The CFO'S Perspective

What Do You Really Need in a Controller?

what-do-you-really-need-in-a-controllerWhen you need to hire a Controller, what should you look for? What do you really need and what is just nice to have?

Obviously, as the person who will have ownership over your entire accounting operation, you need someone that is disciplined, focused, and organized, but what else? Your Controller should be a strong accountant with a tactical focus and solid track record of reliable performance, but their resume should not end there. When you are looking to bring in a Controller, find someone who will also:

Act as an Advisor

The best Controllers act as business advisors instead of just cogs in the organization. They make proactive recommendations to improve the financial health of the company instead of waiting to be asked. As our team explains when discussing how Controllers add value, “Controllers are highly experienced accountants, which means that they are financial professionals that ‘have been there before.’ As a result, the kind of perspective that they can offer is highly valuable in regard to interpreting the data and communicating its meaning to the rest of the company.” Look for a Controller that will offer advice to leverage their relevant perspective.

Manage People & Processes

As a standard part of their role Controllers will oversee the accounting team, supervising existing CPAs, accountants, and bookkeepers. The larger your accounting team is the more important it is to have a Controller that can evaluate staff roles and responsibilities in relation to accounting processes and procedures. Experienced Controllers can make recommendations on where to take actions like shifting job responsibilities, utilizing automation, bringing in additional staff, outsourcing activities, and so on to improve business outcomes. However, their personnel responsibilities should not end there.

Find a Controller that cannot only “manage down” but also “manage up.” While Controllers primarily interact with accounting staff below them internally, they may also need to communicate with leadership above them (like the Chief Operating Officer, Director of HR, and other department heads) as well as external service providers. The ability to communicate well and preserve key relationships both internally and externally is one way that top Controllers stand out among their peers.

Improve Confidence in Financial Data

Controllers are typically responsible for overseeing financial reporting functions. Where discrepancies and errors exist, they will look for the source to maintain data accuracy and mitigate fraud risk. The best Controllers will not only ensure that this work gets done on time, but also take the steps needed to improve reporting functions to increase leadership’s confidence in the data. They will work hard to provide the most accurate financial information possible to improve forecasting and business modeling. Our team summarizes the intrinsic benefits that Controllers provide to a company by saying,

“One of the areas where Controllers can add the most value is in process improvement. As the most experienced accountant on staff, the Controller can offer financial process and procedure improvement recommendations to help the organization better plan for the future. With a Controller at the helm of the accounting team best practices can be followed to improve areas like budgeting and monthly close.”

Prioritize Internal Controls

All Controllers should have considerable familiarity with internal controls – implementing them, maintaining them, and relying on them to create a culture of accountability. The best Controllers understand that internal controls are not merely a formality, they are a key tool in mitigating fraud risk and preserving the integrity of the organization’s financials. As such, they are keen to prioritize internal controls maintenance and usage across all levels of the organization.

Understand Compliance

Compliance is under the purview of a Controller, but not just at the oversight level. Good Controllers will have a thorough understanding of compliance regulations so that they are able to review regulatory filings for things like payroll taxes, sales tax, workers' compensation, and unemployment. They will also make the time to ensure that compliance audits are being performed periodically (either doing the audits themselves or hiring a third-party to conduct them).

Balance Strategy & Details

When it comes to where a Controller should operate relative to a high-level perspective versus specific details, business leaders have a wide variety of opinions. Some CEOs and business owners think Controllers should be on par with CFOs (assisting with organization-wide strategic planning) while others think they should be on par with Senior Accountants (only performing accounting duties and overseeing lower-level staff). The best Controllers will fall somewhere in the middle, balancing the ability to think strategically with the willingness to roll up their sleeves and get involved in the details.

Stay Current

Whether they are newer to the position or seasoned in the role, a Controller should be familiar with the latest accounting technology. Our team explains how important technology has become across the accounting industry, and especially in relation to the Controller role, in this way: “Whether the goal is risk mitigation or revenue growth software will likely play a central role, which means that your accounting team must be adept at using the right kind of technology to get the job done. These days accountants must have significant financial software experience to rise to a leadership level.”

The best Controllers can consult on what will be the right fit for the company’s needs as well as oversee the implementation of such technology, where needed. They will also have the tech savvy to help accounting systems and tools to communicate better with each other to improve accuracy and efficiency.

When you need outsourced financial Controller services, please reach out to us! We provide fractional and interim options for companies that need a Controller either on a part-time or short-term basis. If you are looking to hire a Controller full-time, we can help there as well! Our executive finance recruiters are experts in finding qualified Controllers to fit our clients’ needs. Contact us to find out more about how we can come alongside your business to partner in success.

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Topics: Controller, Controller Responsibilities

Topics: Controller Controller Responsibilities