Controllers need to focus on these duties to make sure they keep pace with their changing roles and support CFOs, according to Glen Parrillo, CPA, the controller at AccuWeather in State College, Pa.
Keep systems updated and running. Parrillo said that AccuWeather's systems received more than 10 billion data requests per day about three years ago. Today, that figure has ballooned to 40 billion. "If our network goes down for a half a day, it's hundreds and hundreds of thousands of dollars that we lose," Parillo said.
Maintain cybersecurity. Previously the realm of the IT department, cybersecurity now is one more part of the controller's role. In a survey released in February by FloQast, which designs software to streamline the financial close, 78% of controllers said they spend more time on IT management. "You have to protect your system, especially if you put your system in the cloud," Parrillo said. "You've got to know IT security."
Prevent fraud. Parrillo said fraud is one of his top concerns because it has so many unknowns. He said controllers have to educate themselves on the types of fraud and pass that knowledge on to employees before they fall victim to email phishing schemes.
Use tech tools for data analysis. Today's controller must be familiar with the tools available to harvest vast amounts of data and make sense of them. "Technology is changing so rapidly," Parrillo said. "You almost have to be more of a technology person than an accountant because of the way you have to manage [technology]."
Manage compliance practices. Shifts in health care law and FASB standards are two of many regulatory changes that affect how finance functions operate, Parrillo said. Controllers have to stay abreast of the compliance requirements that come their way. Previously, CFOs were more compliance-focused. "But now my CFO is working more on the strategic side of the business, being the right hand of the CEO," Parrillo said.
Engage with strategy and forecasting. This is mainly a CFO responsibility, but controllers are taking on a greater role. The FloQast survey showed that 90% of controllers said they were more engaged now in strategic planning. Controllers, Parrillo said, are now involved more as consultants to the business, gaining intimate operational knowledge of its inner workings instead of focusing solely on the numbers. "You find yourself more involved with the business itself and how it should be run," he said.
Manage risks in a changing world. Rules, regulations, and economic shifts regularly change the organization's priorities and its finance function. "Controllers need to constantly reevaluate priorities each year to make sure their function is relevant and nimble enough to stay current with the changing paradigm of their industry or market," Parrillo said. "It is unreasonable to think that risks for companies will remain static given technology, accounting, legal, and HR shifts that are constantly evolving."
— Neil Amato is a JofA senior editor. To comment on this article or to suggest an idea for another article, contact him at Neil.Amato@aicpa-cima.com.