder.

Many accountants suffer from this.

It is hard for them in public, when they are trying to behave normally in social situations.

Some of them disappear to the toilet, pull out a device and rack up a spreadsheet to keep them going.

Try standing next to an accountant in a bar and then start talking about some type of data that hasn't been sorted or organised, like a shopping list. 

Almost immediately the feeling takes hold and they drift off into a trance-like state where their eyes glaze over as they imagine each column and row, glistening with white cells of joy and satisfaction.

They are dreaming of a white-cell Christmas.

It's snowing.

Some try and manage these data based compulsions with strategies like, talking to people. However this often leads to more data being unearthed. 

This disorder can have negative affects on the accountants general health and well-being. 

Relationships can be affected, finances can be affected and families will suffer as a result.

Imagine a daughter or son just trying to ask their accountant parent to help them with the 10 x tables for Year 1 maths. The spreadsheet will be whipped out in a matter of nano-seconds. The maths teacher will be criticised for even contemplating such horridly basic formulas. Don't they realise how easy it is to just absolute reference a cell? Why are we sending you to this school?

Spreadsheets are just an ongoing itch that just needs to be scratched.

Part of my scoping process is to ask:

"What are you doing in MS excel that you think you could avoid? Like trust minutes or tax reconciliations? How about I build these in Xero so you don't need excel?"


Hearing a pin drop.

Utter silence.

"Don't take away my spreadsheets! I don't know what I'd do without them!"

Trying to cage an accountant into one software and saying they can no longer use MS excel is like asking Tony Montana to pray for no snow at christmas time. Not - going - to - happen - ever.

Maybe you, as a friend, need to intervene?

Like all good friends, maybe you need to gather the accountants closest and most trusted friends and family and stage an intervention. 

The accountant will react negatively, so prepare well.

Take protective armour with you.

Some addiction management strategies could be taking away the laptop during certain times of day.

Or a time out?

In extreme cases, you may be tempted to delete some spreadsheets. For your own safety, this method is not recommended. 

The addiction withdrawal process could be a long and painful journey.

But the two of you can do it, together, row by row, column by column, side by side.

The Great Fallback

The point being is that MS excel is the place to fall back to when you are changing software.

Which is what I help accounting practices do (currently). 

I see it all the time.

Accountants try and use Xero and then they end up saying 

"Why don't we just take it out to excel and finish it there?"

Where as my job is to basically STOP THAT SHXX! 

Why on earth would you add steps to an internal process that you can avoid?..............why add a dozen more clicks and an isolated document when you can avoid it?




The reason why: Is because although MS excel is a work-related addiction, It is also a massive psychological safety net. 

A place where grand, Picasso-like strokes of the keyboard create works of art.

A place where none of these cloud software evangelists will ever know the real truth about what accounting really is.

A place where leaving a trail of breadcrumbs is optional.

A place where you can make haste with your copy paste.

A place where the crime scene has been cleared of evidence and the detectives have no idea where to start, they can't establish a motive and they certainly can't find a witness.

A place where anything and everything will make total sense, to the creator.

A place where you can do a dump (data dump) and not have to wipe your butt afterwards. 

A place where blood cells are outnumbered by data cells.

A place where the filter on the peace-pipe is a data filter.

A place where the formula bar is open 24/7, even on public holidays, and it's happy hour all year round.

A place where you can auto-sum up your life in a matter of seconds.

A place where you can build a table with no legs, spill shXX all over it and never have to wipe it down.

A place where Bruce Willis can control Zed.

A place where "all other mere mortals" (non-accountants) can only gaze at the eight wonder of the world with its vast open rivers, plains and mountains of numbers.

Essentially, A place where the magician can always come back here and perform the magic show, in a safe place called "Control home".

Summary - Reclaiming the magic

So there it is.

The deep, dark and just plain disturbing about accountants and their spreadsheets.

To phrase my long-suffering wife with a shake of her head: "You and your bloody spreadsheets."

We all pride ourselves on our skills, our contributions, our value. 

None more so than the master magician, the master of the spreadsheet, the one, the only, 

The Accountant.

Merry Christmas

I hope you all have a safe, happy and merry Christmas!

And a preposterous new year! (I stole that from Kath and Kim)


Donnie Buchanan

(Accountant, that's how I know)


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