The Ever-Evolving Role of Financial Leadership
It’s 2019 and you need financial leadership. The hidden costs of not having a financial helmsman (or helmswoman) tend to stack up – from unoptimized pricing of products and services to revealing the lopsided cost-benefit of maintaining a bad client. You need someone who is able to identify the areas of your business that aren’t keeping up and help make suggestions to turn it around. 
When you’re looking for someone to fill this crucial role, there are some basic qualifications you should consider. The best finance executives have a background in accounting and/or finance, and have an intimate understanding of every function of accounting. They’re going to need to coordinate everyone else in the department and they need to know the ins and outs of those roles to be able to juggle effectively. 
That being said, the role of Controllers and CFOs have been altered significantly over the past decade. The modern Controller needs to be a lot more than the ‘bean-counter’ of yesteryear. More and more, soft skills are being emphasized as a must-have in the industry. The key financial lead can’t simply get by on making sure all the numbers add up, they need to be a leader for employees, and not just in their own department.
“Nowadays, businesses are looking for their finance departments to do more than track and report results, close the books every quarter, and establish guardrails for spending. Today’s finance executives are expected to recognize that planning involves data, decisions and people – not just spreadsheets and budget mandates. They’re now expected to work across the organization to model the business for growth, develop potential responses to likely scenarios (good and bad), align new initiatives with monetization, and deploy resources and investments where they’d drive new revenue. As an example, look no further than Twitter CFO Anthony Noto, who took the helm over this past Summer but is now announcing strategic product news for the burgeoning company.” 
Controllers and CFOs are expected to mine the data for key, actionable insights and apply that to business strategy. They need to work collaboratively with other departments to unearth fundamental truths and opportunities for the business. When you’ve found someone who can find true ROI and put that together with new opportunities, who can then turn around and rally the troops behind the new direction, you have great financial leadership.
The next five years are bringing even more changes to the field. Tomorrow’s financial leadership will be expected to consider the ‘triple bottom-line’ – the concept of considering impacts of not just profit, but people and planet on success metrics for a business. They’ll also play a key role in strategic inclusion of new technology and innovation. Bonus points to the Controller who can keep their finger on the pulse and show how a new technology will feed revenue growth for the business.
“They will lead the charge to adapt their organizations’ processes, pricing strategies, value propositions, technologies and capital expenditures to support the new centers of top-line growth.” 
The original Controller needed to keep track of all the money flowing in and out of the business, knew where the ROI was positive or negative, and was able to keep track of all the financial balls in the air and who was juggling them. The contemporary Controller needs to do all of that, but also has to be a key strategic thinker and bring actionable insights to the table. They need to lead not only their own department, but use their strategic insights to rally the business behind new opportunities.
The Controller of the future will need to put all of that information in the context of their industry and society at large. How will our decisions today play out in the future? How will we affect or be affected by sociological or ecological shifts outside of our walls? How will the latest innovations in technology impact our business and how might we use that to capitalize on growth opportunities? The very best in financial leadership will already be considering these questions as they strive to bring new ideas and information to the table.
“The most successful FCs are really in tune with the business and have empathy with the people driving the strategy. They spend more time out in the business working through and advising on the financial and control implications of delivering the strategy than they spend in the office pulling the numbers together.”