What kind of digital controller are you?

Investopedia defines the financial controller as high-level overseers of financial performance and regulation, but this definition is not very helpful in today’s value-driven world.  Although many of these financial controllers are out there, we see a new type emerging.

Here are three types that you may have found in your business.  Do you recognise yourself in any of these?  

1. The Overseer

The typical controller, the gatekeeper, the quintessential accountant in command of their domain. These controllers want to stay in their lane, tend to be risk-averse and stick to traditional responsibilities of financial reporting, auditing and compliance.

With a keen eye for detail, they are administrators of judgement and discerning managers of risk and financial and statutory reporting.

These individuals thrive on order and control and see it as their duty to report performance as the markets and regulators need to see it; in line with IFRS, bound to their shareholders as much as their directors and employees of their organisation.

“With so much riding on financial reporting accuracy, it is essential to have a solid controller, but in some companies, these individuals need to be both controller and enabler.  Automation gives the controller an opportunity to improve accuracy without effort, and focus more on the business of business.” says Nick Levine, Strategy and Finance at Soldo

2. The Enabler

The enabler is still a controller at heart but understands that the pace of business is changing and their business can be impacted by poor process and control.  These controllers love to fix problems for the business, improve processes, add value and help the business operate as quickly as possible to create a competitive advantage.

More flexible and responsible for business performance than The Overseer, they want to get the controlling done, so they can move into the business conversation.  They want to embed technology into their processes to free up time for business-focused work, like automating balance sheet reconciliations and streamlining AP processes to reduce manual interventions. 

Chris Argent, founder of Generation CFO explains, “We sometimes call this type of controller, “the reluctant accountant” and they tend to be people who have done their time in audit and compliance roles and want to change.  They get huge value from helping the business perform rather than a pure controller role. They get digital platforms, and look to use them.”

The enabler still must complete the work of the Overseer, but agreeably, they want out of the status quo and are doing this by improving their day to day with better processes, systems and tools.


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3. The Hybrid

This is an emerging type and the rarest of all.  Likely to be a long way into their automation journey, they are tech-savvy and doing all they can to improve their reporting, audit and compliance role, to free up time to do more impactful work.

They are agile in their day jobs and don’t see their role as Overseer or Enabler, but on a mission to bring value to the business by thinking differently, learning new ways of working, investing in new tools and systems to give them more time to add value.

As an innovator of finance operations and data use, they are able to include a digital robot headcount to their team, reducing their workload to managing exception alerts, like expense anomalies and travel budget breaches.  

This leaves them more time to work with the business and automate reporting which will include advancements like analytics, advanced modelling and predictive analytics, that creates greater accuracy and reduces their performance management workload.

The Hybrid controller no longer sees the use of apps and new capability as an option, but an absolute necessity to keep their seat at the table and to keep their career on track, maybe to a CFO role, maybe to a business commercially focused role.

Nick Levine, Strategy and Finance at Soldo explains, “The trick is to embed automation and control into the process without slowing the process down. It is even better if it’s seen to enable the business to make faster decisions.  This is not an investment in internal controls,and it is not just about integration and automation – it’s about enabling the business to do more and to be more successful.”

Conclusion

Depending on the size of business you run, the industry and the pace of change, you may want to adopt one approach or another, but one of these types of controller will never truly fit one business.

Although we have defined three types of financial controller, in practice our roles are very different from the next controller, and each is continually evolving depending on multiple internal and external factors.

So maybe a more helpful approach is to look at our attitude to control and risk, and see if this can be changed to suit a given business situation.  We agree compliance is mandatory, auditing is essential, but are we guilty of seeing the whole world from a risk-averse point of view?  

Chris Argent sums up the position, “Our fear of the unknown and fear of failure can sometimes hurt the business.  We can justify our position as The Overseers of control and performance, but this is sometimes a hollow argument. Not embracing digital improvements, not reviewing processes and current tools, is almost certainly going to negatively impact on the business. It’s time to be more Hybrid!”

In our next blog, we explore the power of enabling the business whilst retaining control, “When control meets the business – the pitfalls of empowering the business without control”.


This blog was co-authored by Nick Levine, Strategy and Finance at Soldo, and Christopher Argent, Strategic Consultant, Generation CFO. 

Soldo is a spend and expense management platform, complete with Mastercard® cards, intuitive admin and effortless reporting. Their mission is to simplify the entire business expense cycle, from beginning to end. We use the smartest financial technology to solve the three key business spending problems: delegation, control, and reporting. Learn more here

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