The traditional role of the financial controllers is evolving with socio-political changes and technological advancements that are shaping the finance industry. In today’s data-driven economy, financial controllers are expected to do more than crunch numbers. They are trusted to leverage emerging technology to offer innovative and predictive business insights and advice.

According to a 2018 survey by Deloitte and the Institute of Management Accountants (IMA), the modern financial controller now undertakes the role of a catalyst and strategist in addition to traditional roles. Want to know how financial controllers are navigating these changes? In this article, we share some of the best practices of outstanding financial controllers.

What are successful financial controllers doing?

1. Closing Without Spreadsheets

Controllers have to deal with disparate systems that exist across their company. And about 79% of organizations attempt to integrate financial data with spreadsheets. 

However, preparing spreadsheets is laborious, time-consuming, prone to errors and delays closing. According to the Association of Chartered Certified Accountants (ACCA), over 90% of spreadsheets contain serious errors, while more than 90% of spreadsheet users are convinced that their reports are error-free.

Efficient controllers have abandoned spreadsheets because they believe spreadsheets are no longer the ideal choice for processing consolidation and the close. They’re importing data from multiple ERP systems, sorting allocations, intercompany eliminations, and reclassifications with automation. This way, they reduce risk by minimizing the chances of errors and creating standardized repeatable processes. 

Learn more in 5 Reasons Spreadsheets are a Problem

2. Embracing Automation

Every day, new tech innovations are made that bring the finance industry closer to complete or almost complete digitization. Excelling financial controllers are embracing Artificial Intelligence and other automation software to optimize the accounting process. They get their work done faster and with almost zero errors. This allows them to maximize the human resources available to them as mundane repetitive tasks are automated and less time is spent on correcting errors.

Closing the books yearly or quarterly is one of the more intense operations that the financial controller oversees. Many imagine that it takes no more than a week but the reality is that it takes longer than that. Just about 38% of companies are able to close in a week for their quarterly or semiannual close.

Leading financial controllers are using automation to close the fiscal period. Tasks like consolidation, reporting, allocations can be automated and shared in real-time with necessary persons. It would not only save your firm, time and money, but it would also provide information to the firm and stakeholders that would aid faster data-backed decisions.

Our recent webinar featuring Ruby Slipper Café discussed financial close automation. Ruby Slipper Café is a best-in-class example of an organization that was proactively looking to drive change by replacing excel-based processes with an automated solution that would increase the overall visibility, standardization, efficiency and governance across their financial close process.

3. Leading With Data

Financial controllers were always the main source of financial data for their firms. But the kind of data they are asked to provide has come to include operational and budget information. The IMA says more than 90% of controllers are providing operational data and 80% of Controllers are providing customer and business performance data as well.

Top-performing financial controllers understand that applying data analytics to risk management, auditing and taxation helps them be the forward-thinking experts that they ought to be. They turn data into valuable insights.

4. Using Self-Service Tools

Financial controllers have to collect information that financial and non-financial managers need. Now, not only are they tasked with collecting all this information, they have to analyze them. As data-based reports from the financial controller provide essential key performance indicators for strategic business planning.

Collecting and analyzing data for other departments takes the controller’s time away from other value-added activities. And so, successful financial controllers use self-service business intelligence tools like Tableau Desktop, Power BI, Domo and others to analyze data from various points of entry. With visual analytics and scorecards, they are able to easily identify patterns and trends the firm can leverage on.

Top financial controllers share information with other departments at the company using self-service tools platforms. It cuts down on the cost of information sharing.

Watch our Business Intelligence for Corporate Finance webinar to learn more.

5. Deploying Integrated Systems

Financial controllers have to work with financial planning and analysis (FP&A) teams. Top-performing controllers are using business systems that ensure seamless handover of joint financials to the FP&A team. They use a system of data sharing and work software that integrates reporting, analytics, planning, budgeting and consolidation. This single-source can be accessed by the accounting and the FP&A teams.

The single system makes it easier for firms to move from close to analysis and planning because everyone is working with the same data. Cross-functional communication and collaboration eliminate the need for long email threads or constant meetings. Having a common reporting language across the organization allows for greater data quality and control. It also improves responsiveness. 

6. Adapting to the New Normal of Work

When the coronavirus pandemic hit in 2020, the workplace changed drastically. People moved from offices to working from home and now over a year later, the workplace is still not what it used to be. Many people still work from home. Also, remote work has gotten more popular as it allows companies to hire the best talents from anywhere on the globe.

Smart financial controllers have made sure to set up decentralized systems that enable collaboration. They understand that centralized systems are difficult to work with, in this new era. It slows down collaboration within units, creates bottlenecks and results in decreased productivity. Also, they combine project management and leadership skills to promote a positive and unified work environment for their distributed teams.

Learn more in our article Adapting to Remote Work and Automation Trends.


More is expected from you as a financial controller today. You need to be forward-looking, constantly searching for ways to improve productivity, reduce costs, automate processes and leverage data. The best-in-class financial controllers are doing it and so should you.

Want to learn even more about how the role of the controller is changing? Check out our 2021 Digital Controller/CFO Study.

Learn More Best Practices in Our Community

Looking to learn more best practices to be a successful financial controller? Controllers Council is a national community and platform of Controllers, Accounting and Finance professionals focused on accounting best practices, information and resources, recognition and networking. Membership has many features and benefits to propel your career and expertise, and to be an active participant in our exciting community. The Controllers Council Forum allows members to pose questions about advancing your career and other topics. Become a member today.