Controllers have historically supervised accounting and financial operations, but increasingly they are being asked to provide oversight on the company’s entire Human Resources (HR) department.

Prospective job-seekers may be surprised at the number of financial positions that expect applicants to have some HR background on their resumes. Others may be concerned that their company’s management is shifting more HR responsibilities to their financial team. 

Whichever category you find yourself in, we’ll help you navigate this growing trend and improve your understanding of what this might mean for your career path.

The Benefits of Integrating Accounting and Human Resources

From a managerial standpoint, asking controllers to manage HR simply makes sense. Many of the functions and activities of the financial department have a direct, measurable impact on the employees of the company and vice versa. 

Let’s look at some of the reasons why it makes sense for financial controllers to have a hand in human resources:

Integrated Operating Processes

Many companies lament the way that their departments operate in isolated compartments. There can be value in eliminating these “silos” and replacing them with integrated operating processes. 

In fact, some companies have opted for a technological solution to this very human problem. A Human Capital Management (HCM) system helps companies integrate their accounting and human resource departments, which can be particularly helpful in navigating complex regulatory and staffing processes. 

Naturally, the next logical step is to have your accounting department oversee HR entirely, which eliminates any communication problems and puts these needs in the skilled hands of financial professionals.

Data Dictates Policy

Human resource managers understand the complex regulations that surround wages, overtime, benefits, and other labor laws. Providing oversight to a company’s workers requires vigilance and careful analysis, both of which require accurate data.

Who better to analyze complex data than a trained accountant? While not every data point immediately corresponds to a line on a spreadsheet, accountants and controllers are known for having sharp minds and a penchant for translating complex systems into workable models. 

In other words, accountants can easily adapt to the data-driven processes associated with human resources, making these professionals an obvious choice for handling HR.

Accounting Departments Already Handle Payroll

Accounting departments already handle payroll and all it entails. This responsibility means that a company’s accountants don’t just oversee direct deposits; they also handle the payroll taxes and other regulatory procedures associated with this process. 

Since most human resource issues relate to payroll in some way, it helps to have an accountant in charge of both the company’s books and the workers it pays.

Automated Processes Provide More Time

Automated accounting tools make it easier for financial departments to keep the books and provide financial services, so it actually makes sense for companies to ask their controllers to oversee human resources.

In fact, this may result in greater job security. Rather than downsize an accounting department after buying the latest accounting software, companies are more likely to retain employees who can demonstrate a broader set of skills that make them a valuable asset.

The Challenges of Using Accountants for HR

Placing HR under the purview of controllers and accounting departments can greatly improve efficiency, but is it always a good idea?

HR is about more than just numbers; it’s also about the complex, qualitative relationships that govern every workspace. Accounting personnel clearly have a knack when it comes to data, but this doesn’t necessarily mean that they possess the soft skills that are necessary when managing people.

This consideration isn’t about the stereotype of the accountant who spends his days in front of a computer screen. It’s about the way that the workplace requires someone to help navigate conflict resolution, worker harassment training, and a host of other challenges that don’t involve spreadsheets.

Companies seeking to merge these departments may discover that their accounting teams lack the experience in these areas to prove effective.

Future Considerations

The future of accounting seems to be influenced by two broad trends

First, today’s accountants are often expected to be specialists, possessing unique expertise in a specific area of accounting (forensic accounting, corporate accounting, etc.). Second, they are also expected to demonstrate leadership and relational skills that go beyond their numerical skillset. 

Therefore, job-seekers may need to demonstrate their leadership capacity when seeking new opportunities, as this may make you more attractive to companies who expect their accountants to at least have a hand in HR. 

Established controllers can likewise expect to adapt their skill set, shifting their focus from mere numbers to the web of relationships that form the true backbone of their companies. 

As automation continues to be the norm, companies will likely call upon accounting professionals to perform a broadening range of tasks, proving that adaptability may be your greatest asset.

Learn More about New Roles in Controllers in Our Community

Looking to learn more about new roles in controllers? 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 technology and other topics. Become a member today.