The primary leaders of the finance function are the Controller and CFO, two roles that many companies mistakenly believe to be the same. They are not, but the CFO must be sure to give the Controller as much assistance as possible if they are to perform their responsibilities in such a way that enables a company to fulfill its potential.
Controllers are essentially responsible for the financial and regulatory compliance of the company, and producing timely and accurate financial statements. Their focus is on the past, on how the company has performed. The CFO, on the other hand, is there to use this information to look forward - to create forecasts, financial plans, and develop and implement strategies that will enable growth in the future to achieve the goals set out by the CEO.
Producing timely and accurate reports is extremely complicated and requires intensive work. For the Controller to achieve this they have to focus on improving processes, hiring and empowering a team, monitoring overseas transactions, understanding the downstream impact on FP&A, and reducing the impact of audit. For a CFO to be truly effective strategist, they need to have faith that they have strong Controller in place providing them with accurate reports.
This doesn’t only mean hiring the best person for the job, it means putting them in the best possible position to perform their role. Most importantly, both CFOs and Controllers need to understand people and be effective communicators - with each other and their team. The CFO must be transparent with the Controller about what is expected of them and how they can best assist them in their role, and likewise the Controller must do the same, as well as helping the CFO to understand the numbers so they can better forecast.
The Controller is also in a position of leadership, and communication with their team is also vital. However, the nature of the role means that this is one skill set that many lack. For CFOs, communication is an even more important quality, and they may need to provide training so that their Controller is running the team effectively. They must also set the tone from the top so that the whole team is working towards the Controller’s strategy.
Also important is ensuring that the Controller has access to all the technologies that could help them, providing them with budget and access to support around how to use automation software. The CFO’s responsibilities have increased in recent years, and this has filtered down to the Controller. Today, added value skills such as being more forward thinking are also being expected of the Controller, providing more strategic analysis of reports and streamlining processes to support the continued growth of an organization in a globally competitive world. The CFO is instrumental in guiding this change.