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Bye, Bye Spreadsheet


Back when yours truly was in business school, we made five-year projections of detailed financial statements almost every night, for cases we were preparing.

If we changed an assumption or re-priced a single asset, we'd have to work through the ripple effect by hand. Across all years. Across all line items. In pencil.

That represented opportunity to a classmate, Dan Bricklin. He and Bob Frankston created the first electronic spreadsheet, to run on another innovation of the time, the Apple II personal computer. The product, VisiCalc, helped launch Steve Jobs and his infant company into the Fortune 500.

Now, the green columnar pad is next to extinct. So soon will be the stand-alone spreadsheet.

As markets become increasingly automated and as regulation steps up, both boards of directors and industry overseers will insist on seeing every line item that goes into any calculation that results in a decision being made to buy or sell any given financial instrument.

Count on it.

How you count, in fact, will be visible at all times to all comers (see "How Enforcing Policy Attracts Funding" and "Calculating the Impact of the Unimaginable," p. 1).

Securities and Exchange Commission chairman Mary L. Schapiro's proposal for a Consolidated Audit Trail, launched last year, eventually will extend to all trading desks, portfolio managers and corner offices.

Anyone in your organization who starts, adjusts, uses or acts on the mathematical or intangible factors that come into play will have to work on the same forms, the same worksheets, the same spreadsheets used by everyone else in the organization.

They will have to be stored in a central database, with time stamping and accountability for each change recorded. Output in digital form or paper will be needed instantly, upon request.

The standalone spreadsheet now will give way to the integrated decision justification tool, which will include investment policies turned into business rules turned into mathematical rules, regulatory rules turned into math as well, market monitoring tools, market data feeds, test spreadsheets, working spreadsheets, order management systems and accounting systems.

The difference will be as vast as the displacement of the columnar pad by the electronic work sheet, starting in 1979. MME