Controllers Council recently held a webinar on What are Your Biggest Controller/CFO Challenges, sponsored by Oracle.

Our panelists included Irwin Jacobson, Lauren Barr, and Rajiv Saraf. Irwin Jacobson is Chief Financial Officer, CFO, of Blu Digital Group in Burbank, California with over 30 years’ experience and primarily in the entertainment industry. Check out some of these logos on his LinkedIn profile. Deluxe Entertainment, Warner Brothers, Technicolor, Sony Pictures. Irwin is a former Deloitte & Touche, so that was a while ago before they were just Deloitte, and CPA in both Washington and California. Irwin currently resides in Bell Canyon, California. Lauren Barr is Vice President of Finance of Occupier based in New York City. Occupier raised series A funding just last year. Lauren played on the women’s ice hockey team at Providence College where she earned a bachelor’s in accounting. She’s a former PWC with a CPA in New York. Lauren currently resides in St. Louis. Finally, Rajiv Saraf is corporate controller for Ambarella, a semiconductor company based in Santa Clara, California. Rajiv is both a CPA and a chartered accountant with over 20 years’ experience. Prior roles included director of technical accounting and reporting and assistant controller for SunPower Corporation and a public accounting career at PWC in both the US and Asia and Deloitte. Rajiv resides in Union City, California.

Following are key takeaways to this discussion. If you are interested in learning more, view the full webinar archive video here.

Are your responsibilities increasing or do you have new roles and what are the challenges of those?

Lauren: I think it’s a great time to be in finance right now because the role is moving away from a number cruncher to really leaning into being more of a strategic partner. With that, I think the responsibilities are increasing. I think one of the expectations on the finance team now is that you have to always have a pulse on the organization, and especially as it relates to constantly being able to refresh financial forecasts or create different scenario modeling specifically around what if we do X? What if we sold this new product? What if we change this pricing strategy? How is it going to impact X, Y, and Z?

I think a lot of times, to be able to support that new responsibility, you need to have access literally at your fingertips to the data that you need to really generate those types of analyses, which can make it a challenge for finance teams to really go from manual Excel-driven processes to… Sometimes those things won’t really scale with the demands of the scenario modeling that I’m mentioning. So, I think it could be challenging, but also a great time to be in finance.

What are your talent challenges?

Irwin: Cookies and food are very, very helpful tools to retaining employees, I think. Seriously, you must keep your employees engaged. If you’re lucky enough, you find people who have a passion for what they’re doing. I know that sounds crazy, how can you be passionate about accounting? But again, for me, that’s why I love the entertainment industry because I love numbers, but I’m passionate about being a part of this industry.

I think the pandemic killed us, right? Before that, it was all the Enrons and everything else years ago destroyed the profession and took people away from wanting to be a part of that and be a scapegoat, or why should I bother? Then fast-forward to a couple years ago and the pandemic just hurt everybody in so many ways. But coming out of the pandemic, when people realized, “Hey, I don’t need to get dressed, I don’t need to even take a shower if I don’t want to. I can wear my pajamas to work. I don’t need to commute and waste gas each day. I can just sit at my computer and work all day, and nobody will know the difference and I still get my work done.”

It’s hard now to find quality staff who really want to be a part of something. That’s really the key, is you must find people who are interested, not just in punching a clock.

Another key is network building. As I was building my team, I reached out to people whom I’ve worked with before, people I had relationships with, my own network, my LinkedIn network. I reached out to people who I knew, or six degrees of separation, people who I know who know other people, and pulled in people that way through my network. Therefore, network building is very important in terms of talent.

Do you think because there is a shortage of certainly CPAs, but other accounting specialists, that compensation will increase over time and then that higher comp is going to attract new people to the profession?

Rajiv: The pay gap is real for technical versus non-technical jobs. I think because accounting is more viewed as a supporting function, especially finance function obviously is more integral to the company’s core group, but the subgroup being accounting is looked at as more of a support function and sometimes it doesn’t get as much credit as it should. So, I feel that getting the comparable pay is probably an action to get the right talent in.

How does macroeconomics challenge your duties?

Lauren: They challenge us. I think when times are good, maybe you can get away with less position or processes that aren’t that efficient because you can afford to hire the extra body or just throw money at problems and things like that. But when times are bad or nearing towards this looming recession, well, you’re under the microscope. You must be extremely precise, and your processes have to be buttoned down. If you’re not precise, if your processes aren’t that great, well, then that’s going to sound the alarm quickly. I think all the macro-economic environmental challenges that we’re going through right now certainly puts some pressure on the finance team.

What do you think will be challenges, different challenges in three years or five years?

Irwin: I think that the challenges today are classic and continuous. Recruitment, finding talent, retaining talent, everything related to the staffing and the people in the finance world and keeping them educated, keeping them up to date. I think those are obviously timeless issues. Technology changes, I think it’s very important that we all stay on top of technology as it’s evolving if not be at the forefront.

Rajiv: I think the bigger challenges are still going to be, I think around talent acquisition, process augmentation considering the budget constraints. Automation is going to be a big one, which I think we all continue to see. I think the way it’ll evolve with AI being the buzzword now everywhere, I think accounting is not going to be isolated of that.

To view the complete webcast, download full webinar here.


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