Friday Fun in Honor of Spreadsheet Day

Hidden (and Very Hidden) Spreadsheet Risk

At some point, either at the start of a new job, when someone leaves the company, during M&A valuation activities, or if you’re an auditor, you will review spreadsheets you did not create.

We all know spreadsheets are as quirky as the person who created them. One of the most common things people do when they create a spreadsheet is to include hidden data. This is where risk is introduced.  Did you know that it is possible for a formula to retrieve values from a stored location on a hidden sheet? If you can’t see the data being used, how can you review it? Luckily, it’s a relatively straightforward process to “un hide” hidden sheets.  If you’re working on a spreadsheet you didn’t create, check for hidden sheets at the start.

Unfortunately, “very hidden” sheets are a different story. Spreadsheet creators can deem sheets “very hidden”, which makes them invisible at all times unless you knew they were there when you created the workbook. More about hidden vs. very hidden can be found here.

The reason for hiding data may be completely innocent. The most common scenario is to simplify formatting to make the spreadsheet easier to read. Unfortunately, even the creator of the spreadsheet can forget they hid certain data in certain sheets. If a standard tax rate is placed on a hidden sheet and that tax rate changes, your data is out of date. Which means your ability to make business decisions based on the data has been compromised.

Even worse, the reason for hiding the data may have been corruption or fraud.

One of the most infamous spreadsheet horror stories belongs to Barclays. When Barclays acquired assets from Lehman Brothers, it included a spreadsheet with hidden rows detailing 179 contracts they did not want. The case went to court and Barclays lost, costing the company dearly.

Hidden data doesn’t have to be a mystery. In addition to finding hidden and very hidden sheets in seconds, Xcellerator has 5 other out of the box tests used to find different types of hidden data. If you are using a spreadsheet as a basis for critical business decisions and did not create it, click here to sign up for a free trial of Xcellerator.


About Diane Robinette

Diane RobinetteDiane Robinette is President and CEO at Incisive Software, a company helping risk executives reduce exposure in critical business and financial processes. Prior to Incisive, Diane served in executive and senior level positions at companies including BroadVision, Contivo (acquired by Liaison Technologies), Covigna (acquired by ProQuest/Snap-on), Perfect Commerce and Proximex (acquired by Tyco). She also held management positions at KPMG and EY. Diane believes that by taking a modern and automated approach, risk teams can move towards a risk resilient posture that allows them to anticipate and reduce exposure, no matter what is thrown their way.

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