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Spreadsheet risk: the silent killer of FX performance

Discover essential FX hedging strategies and currency management best practices from our foreign exchange experts.

Spreadsheet risk: the silent killer of FX performance

21 June 2021
3 min read
Agustin Mackinlay

Imagine a perfectly designed currency hedging program for a company that seeks to protect its annual budget. Given the specific features of that company —especially its pricing dynamics— such a program would allow the finance team to systematically achieve a hedge rate that would be equal or better than the FX budget rate, avoiding overhedging all the while. The hedging strategy would also consider the firm’s degree of forecast accuracy, as well as the forward discount or premium of the currencies in which it trades.Now imagine that this optimal FX hedging program was implemented on perfectly designed spreadsheets. Armed with super-efficient spreadsheets, the finance team would project forecasted revenues and expenditures, calculate the firm’s exposure to currency risk and set a time frame for the execution of hedges.A treasurer’s dream come true? Not so fast.Any reasonably well-designed currency hedging program goes through a process in three phases: the pre-trade phase, the trade phase and the post-trade phase. Each of these phases, in turn, comprises several intricate steps. And here’s where a wholly unexpected risk would sneak in, with potentially devastating consequences: spreadsheet risk, the silent killer of performance.

Spreadsheet risk is omnipresent

Spreadsheet risk comprises a series of errors stemming mostly from the requirement of data to be manually inputted into each cell. Manual management not only takes up much of the financial team’s resources and time — it makes human error inevitable. The most commonly observed errors and risks comprise:

  • Data input error, including ‘fat finger mistakes’
  • Copy & paste error
  • Formatting errors
  • Formula errors
  • Multiple versions across the firm
  • Lack of backups
  • Users’ lack of skills
  • Insufficient guidelines
spreadsheet risk in FX hedging

Despite all the efforts in spreadsheet risk management, the problem is not going away. In fact, more risk is being created as economies grow and businesses become more complex. The truth is that spreadsheets were originally designed for small pockets of data. They were never designed to handle large amounts of data in an interconnected environment.Experts know well that the world’s most famous business spreadsheet saw the light of day before the World Wide Web and the internet browser — that is, before the explosion of interconnectedness. And interconnectedness lies at the heart of modern FX hedging programs.

Spreadsheets travelling back and forth

The most prosaic element of a FX program is the seemingly innocuous process of sourcing currency rates for multi-currency pricing purposes. Quite apart from the fact that many firms undertake it with irrelevant time-based criteria, the reality is that, once currency rates are sourced —for example, from the European Central Bank’s website— the commercial team receives the information on a spreadsheet.Next, the FX exposure needs to be collected and processed. Budgeting, as we know, is a process that involves commercial and production teams, purchasing managers, economists, human resources departments and treasury teams. In other words: the cornerstone of the hedging program is the result of dozens, or more likely, hundreds of spreadsheets travelling back and forth across the enterprise. At this point, spreadsheets risk is only in its initial stages.Depending on the forward discount/premium of the currencies involved, conditional FX orders are set. The information must be provided by the relevant commercial teams/purchasing managers — on a spreadsheet. Then the trade phase kicks in. If manually executed, several processes take place: approval request, first review, second review, final approval. Yet more spreadsheets are transferred in the process.And what about the FX payments and collections process? And the FX accounting and performance analytics stages? You guessed it: critically important information is subject, once more, to data input errors, copy & paste errors, formula errors and formatting errors. These are the ingredients of a potentially nightmarish scenario. Even for the best designed currency hedging programs. And even for programs implemented on brilliantly designed spreadsheets.

FX Automation: taming spreadsheet risk

In an increasingly interconnected world with more complex business models, spreadsheet risk can be a silent killer of performance. Business managers face enough risks in the day-to-day management of their operations, and treasurers in particular have enough on their plates to worry about the spreadsheet risk in their FX hedging programs.It’s high time they work to better manage this risk. Here, Currency Management Automation is your company’s best antidote. These software solutions use Application Programming Interfaces to ensure that data can flow seamlessly between different systems (ERP, TMS) and software without any need for spreadsheets.The time to act is now.

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Agustin Mackinlay
Agustin Mackinlay is a Financial Writer at Kantox. He has previously worked at an investment bank specialising in Emerging Markets. Agustin teaches several courses in Finance at LaSalle University and EAE Business School in Barcelona. He holds degrees from the University of Amsterdam and from the Kiel Institute of World Economics in Germany.
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