Evolving From a Controller to a Strategic Business Partner

Published on August 02, 2018

Unstoppable forces continue to drive business growth and create opportunities for the controllership function. Two studies explore these opportunities: One takes a closer look at controllership's evolution to become a strategic business partner. The other examines how to execute on a new vision for the changing role of the controller. 

Becoming a strategic business partner

Controllers in the United States spend nearly 70 percent of their time performing traditional tasks, such as closing the books or ensuring compliance with accounting standards. As a result, decisions involving organizational strategy often exclude their input. For example, controllers may be asked to quantify quarterly spend on headcount, but they may be left out of executive meetings on organizational restructuring initiatives. 

These types of requests often bombard the controllership function on a daily basis and prevent controllers from breaking out of the vicious cycle. Instead, they spend too much time focused on traditional roles—and not enough on evolving into a more strategic business partner. 

Today’s controllers are, generally, being asked to do too much with limited resources. They may have to navigate between suboptimal information systems, talent gaps or turnover issues, a lack of cross-functional support, a C-suite focused on other key areas or a combination of these and other hindrances. Their responsibilities continue to increase and evolve. But they lack the support needed to complete tasks in a timely and effective way in order to take on more strategic roles.

Navigating the changing role of the controller

Corporate controllers now often play four diverse and challenging roles within the organization:

  • Steward: Managing risk and preserving assets

  • Operator: Running an efficient and effective finance operation

  • Strategist: Influencing the future direction of the company

  • Catalyst: Helping to drive execution 

IMA® (Institute of Managed Accountants) and Deloitte surveyed nearly 800 (majority US) financial professionals in the controllership function to learn how they’re navigating the challenges of their roles, what skills they feel they need to evolve, and how they continue to add value to their companies. This report provides information on factors that can have a more positive impact, provide more value, and help professionals in the controllership function evolve into strategists and catalysts within their organizations. 

Maintaining a balance between strategy and traditional responsibilities

Every controllership role has a mix of strategy and traditional responsibilities. But the challenge is maintaining a balance, especially when circumstances tip the scales to favor traditional tasks.

Those in controllership and accounting roles can benefit themselves by being more of a strategic business partner in many different ways, including: 

  • Communicating clearly with top management why the controller is in the best position to assume more strategic responsibilities like financial planning and analysis (FP&A).

  • Improving and leveraging skills in emerging technologies that are driving results, including robotics process automation, in-memory computing, mobile platforms, and visual analytics.

  • Making “strategist” and/or “catalyst” part of one’s job description (official or not) by learning the organization’s business and knowing what drives value.

  • Understanding the importance of new accounting standards and planning for their impact on the controllership role.

  • Reducing critical skill gaps through training and recruiting professionals to increase skills in strategic thinking and execution, communication, financial planning and analysis, technology, and data governance. 

By following these critical steps, controllers can feel empowered to navigate the changing environment, find a seat at the table, and take their career to the next level.

(Source: Deloitte - Deloitte Controllership Programs - June 22, 2018)