Finance Horror Stories to Chill Your Blood

Tales from the Spreadsheet: 3 Finance Horror Stories

‘Tis the season for ghosts, goblins, jack o’lanterns and trick-or-treaters. It’s time to celebrate the spooky, the sinister, and the pumpkin spice.

Of course, what’s truly scary is different for each person. Finance leaders aren’t too concerned about what goes bump in the night, but they may feel the chill of the grave when they see nested pivot tables. The horrors lurking in our profession won’t suck your blood; they’ll just sap your energy, determination and free time.

To celebrate this macabre month, I asked three of my favorite Finance folks for a horror story from their careers. But not just any spine-tingling tale will do; I wanted stories with a moral that we can take with us throughout the year.

So turn the lights down low, put on some spooky music, and prepare to be horrified by these tales of terror.

That Tale of the CEO Who Knew Too Much

Jack McCullough is the President of the CFO Leadership Council, a public speaker, and a gifted storyteller. His latest book, The Psychopathic CEO: An Executive Survival Guide, is chock-full of blood-curdling stories and cautionary tales for executives.

For his Finance campfire tale, Jack shared the story of a CEO with a truly monstrous EGO.

“There was a newly-hired CEO who called all the other executives in on his first day to make it clear that he did not need or value their opinion,” Jack says. “He’s always right, he explained, so there is no reason to second guess him or offer any advice.  If you cannot live with that, please submit your resignation by the end of the day.”

The truly tragic part of the story? This was a company with a lot of promise, but the new CEO’s leadership style didn’t help them fulfill their destiny. “This was a venture-backed startup that was growing rapidly.  The company was a few years old, growing rapidly, profitable, marquee customer list.  So, a hot company. They did less well under his tenure,” Jack says.

In Finance and in the whole organization, it’s always horrifying to have a leader who doesn’t seek input from the rest of the team. The recipe for success calls for humility, collaboration, and open communication. No one has all the answers; beware of anyone who claims to.

The Tale of the Phantom Deductions

If headstrong leadership isn’t horrific enough, consider this tale from Dawn Brolin, CEO of Powerful Accounting, LLC. Her story proves that there are few things on this earth scarier than a tax audit.

“I had a client who claimed $20,000 in mileage reimbursement on his tax return. This was a company that was delivering their products with drivers. They did not have a spreadsheet, much less any accounting records or an app to capture this activity, so they had no records to substantiate their write-offs,” she says.

The result of these phantom deductions? “It turned into an IRS case because the IRS rejected their claims and they had no reporting to use in their defense,” says Dawn. “They ended up paying thousands of dollars in additional taxes. Scary for them to have to go through the process and what it did to their balance sheet.”

“The bottom line is this: if you are not properly recording income and expenses, you are not properly reporting your earnings and the allowable deductions to the IRS. This can cause serious problems and is why for many businesses not engaging a tax and accounting professional can be particularly frightful!”

How can your organization avoid this tragic fate? Keep good records with data stored where it can be accessed easily when needed. A CPM (corporate performance management) solution can help organize and analyze data.

The Tale of the Malformed Forecast

Of all the evil forces at work in an organization, perhaps the strongest is simple human error. Despite our best intentions, these mistakes can sneak in and wreak havoc for days, weeks or even months before they’re spotted.

Chris E. Ortega, Senior Director of Global Finance at Emarsys, shared this tale from his own personal experience:

“One horror story I encountered was dealing with different currencies and realizing that a projection was forecasted in Euro and not SGD (Singapore dollars). So when converted it was a ridiculous variance, but no one found it,” says Chris.

The truly scary part? The error went undiscovered for an entire quarter. “I finally found it three months after the forecast was submitted.  Make sure to know the currency you’re working with and presenting in.  Currency conversion can be challenging,” he says.

Finance folks are detail-oriented by nature, but even the most savvy accounting savants aren’t immune to human error. Good data management and a culture of collaboration and double-checking can help you avoid Chris’ grim fate.

Don’t Give into Finance Fears

As Finance takes on a more central role in the organization, the opportunities are virtually limitless — but with them come increased scrutiny, more complexity, and the potential for whole new genres of horror stories.

Prophix is committed to helping Finance leaders avoid pitfalls, dodge machete-wielding maniacs (or at least convoluted spreadsheets), and more. Start your journey at our Digital Transformation for Finance page.


Wayne Slater

For more than 25 years, Wayne has been helping organizations solve their product and businesses growth challenges. Described as an innovative marketer and results-driven business development specialist.