Chances are, at some point in time you’ve probably messed up a spreadsheet. And when we take into account that nearly 9 out 10 spreadsheets contain errors, that’s to be expected! But when millions of pounds are at stake it becomes a bit more important to get your spreadsheet right…

Here we count down the top 5 greatest (or worst!) spreadsheet disasters of all time:

5. London Olympics Oversells Swimming Event by 10,000 Tickets

This was a very simple error that resulted in 10,000 extra tickets being issued for the synchronized swimming event. The person responsible for inputting the figures hit ‘2’ instead of ‘1’ indicating there were 20,000 tickets remaining instead of the actual 10,000.

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4. Barclay’s Hides Cells Instead of Deleting Them

Banking powerhouse Barclay’s accidentally bought 179 more contracts than they intended in their purchase of Lehman Brothers assets in 2008. Someone hid cells containing the unwanted contract instead of deleting them. When the file was converted into a PDF, the cells were made visible again. In the end, Barclays had to swallow the losses on the 179 contracts, costing them an undisclosed sum.

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3. Mouchels Pension Fund Fiasco

Outsourcing specialists Mouchel had to endure a £4.3 million profits write down due to a spreadsheet error in a pension fund deficit caused by an outside firm of actuaries. Not only did Mouchel’s profits take a huge hit but it also caused their share price to drop and their chairman to resign amid fears they would break their banking agreements.

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2. TransAlta’s Clerical Error Terror

Canadian power generator TransAlta suffered losses of $24 million as the result of a simple clerical error which meant they bought US contracts at higher prices than they should have. The culprit here was cut-and-paste and lack of proper review, which should have picked up on the error before the spreadsheet was finalised.

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1. JP Morgan Chase’s London Whale Incident

Basic Excel flaws and incorrect testing led to JP Morgan Chase losing more than $6 billion in their London Whale disaster. The banking and financial services holding company suffered due to having to use copy and paste for a new Value at Risk model, the process of which was strained due to increasing pressure from the trader to meet deadlines.

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Further reading:

Advanced CF Guide-blog