In Pursuit of Profit
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When your controller leaves, the logical next step is to find someone to fill the vacant position. Right?
Simply hiring another controller may not actually be the best decision for your business.
We work with companies everyday who are looking for accounting and finance leadership roles and it is not uncommon to have clients tell us they need a controller and then listen to them define the role only to discover that what they are looking for is a different position entirely.
Now, some organizations we work with are, in fact, in need of a controller. However, others have needs that better align with more senior financial leadership like that of a CFO, while others have requirements that fit better with a mid-level management accounting position.
Instead of jumping right into hiring a controller, take the time to understand what kind of role will be the best fit for your company.
The easiest way to define a role is by the scope of the position. However, when it comes to financial roles, the lines can get blurred after someone is hired because there are individual experience levels to consider when entrusting someone with the company’s finances.
A controller role can either be played up or down depending on the individual’s skillset and previous roles. For instance, if the controller has a background in FP&A (financial planning and analysis), they may be responsible for more strategic analysis than would typically be included in the role. Similarly, if a controller has a penchant for a particular area that takes away from other activities, you may find that the role drifts away from its original scope.
As a result, when looking to hire a replacement, you should not look at what has previously been included in the role, but rather what you need to be included in the role moving forward.
Accountants are responsible for activities related to:
A controller will usually oversee:
A CFO’s role will typically include:
Our team explains how these roles can get tangled when they say,
While these differences may sound clear on paper, in practice they can get hazy. The roles can (and do) overlap significantly, especially at smaller companies where there is either a Controller role or a CFO role, but not both... In organizations where there is a CFO role with a well-qualified individual in the position, the Controller role can be downplayed into more of a ‘Head Senior Accountant’ or ‘VP of Accounting’ role. In this version of the role, a Controller will be strictly a ‘numbers person’ – ensuring the integrity of the data and meeting key business deliverables without any significant data analysis or strategic planning included. In organizations where a Controller is the most senior level financial professional, the role can be up played into a quasi-executive role. In this version of the role, the individual will aid in advising on broader financial matters, forecasting, analyzing data, and setting strategy at least to some degree.
However, once you have a list of job responsibilities you can work with a financial recruiting company to determine whether a controller role will meet your needs, or whether you would be better off hiring up or down.
While scope defines what someone in the role should be doing, expectations describe what should come of those activities.
A controller should be tasked with overseeing activities that are meant to keep the business financially sound whereas a CFO should be responsible for the ongoing strategic planning that will poise the company for future success. The ASP team gives a broad overview when they say,
Accountants prepare financial reports to facilitate the analysis on how well the company is doing and keep tabs on a company's money. They ensure the company's financial records are accurate and watch for theft… A controller oversees the accounting department and is responsible for its accuracy and timeliness. The controller controls the company's cash flow, oversees the production of financial reports, prepares tax, payroll and debt payments, and ensures the company is in compliance with government reporting requirements. A CFO focuses on the forward-looking strategy of a business. The CFO provides executive financial insight and expertise to ensure the organization’s ability to reach its goals and long-term financial success.
In some companies the controller is the top level of financial leadership, making them the de facto CFO. In other organizations, there is a vertical hierarchy, resulting in the title of “controller” being assigned to an individual who is basically a senior accounting manager.
Understand who the controller will report to and who will report to them. If no one is directly reporting to your controller, you likely do not need a controller role – perhaps you simply need an accountant role. Alternatively, if the controller is reporting to the CEO or owner as well as doing more strategic planning, you should probably be looking for a CFO.
Lean on an experienced financial recruiter to advise you on what type of role will best suit your needs. Our recruiting team operates like a partner in the search process, not a sales organization. When you come to us looking for a candidate, we will take the time to discern what will be the best fit to ensure you are satisfied with our placement. Find out more – contact us today!