A Strategic Shift: Evolving From Controllers to CFOs and Beyond

Accountants have always known their skillset could mean the difference between life and death for their companies. Dramatic? Maybe. But it’s also true. 

But the COVID-19 pandemic has shown just how crucial good financial management is, and it’s also provided controllers and CFOs with enormous challenges and equally significant opportunities. 

The “New” Financial Controller

The controller’s job has traditionally been challenging but straightforward— even monotonous at times. You know that one board game that never fits back into the box it came out of? Accounting is that board game, and it’s the controller’s job to get everything to fit back in the box at the end of every month. Everything needs to balance, tie out, reconcile, and make sense so the team can go home with another successful monthly close. That monthly close was the pet project — if not the sole focus — of the controller. Now, technology and demands from above are changing that focus.

Accounting automation allows teams to execute repetitive tasks with little to no effort, which is kind of what controllers have been dreaming about. These tools make it easy to organize and coordinate the close while streamlining reconciliations and allowing compliance and housekeeping tasks to be finished sooner.  

Getting Out of the Weeds 

Along with shepherding the financial close, controllers are also tasked with managing the accounting team. With the chaos presented by COVID, solid accounting leadership is needed more than ever. 

For many companies, several things have changed all at once. First, distributed accounting teams working from home have made it more complex to manage a process like the monthly close. Fortunately, automation relieves some of this burden and makes it simpler to collaborate remotely. Secondly, many teams have been short-staffed due to quarantines, unavailable team members, and The Great Resignation: Accounting Edition.

With new challenges and teams stretched thin, leadership becomes crucial. Controllers are answering the call to step up as leaders and use time freed up by automation to offer more support for employees. Ultimately, the goal is to develop an efficient team that has a foundation rooted in collaboration, proactive mindsets, and support at every level. This leads to healthier teams and more resourceful and innovative solutions to accounting problems in a WFH and distributed setting.

Controllers aren’t only taking on more leadership within companies and a more strategic role. Automation and AI allow controllers to flex their accounting skills and solve more big-picture problems. What was once the realm of the CFO is becoming the domain of the controller as well. Where does this leave the two?

CFO 2.0     

Controllers aren’t the only ones taking on new responsibilities, so don’t worry, there’s plenty of work to go around. The business landscape is shifting so quickly that companies need to make more strategic decisions to survive, and those decisions need to be tied to real financial data. 

While most CFOs have years of experience making tough financial decisions and analyzing the data, few have been working closely with the operational side of the sales team. This is a major opportunity for added value from the CFO. 

The CFO of the future (starting right now) will bring deep financial knowledge to the table in an actionable and operational way. They will collaborate with the CEO, the sales and marketing teams, and others to translate financial data into real-world strategies to overcome the unprecedented challenges we’re facing today. The role will be as much about communication and storytelling as analysis and number crunching. 

The New Expectations

We’ve all heard the term “new normal” a few too many times about things that will never be quite right again, so I won’t say it. These last few years have made many complex changes to the way businesses operate; it’s also created a net positive new normal for many accounting and finance professionals. The rising demand for strategic leadership and the technological improvements to make such an emphasis possible are coming together at just the right time. The moment for controllers and CFOs to rise to a new normal is right now.