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Excel has been a staple in the community of digital spreadsheets since the early 1980s. It was a game-changer for the financial world as this innovative software replaced tedious manual paper spreadsheets.
But as the world and business complexities evolved, Excel itself became a tedious entity. We have arrived at the point where it too is in need of an alternative. This is especially true for the financial planning and analysis (FP&A) world where financial analysts need to interpret data as fast as possible and delivering key insights needed to make critical decisions. Are there excel alternatives that can achieve all of this?
To be fair, Excel can do this but as anyone knows, whenever one opens excel for the first time, it is blank. You have the Template functionality, but the issue is that each software is prone to bugs. VBA can also deliver some finance automation, but that is an added skill set that needs to be learned. With that said, there are still manual tasks because a user has to inspect the customized workbooks.
As the years have gone by – we have seen many Excel alternatives enter the market. These competitors are all trying to gain a substantial piece of the pie, and all trying to do different things. Some have focused more on accountancy such as QuickBooks. Others have tackled the collaborative features such as with Google sheets. All of these have their own merits, but the focus has never been on FP&A.
Free Excel Alternatives:
Cloud-based and built for collaboration, Google Sheets is a true alternative to Excel in shape and form. It syncs with all other G-suite applications like Gmail and Google Drive, and there are many features for adding and displaying data visually. There are also security measures when sharing sheets with others.
Libre Office Calc:
The open-source competitor to Excel. Although it can look a bit outdated, it is actually very robust. Packed with features due to the nature of its makeup, for those that deem themselves tech-savvy, this could be a great alternative.
A true clone of Excel, it is packed with nearly identical features, all at a free cost. There is also a premium version available for more offline features.
Probably the best in the bunch when it comes to focusing on financial planning and analysis. Zoho Sheets is a great freemium tool that can be upgraded for analytics for a fee. It is completely cloud-based and similar to Google Sheets and is built to integrate with other apps and collaborate with other people.
The list goes on and on, with additional tools such as Apache, ThinkFree and Free Office. All of these Excel alternatives are also substitutes to the whole Microsoft Office suite, though without a focus on finance.
Why not just switch out of Excel?
Finance is the engine that runs the company. Without knowing the financial health of the company first, how can you make critical, objective and strategic decisions? Many SaaS softwares have some financial module or component in their offering, but it is never really the focus. Those systems can also be cumbersome, expensive, and not truly collaborative. They are effective but work within a silo mentality.
Then entered the light ERP or Work OS wave. These are pre-built, subscription-based software that would be a mix of multiple modules ranging from a CRM, to accounting, HR management and project management that provide some finance automation. Due to their flexibility and mobility to subscribe to only the modules needed, they have been able to grow with great agility. These fall in the middle ground between a free alternative to Excel and major company-wide ERP systems like SAP and even Netsuite.
Some of the market leaders, that also have similar functionality would be Odoo, Quickbooks and Zoho Books.
This is in between a mega ERP and a Work OS – focused on the CRM component but easily syncs with its in-house finance modules. It has an a la carte system of features that you can add in and out as needed. Their main attraction is that they already have worked on many external integrations. Such as connections with logistics and marketplaces.
One of the originals in the world of accounting software, this became a major competitor to Excel due to the fact that some of the major users were accountants and bookkeepers who could utilize this software without having to build anything out. Their target market still remains the same though, with the software focusing on tax matters.
One of 40 different applications that has seamless syncing and integrations with other Zoho modules and external databases. It does a great job of connecting financial information and can create balance sheets and P&Ls.
The main issues with these types of tools are that their overall focus is not on the financial aspect, but rather on the customer aspect. On their own they are simply an aggregator of information. To properly expand upon collaboration it would require additional module purchases and can get rather expensive quickly.
So now what?
Excel is a great tool, and you can see this in the sheer number of alternatives it has inspired. The market to pre-build Excel alternatives that add accounting and financial planning tools is also growing. Yet, Excel and these other tools have always required a lot of pre-work to get the full use from it. All the data needs to be built from the ground up. You need to learn, implement and ensure that the formulas and equations work. Sometimes, even a steep learning curve that can make someone an expert in Excel instead of FP&A. Would that really be efficient finance automation?
Excel is still the king of spreadsheets, but real finance automation is only possible with a powerful tool that provides data transformation, real collaboration and faster insights.
With Abacum, we empower finance teams of high-growth tech companies to become true strategic partners in the organization by driving time-to-insight with powerful automation and seamless collaboration. Request a demo now to see the product live and start your own transformational journey.