Financial Modeling for Dummies

This is a beginners guide to financial modeling

What is financial modeling?

Financial modeling is one of the most highly valued but thinly understood skills in finance.  The objective is to combine accounting, finance, and business metrics to create an abstract representation of a company in Excel, forecasted into the future.

There are many types of financial models with a wide range of uses include: making business decisions at a company, making investments in a private or public company, pricing securities, or undergoing a corporate transaction such as a merger, acquisition, divestiture, or capital raise.  This financial modeling guide is designed to teach you the basics.

Why do you use Excel?

Forecasting a company’s operations into the future can be very complex.  Each business is unique and requires a very specific set of assumptions and calculations.  Excel is used because it is the most flexible and customizable tools available. Software, as an alternative, can be too rigid and don’t let you understand each line of the business the way Excel does.

What are the steps for building a financial model?

In this financial modeling for dummies guide we have laid out the basic steps of how to build a financial model.

1. Historical data – input at least 3 years of historical financial information for the business.
2. Ratios & Metrics – calculate the historical ratios/metrics for the business such as margins, growth rates, asset turnover, inventory changes etc.
3. Assumptions – continue building the ratios and metrics into the future by making assumptions about what future margins, growth rates, asset turnover, and inventory changes will be going forward.
4. Forecast – forecast the income statement, balance sheet and cash flow statement into the future by reversing all the calculations you used to calculate historical ratios & metrics.  In other words, use the assumptions you made to fill in the financial statements.

Who builds financial models?

There are many professions and career paths that require financial modeling. Here are some of the most common ones:

How much accounting knowledge is required?

In order to build a financial model, you need a solid understanding of accounting fundamentals.  You have to know what all the various accounts mean, how to calculate them, and how they’re connected.  We recommend having at least a few accounting courses under you belt.  Since accounting is a prerequisite for financial modeling, we offer our accounting crash courses for free!

What Excel skills are required?

There are many Excel formulas and functions required to build a financial model.  Here are a few of the most common ones:

• SUM Function adds up a set of numbers.
• AVERAGE Function calculates the average of a set of numbers.
• COUNT Function counts the number of cells that contain numbers
• MIN and MAX Function calculate the minimum and maximum of a set of values.
• SUMPRODUCT Function multiplies two sets of arrays and add the totals.
• IF Function is a logic-based formula that can make your model more dynamic.
• Charts & Graphs are an important part of financial modelling.
• Formatting skills can help separate great from good models.

More Excel resources:

What are the hallmarks of a good financial model?

When building a model it’s important to follow best practices, which we outline in our courses.  Here are a few of the key points:

1. Well-structured with a good layout
2. Easy to follow and understand
3. Drivers and assumptions clearly laid out
4. Simplicity over complexity
5. Accurate
6. Focus on important issues
7. Visual outputs

Thanks for reading our beginner’s guide to financial modelling for Dummies.  For more advanced discussion, please see our financial modeling courses.

How to get a job in financial modeling?

There are a wide range of corporate finance jobs that require financial modeling skills. If you’re interested in financial planning & analysis (FP&A), equity research, investment banking, private equity or corporate development, explore our CAREER MAP to find the best job path for you.

More financial modelling resources

At CFI we spend a lot of time building Excel models, and therefore have a lot of valuable resources to share with you.  Here are some of our most helpful resources: