Key Qualities of a Financial Controller: What to Look for When Hiring

A financial controller plays the role of an accounting manager and financial leader within a growing enterprise. To best serve their organization, a top-tier controller will wear several hats—chief accountant, financial strategist, and data analyst, to name a few. 

Finding a professional capable of balancing these various responsibilities can be a daunting task. But when you find the perfect partner, it will be worth the effort. 

To help you in this endeavor, here are the key qualities of a financial controller that you should be looking for during the hiring process. 

What is a Financial Controller? 

A financial controller is a senior-level executive that oversees the business’ books. They manage the accounting teams’ daily accounting operations and various departments, including payroll, accounts payable and receivable, and general accounting. And for growing companies without a CFO, the controller can handle some of the same financial planning and analysis functions. 

According to Inc.com

A controller’s job is to make sure your books are in perfect order. They analyze your accounts and make sure everything that is debited or credited accurately and that there are no mistakes when it comes to the cash inflow and outflow of your business. If you don’t have accurate numbers, you might make a bad decision. 

While balancing the ledgers is an essential task of a controller, the role has evolved in recent years. The scope has expanded as they have become a more integral aspect of driving a business forward. Some of their primary functions include:  

  • Preparing financial statements 
  • Financial forecasting
  • Maintaining the general ledger, payroll, and taxes
  • Building and managing budgets
  • Setting financial benchmarks 
  • Supporting the CFO (if the business has one) 
  • Ensuring tax compliance 
  • Coordinating and reconciling audits 
  • Managing accounting staff
Key Qualities of a Financial Controller

Hiring the ideal financial controller is a significant decision that can impact your business for better or worse. With so much riding on the role, it is paramount that you look for the right skills and qualities. 

This includes:   

Accounting Experience 

While this may seem like an obvious prerequisite, most financial controller candidates will have at least a decade’s worth of experience in managerial or senior financial accounting roles. Naturally, specific experience requirements are contingent on the company’s size and the accounting department’s intricacies. 

The time accrued within various accounting departments provides them with business insights that they can leverage in the future. And although they probably won’t be crunching the numbers, they must know how to. As Entrepreneur notes: 

A controller’s job is not to do data entry. Her job is to supervise it and make sure it’s done fast, accurately, and securely. She’s an enormous fan of technology and looks for new applications, services, and tools to keep her department (and others) running productively and with minimal resources. She gets reports. She analyzes. She directs. She manages. She advises. She takes action.     

A controller should be capable of handling an assortment of accounting related-tasks, including reviewing invoices, managing accountants, and negotiating contracts. Additionally, they must be up to date with your industry’s various regulations and compliance requirements. 

An Ability to Accurately Compile and then Translate the Numbers 

Along these lines, a controller must have a clear grasp of an accounting department’s inner workings. This includes:

Regardless of the business’ size, there will inevitably be a wealth of financial data that needs to be recorded accurately and promptly. For that, you want an organized and detail-oriented individual capable of ensuring that the books are in order. But the role does not stop once the books are compiled. 

Rather, a controller must look at the numbers and extrapolate the integrity of the data. If there are errors, they need to be corrected—if there are growth opportunities, they need to be pursued. 

A great financial controller can analyze the numbers and clearly communicate the truths therein with various stakeholders, many of whom may lack financial literacy.   

Improving Reporting and Adding Value  

Reporting is the fundamental role of a financial controller. It’s an essential aspect of business success. 

A common problem companies face with reporting isn’t that the reports are inaccurate, but rather, they’re not very useful. They contain the numbers but lack actionable insights. Your financial controller must use the reporting to influence the overall business strategy. 

But what does that look like?  

According to Ernst and Young, useful reporting follows these practices: 

  1. Including more non-financial key performance indicators (KPIs)
  2. Delivering reports electronically, with interrogation tools
  3. Providing more added-value commentary
  4. Driving for relevance and brevity

By applying these elements to reporting, a controller can empower management and give them the tools they need to succeed. 

Leadership and Soft Skills 

Your controller will be leading large teams of financial and accounting experts. Leadership and team management skills are must-haves; they need to be able to command their team’s respect, inspire them to act, and ensure that such actions are aligned with your organization’s overall vision. 

A financial controller cannot do everything on their own. It takes a village. Along those lines, look for a controller that is capable of finding and then developing talented people. By investing in competent individuals, a controller creates internal efficiencies that provide immediate and widespread benefits to the company.  

Leadership is also an essential quality to look for because of the role’s innate pressures. The month-end, quarter-end, and year-end reporting periods are often chaotic, high-stress rushes to the finish. And it’s not just deadlines the controller has to worry about—accuracy and compliance need to be at the forefront too. 

A financial controller cannot wilt under pressure. Instead, you need a leader who can face adversity while seamlessly coordinating the various moving parts within your organization. A top-notch controller knows how to communicate precisely and listen actively. 

They have to be problem solvers, collaborators, and (sometimes) peacemakers.

Process Optimization  

A controller can help drive efficiency throughout your entire company. It is their job to look at the business’ internal processes and determine whether there is a better way to handle them. Finding areas to streamline the company—whether via accounting automation, transformation initiatives, or accounting tactics—is necessary for continuous growth. By optimizing these processes, they help reduce expenses and increase profitability. 

Keeping an eye toward a business’ change readiness makes it easier to address the inherent risks and opportunities. And this is where communication skills shine, since a financial coordinator relies on the various other teams—i.e., sales, marketing, development, etc.—to provide actionable information and apply the new policies.  

CFO Hub—Pairing the Perfect Controller with Your Business 

You know your company is growing when it comes time to hire a controller. But hiring the ideal candidate can make or break the business. It’s not easy to find a leader who has accounting experience, communication skills, and the ability to translate data into actionable insights. At least, it’s not easy to find someone like that on your own. 

This is where CFO Hub can assist. 

We have a stable of industry-leading financial controllers with experience in various sectors, including technology, manufacturing, eCommerce, biotech, and professional services. 

We find the perfect candidate—one who aligns with your organizational needs and goals—and then provide you with all of the financial and operational support your business requires. Your financial controller will have all the key qualities you’re looking for, and then some. 
To find that ideal match, reach out today for a free consultation.