Why I needed to know how to build a financial model

By Alison Leckie | December 14, 2019

In Haydn’s blog he rued what he did not know about financial modelling for project finance when he first started. For me as an accountant, I look back and wish I had  known about financial modeling and understood how impactful it could be. In fact, at the beginning of my career excel did not exist never mind financial models. (Yes, I am older than Haydn – who truly is not that old).

Over the years the role of the finance team within an organisation has changed from producing accurate and timely financial results and presenting them in PowerPoint into a trusted advisor and true business partner to the management team, board and stakeholders. A CFO today is a strategic thinker reviewing the market, understanding the drivers in a business and coming to some conclusions. As a result, businesses are more sophisticated and financial modeling skills have become highly sought after in finance teams.

For years I worked as a CFO developing excel spreadsheets in order to present a business proposal or a budget to management teams, boards and stakeholders. I attended an advanced excel course and proudly claimed to be very proficient at excel. I would prepare work papers in excel and then prepare awesome PowerPoint presentations to get approval of proposed projects and budgets

If during those meetings I was asked What if? I would go away and spend hours producing a new set of reports to answer these questions. I did not know anything different.

It was not until I was hired as CFO for a global infrastructure financial modelling firm that I realized what I had been missing. I proudly presented my first draft budgets in excel to the management team (all of whom were modelers). The response was not what I expected. “Alison I am sure these numbers are correct and I appreciate the work that has gone into producing them but I can’t bring myself to review them as I can’t see where the numbers come from”  There was also a laugh or two and a quick look of horror across the room when they saw my hard coded numbers and the use of VLOOKUP.

A week later I attended a  renewable energy project finance financial modelling course with the whole objective being to know how to build a model. Whilst not the most relevant course for an accountant I immediately saw the need for and power of financial modeling in my own area of expertise.

My next step was to hire an accountant with way better excel skills than myself send them on a project finance modelling course and then have them build all the financial models I had designed for the business. He was the builder and I was the architect.

In Haydn’s words best practice financial modelling does matter.

My financial models over time (I would like to say instantly)

  • became clear and concise
  • simple to use
  • robust and flexible
  • easy for all users to understand
  • use Best practice principle. Link to video here


  • have no hard-coded numbers
  • have control accounts
  • have consistent formulas across rows
  • have an input sheet with all my business KPIS.
  • have functions such as if statements, anchoring, flags and date functions –
  • look beautiful
  • replace my old working spreadsheets and PowerPoint presentations,
  • See Pivotal180 course sample videos here


Most importantly my financial models use scenarios and sensitivities Link to our webinar here

During a review meeting of proposals, budgets or business plans I can immediately answer the What if?

We can easily review and test results of various scenarios using different assumptions, evaluate the results and make informed decisions.

As an accountant financial modeling is now a must have skill and it is why Pivotal180 is developing a course on Financial modeling for business plans.

In this course you will build a best practice three-way financial statement financial model from scratch and learn how to

  • use a financial model to evaluate business decisions
  • create scenarios and sensitivities to understand and quantify business risks
  • make a professional presentation of outputs to present to decision makers
  • See link here

Happy modeling

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