The evolving role of a financial controller

In response to an ever developing (arguably unpredictable) market, the Financial Controller role has certainly evolved. No longer responsible solely for running a tight ship when it comes to financial operations, increasingly they are expected to don many caps – specifically when it comes to developing strategy and determining key business initiatives, as well as crisis management during times of economic uncertainty.

In a report by EY, in which one-on-one interviews were conducted with Financial Controller’s in top US organisations, it was found that they ‘increasingly contribute to organisational strategy.’ However, while the job description may be expanding, respondents unanimously agreed that fundamental skills in finance are imperative to success in the role.

The evolution of the Financial Controller’s role has ensured that certain challenges arise when fulfilling the expanding job role:

Culture

The modern day Financial Controller faces a challenge in that, while he/she is brought into a wider decision-making remit, he/she may be faced with resistance within the organisation which must be managed accordingly.

Individuals or groups may believe that the Financial Controller does not have the expertise to make decisions on their areas of the business.

Peter Simons, Head of Future Finance Research at CIMA Global, said: “The biggest challenge is that a Financial Controller does not have either the credibility or the mandate to suggest change. However, if they can show the business how to make money, save money and/or remain compliant, they will be invited back to the table again and again.”

Solid financial skills, therefore, are not the only fundamental requirements to the role. A Financial Controller must be able to facilitate collaboration between departments and to persevere when their initiatives are met with resistance. To do this, they must be a great communicator and leader, with empathy and rapport for their colleagues.

Technology

Though organisations may be working at a high level with data analysis, more efficient systems are coming into play which could see a boost in productivity and savings. In digitising the finance function, replacing these systems is at the top of most Financial Controller’s plans.

However, this will not be without its challenges, with many citing a technology limitations as a significant issue in the UK. Technological awareness, and keeping one step ahead of the latest developments, is becoming almost as fundamental to the role of a Financial Controller as the core background in finance.

Conclusion

In the wake of the financial crisis, it’s more essential than ever that a Financial Controller has the leadership skills to create a well-functioning department and to ensure that its finance professionals are working effectively. It is also important to ensure that one’s own good reputation contributes to the trustworthiness of the business, to ensure stakeholders believe in the financial health of the business.

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