Finance and accounting teams in high-growth companies cannot operate without high-level strategic guidance from a finance executive, like a CFO. In recent times, this is changing to include the corporate controllers as well.
In traditional terms:
- The CFO is responsible for managing the entirety of financial actions and strategies in the company
- The corporate controller is responsible for the company's accounting operations
What's more, the controller is often described as the CFO's right hand, or their second in command, in a similar way to how the CFO is the right hand to the CEO.
However, as much as the CFO’s role is changing in today's landscape, becoming more of a strategic position, so is the role of the controller evolving.
The two are connected:
- The CFO is taking on more tasks – they are orienting towards making strategic decisions vital for the advancement of their company and overseeing human resources, operations, and technology.
- The controller is thus taking on more of the CFO’s other tasks. The CFO is delegating more and more of the traditional processes that were once the core of what CFOs did in their day to day work.
The evolving role of the corporate controller
Corporate controllers mostly had to do the same tasks in the past:
- Closing the books
- Supervising regulatory compliance
- Reporting results
- Making sure that every accounting employee follows the same processes, especially when it comes to financial reporting
Today, the controllers are still expected to cover all of these tasks. However, the change is in the fact that they have to do more. They are leaving their traditional focus on accounting and moving towards covering new CFO processes while focusing on efficiency.
What does this mean for the controller?
In one part, they are starting to:
- Have a more significant role in overseeing the implementation of new technology.
- Help the CFO in some of the strategic operations like financial planning
- Identify business changes or process improvements
- Third party relationship management (corporate insurance broker, auditor, bank, etc.)
However, this doesn’t mean that their focus on controls is diminishing. That part is still as vital as it used to be, but controllers have to find a way to embed it into their evolved role.
Many agree that the evolution of the role of a corporate controller was spearheaded by the change in technology in the finance sector. It makes sense as controllers are often in the front lines when new technology is introduced to the company. What’s more, new technology is usually introduced by the controllers themselves.
They tend to push for a technological change in the financial department as they are on the lookout for improving financial reporting in their company. The usual way of achieving that today is through data strategies and process automation, both of which make financial reporting more efficient and faster.
What’s going on with other corporate controllers?
Many controllers have turned to methods that involve more commercial things.
For example, some controllers have stayed with their traditional roles like technical accounting and external financial reporting. However, they have also started overseeing several essential things in their company, like tax and finance shared services groups. It used to be a task that only the CFO of a company did. Now, controllers can do it as efficiently as they do.
In other cases, controllers tend to land their expertise to help solidify a deal their company is making. They would do things like:
- Integration planning
- A whole suite of many back-office tasks
- Leading in a way that only the CFOs used to do
Additionally, companies that do not have controllers are realizing that they need one in the changing world of finance. Many of them are turning to third-party providers as they see that outsourced controller services can be equally beneficial for them. They tend to save costs and time, yet obtain the same quality of work.
When it comes to the overall picture, some statistics are telling us that much of this has been going on for quite a while:
- 82% of corporate controllers feel that their role has become more challenging than it was in the past.
- 89% of corporate controllers also think that their job is increasingly stressful, mostly due to a larger number of tasks. However, there's also an increasing need for speed and more compliance demands.
- 90% of corporate controllers say that they spend more time on strategic planning now, compared to a decade ago.
Even though many feel that their job is now harder and more challenging, they are well aware of how necessary the evolution of their role is. Controllers also understand that if they are successful in their new roles, their futures are bright, as they are likely to become CFOs at some point.
Controllers are encouraged by the fact that at least a fifth of CFOs in Fortune 500 companies used to be corporate controllers or chief accounting officers in their previous positions.
What should corporate controllers do to evolve and improve their position
Even though the evolving role of the controller can be difficult and stressful, it’s very beneficial. Besides turning controllers into leaders in their departments and eventual CFOs, they also get to improve their skills and knowledge.
It’s vital to strive to keep up with the evolving role because it leads to the controller becoming more vital to the company.
All of that means that the controller needs to keep up with the new duties being delegated to them. They need to learn to change their approach to their role and start managing and thinking differently. The changing mindset makes the new role much easier and far more successful. It also prepares the controller for their future role as the CFO.
The change can be achieved by:
- Networking and learning from other controllers
- Expanding skills by performing new roles and learning
- Keeping up with all regulatory developments
All of this and the desire to improve leads to better controllers and more efficiency for the whole company.