Blog/Thought Leadership December 2, 2021

The Key Qualities of a Forward Thinking Controller

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Accomplishing digital transformation demands an active and consistent effort, and in the finance function that puts a great deal of responsibility on the controller. As the right hand to the CFO, the controller is a senior-level manager who oversees the business’s day-to-day financial operations. To ensure the company meets its long-term goals, the controller must be a forward-thinking leader who envisions a future-oriented organization. 

According to Gartner, 60% of finance leaders do not feel they have the internal talent with the data, technology, and social competencies to drive digital transformation. When seeking a controller, CFOs must look for leadership qualities, financial aptitude, and forward-thinkers to ensure the controller can modernize the finance function. 

Before choosing a candidate, it is important to examine the key responsibilities of a controller and the qualities they need to be successful.

The Role of a Controller

As the CFO acts as a strategic partner to the CEO, they need to be able to rely on the controller to oversee the execution of tactical finance tasks and consult with them for strategic planning. 

Controllers manage the daily accounting operations and handle financial planning and analysis such as: 

●  Preparing financial statements

●  Conducting financial forecasting

●  Keeping the general ledger, payroll, and taxes in order

●  Setting and managing budgets

●  Setting financial benchmarks

●  Coordinating audits

●  Managing staff accounting

The Strengths of a Future-Oriented Controller

A quality controller is a trustworthy, reliable, and innovative visionary who understands the importance of optimizing transactional tasks and tending to strategic challenges. CFOs should recognize the following attributes of a controller who can drive the finance function into the future: the desire to modernize accounting systems, the ability to optimize processes, a talent for data storytelling, and leadership abilities with soft skills. 

A Desire to Modernize Accounting Systems

Traditional, manual accounting systems are time-consuming and susceptible to human error. As the demands on the financial department increase, innovative solutions are the only way to achieve scalability and deliver true business value. A quality controller will identify gaps in accounts receivable and payable processes and create solutions to improve efficiency and boost working capital. The CFO should rely on the controller to actively support the AR and AP teams, and champion the use of modern systems. A forward-thinking controller should be open to adopting the latest technology in Artificial Intelligence (AI) and process automation to reduce manual workload, eliminate invoicing errors, get invoices sent and paid faster, and improve overall cash management. 

The Ability to Collect and Model Quality Data

Working as a controller demands a close assessment of numbers and data in varying degrees. From accounts payable and accounts receivable to payroll and tax compliance, financial data needs to be accurate.

In order to shift the finance function from a cost center to a value center, the controller should have an eye for detail and be able to identify growth opportunities. A visionary controller believes in harnessing data and analytics across the organization. By working closely with other internal stakeholders and sourcing the right technology partners, the controller should be able to optimize how data is collected then exercise their financial literacy to interpret data and offer their expert opinion to the CFO. 

Data Storytelling 

Interpreting the data is only one step in the process. The controller should deliver valuable reporting to the CFO that includes non-financial key performance indicators and added-value explanations. 

Data storytelling is a critical skill for the finance function. Successful controllers are talented storytellers who can combine data, narrative, and visuals to explain insights. For example, presenting an infographic that communicates which business unit is performing best helps management make quicker decisions regarding asset allocation. When the controller can skillfully communicate data, they empower management to make more impactful and agile decisions.

Leadership and Soft Skills 

Being a senior-level finance manager demands laser focus and attention to detail. Technical skills are critical for the job of a controller, but soft skills are also a necessary talent. Controllers are mentors to others and need to be able to provide supportive leadership. When the CFO gives direction, the controller must have the communication skills to rally their teams to ensure execution. The controller should be respected by their subordinates and inspire them to achieve company goals. Some notable soft skills needed for controllers include:

  • Communication
  • Flexibility
  • Collaboration
  • Active Listening
  • Problem-solving
  • Critical thinking

Selecting a visionary controller is a task that should not be taken lightly. As the CFO directs the future of the company, the controller works alongside them to meet present obligations and ensures the information needed for decision-making is readily available. Today the skills of a controller must be accompanied by strategic thinking and direction. A future-focused controller won’t be bound by traditional finance methods, but will rather look for alternatives to improve and growth opportunities.

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