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Evolving from a controller to a strategic business partner

The changing role of a controller

Unstoppable forces continue to drive business growth and create opportunities for the controllership function. Two studies explore these opportunities: One takes a closer look at controllership’s evolution to become a strategic business partner. The other examines how to execute on a new vision for the changing role of the controller.

Listen to our on-demand webcast, “From controller to strategic partner: A growing imperative,” to hear perspectives about the changing role of the controller from Sue D’Emic, former CFO of Time Inc., and Scott Hurley, global controller of Converse Inc.
Read additional insights from the webcast on our Controllership Insights blog.

Becoming a strategic business partner

Controllers in the United States spend nearly 70 percent of their time performing traditional tasks, such as closing the books or ensuring compliance with accounting standards. As a result, decisions involving organizational strategy often exclude their input. For example, controllers may be asked to quantify quarterly spend on headcount, but they may be left out of executive meetings on organizational restructuring initiatives.

These types of requests often bombard the controllership function on a daily basis and prevent controllers from breaking out of the vicious cycle. Instead, they spend too much time focused on traditional roles—and not enough on evolving into a more strategic business partner.

Today’s controllers are, generally, being asked to do too much with limited resources. They may have to navigate between suboptimal information systems, talent gaps or turnover issues, a lack of cross-functional support, a C-suite focused on other key areas or a combination of these and other hindrances. Their responsibilities continue to increase and evolve. But they lack the support needed to complete tasks in a timely and effective way in order to take on more strategic roles.

Navigating the changing role of the controller

Corporate controllers now often play four diverse and challenging roles within the organization:

  • Steward: Managing risk and preserving assets
  • Operator: Running an efficient and effective finance operation
  • Strategist: Influencing the future direction of the company
  • Catalyst: Helping to drive execution

IMA® (Institute of Managed Accountants) and Deloitte surveyed nearly 800 (majority US) financial professionals in the controllership function to learn how they’re navigating the challenges of their roles, what skills they feel they need to evolve, and how they continue to add value to their companies. This report provides information on factors that can have a more positive impact, provide more value, and help professionals in the controllership function evolve into strategists and catalysts within their organizations.

sailing ship yachts with white sails

Maintaining a balance between strategy and traditional responsibilities

Every controllership role has a mix of strategy and traditional responsibilities. But the challenge is maintaining a balance, especially when circumstances tip the scales to favor traditional tasks.

Those in controllership and accounting roles can benefit themselves by being more of a strategic business partner in many different ways, including:

  • Communicating clearly with top management why the controller is in the best position to assume more strategic responsibilities like financial planning and analysis (FP&A).
  • Improving and leveraging skills in emerging technologies that are driving results, including robotics process automation, in-memory computing, mobile platforms, and visual analytics.
  • Making “strategist” and/or “catalyst” part of one’s job description (official or not) by learning the organization’s business and knowing what drives value.
  • Understanding the importance of new accounting standards and planning for their impact on the controllership role.
  • Reducing critical skill gaps through training and recruiting professionals to increase skills in strategic thinking and execution, communication, financial planning and analysis, technology, and data governance.

By following these critical steps, controllers can feel empowered to navigate the changing environment, find a seat at the table, and take their career to the next level. To learn more, download the full report, “Stepping outside the box: Elevating the role of the controller.”

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A sea change in controllership: Five steps for charting a new course

A vision for the future of controllership

Corporate controllers and other finance executives are redefining and articulating a vision that aligns with corporate strategy and helps the organization manage inevitable risk. Research by the Deloitte Center for Controllership™ confirms the crucial importance of forming and communicating a vision for the changing role of the controller.1

Survey participants emphasize the importance of the ability to sell and ultimately execute the vision as critical success factors. But more than 60 percent of those polled indicated that they didn’t have a clearly defined vision. Many lack the awareness of elements that can ensure a successful transition into the future, including influence, time, and skills as critical to their success.2

When forming a vision for controllership, leaders should make certain that it communicates a clear direction, aligns with the highest priorities of the business, and illuminates the right path to cope with the shifting finance model.

Consider the following suggestions that may add power to your well-designed vision:

  • Influence: Build the right relationships that allow you to gain support around the function’s vision and key priorities
  • Time: Manage increased demand while balancing the allocation of your time to enable the realization of your vision
  • Skills: Develop the capabilities of your team and grow the competencies you need to be successful

To learn more about the changing role of the controller, download the full report, “A new true north: Shaping a vision for the future of controllership.”

Center for Controllership™

Deloitte’s Center for Controllership provides chief accounting officers, controllers, and their teams an opportunity to collaborate and obtain direct access to resources and research to help build world-class controllership capabilities. The Center gives those with controllership responsibilities access to our deep experience, broad capabilities, and valuable insights in managing the complexities of their roles while transforming their organizations to be more proficient, effective, and insightful.

Want to keep up with the latest perspectives on the changing role of the controller? Subscribe to our Controllership Digest.

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1 Center for Controllership™ research. Read about the Center at

More than 1,500 controllership function professionals participated in a Deloitte Center for Controllership™ Dbriefs webcast, “The changing role of controllership,” on January 31, 2017. Poll respondents work in a range of industries, including consumer and industrial products (29.2 percent); financial services (19.2 percent); and technology, media, and telecommunication (13.1 percent).

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