I had to model a financial spreadsheet earlier this week and actually did I enjoy it. It brought me back to my earlier investment banking experience, when I was a Nomura UK M&A summer associate, and all the interview and financial modeling practice I did to get the role.
Even though ultimately I declined their offer, I learned to appreciate and work with numbers. To build a good model, you had to build and understand the fundamental numbers that drive a business. But to build a great model, you had to understand the story behind the numbers and whether those numbers are telling the correct story.
That is what separates analysts from associates; analysts can build models from numbers, but associates can question those numbers and tweak them to fit the correct story to be told. Analysts build models from numbers, associates build stories from numbers.
The key difference is that the associate asks - what story are the numbers telling me now, but what story do I want the numbers to tell?