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An Actuary without Excel Is Like…

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Replicating Thousands of Dynamic Links

The final spring that Mark collaborated with me on our pension disclosure spreadsheet before his death, I left Manhattan heavy with thought over a discussion with him about how drastic an overhaul our database would require before the following year. With a handful of data elements over about ten years for only a hundred companies, the data was already becoming too difficult to handle. Questions were coming up at our press event that we knew we had the data for, yet already it had become almost impossible to respond with anything other than, “We’ll get back to you on that.”

Now my Excel workbook holds over three decades of many more data elements for over 2,000 companies, yet I can pretty much dance my elephant on a needlepoint on just about any issue that might be examined via the information I’ve collected. Is there any other such a collection of such pension data in anyone else’s hands? I know of none other.

And the secret of my data collection? Thousands and thousands of hypertext links that are created by Excel formulas that can be easily copied year by year, data point by data point, company by company, then manipulated at will as easily as any other Excel math formula. I’ve not had my workbook calculate this for itself, but I imagine it has more dynamic links created by such formulas than it has actual piece of core data.

Even if my own personal data collection is unique, I know that hypertext links that are machine-made, created via formula, must surely not be so. Huge Internet websites cannot possibly function on the basis of hypertext links that are manually created. But can any software place such power at my fingertips with the full flexibility and functionality that I have with Excel? I really don’t think so.

And I know, I retired now, so what does it matter anymore? Except that the company where I worked with Mark never fully understood the raw muscle of the Excel workbook I left behind, so they have wasted tens of thousands per year since I left to build a clunky bit of proprietary software that doesn’t do as much as 1% what my workbook now can do, yet requires numerous employees to service, against the single person I am who continues to build my model as but a side hobby to everything else I do. And except that the government agency where I worked had every financial software expert imaginable at its fingertips, yet still can’t come remotely close to having at easy disposal the kind of data I have collected, not even after again wasting hundreds of thousands of dollars with more rigid constraints on access and use of the information. While I myself will continue to play with my hobby for the rest of my life, throughout the years of my retirement, always with Excel. One person. At zero cost. With only the time that can be given a hobby. Yet far exceeding what the consulting firms and the government can do with its proprietary software. For me, all thanks to Excel.

And P.S., no, I have not found the same power with any of the competing spreadsheet software packages. Google, for instance, the weakest weakling on the block. But also Apple’s Numbers or good old Lotus 1-2-3 or Open Office or any of the others I’ve tried. And as much as I’ve loved Excel, I have made the attempt, if but to have a back-up. In addition to the general nondiscrimination test and other things I’ve used Excel for, always I’ve started out my explorations with other spreadsheet software by playing with dynamic hypertext links, since I’ve found those to be so powerful and so essential to what I do. And always, the others have come up way way short. Why, I won’t bother to try to explain or excuse: really, dynamic hypertext linking ought to be rather standard a feature by now. Whatever, no other software I know that is readily available to the ordinary individual can do it as well as Excel does.

So no, don’t ask me to live without Excel. Do so, and you’re asking me to give up one of the most essential hobbies of my life: my pension disclosure workbook, which is composed primarily in Excel.

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Written by macheide

1 December 2017 at 6:52 am

Posted in excel hero

Tagged with , ,


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