Expectations and paths don’t always align for controllers

Seizing a more strategic role can be a challenge.

Most controllers are expected to shape and execute strategic initiatives, an evolution of the finance role that mirrors that of the CFO. Yet, few companies clearly define a path for controllers to take on greater responsibility, according to a report by Deloitte.

Ninety-two percent of North American controllership professionals say the CFO and the business are requesting the controllership function to play a more active role in shaping and executing strategic priorities. And 88% are confident that their controllership function has the skills and capabilities, according to a survey by Deloitte.

How exactly that strategic contribution occurs is something controllers and chief accounting officers are uncertain about, as illustrated by a question about vision. Just 24% say that their company's controller or chief accounting officer has a clearly defined and communicated vision that sets the future direction of the function.

Controllers seem to have approval to take on a more strategic role, but not all of them are seizing that opportunity.

"In the majority of cases, they have the license to deliver more [strategic value]," said Anthony Waelter, CPA, national managing partner of Deloitte's controllership services. "But on the other side, they have to be prepared to deliver that value."

Nnamdi Etoh, CPA, the controller at Rock Springs Capital Management LP in Maryland, said that partnering with the business—for example, ­delivering data that can increase sales—creates far more for an organization than low-value, repeatable tasks that could be automated or outsourced. And while finance still must be a leader in compliance, Etoh said, supporting the business should be more of a focus than check-the-box activities.

"Telling the CEO that the tax returns were filed on time once again is not going to get you a pat on the back," Etoh said.

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