Financial Controller Checklist: How to Find the Right Fractional Expert

A competent and effective financial controller can be crucial to your company’s economic health. A controller oversees the day-to-day financial operations such as staying on top of accounts receivable and payable, managing short-term cash flow and issuing payroll. They also ensure compliance, track metrics and forecast for future growth so that the business achieves its financial goals.

With so many moving parts involved, you need a financial controller who balances a breadth of competencies with an intimate understanding of how the company works and a clear view of your business goals. At Growth Operators, we help companies like yours by providing seasoned interim financial controllers. All of our Growth Pros come from operating backgrounds and arrive ready to execute on day one. We know how to match the right expert to the business. Below are considerations to keep in mind as you consider bringing on a controller.

What Makes a Good Financial Controller?

Companies need to balance daily operations with strategizing for growth and managing risk. Private equity firms have a distinct set of financial management needs that include scrutinizing potential investments and monitoring the performance of portfolio companies.

A good controller not only manages your day-to-day operations, they review existing functions and processes to improve efficiency, reduce costs and make sure that your outlook remains healthy.

3 Essential Qualifications for a Financial Controller in Private Equity

When hiring an interim financial controller for an operating company, consider the following qualifications:

  1. Educational background: Controllers require a bachelor’s in accounting at a bare minimum but a CPA or MBA in accounting or finance is often a strong indicator of a candidate's foundational knowledge.

  2. Experience: Look for prior roles in private equity or sectors with similar financial intricacies. Finding a fractional financial controller with experience in a particular industry is a considerable asset. A deep understanding of processes and compliance issues is also required.

  3. Tech-savviness: A recent study on hiring banking and finance personnel highlights the need for controllers, CFOs and other finance candidates to demonstrate expertise in information technology (IT) to be competitive. Familiarity with industry-specific financial software is a must in today's digital age.

Beyond the Resume: 3 Crucial Soft Skills

While qualifications are crucial, the right soft skills can make or break the fit.

1. Communication is paramount. Can the controller effectively convey intricate financial concepts to the business owner and stakeholders? The most competent controller may struggle when it comes to getting the green light if they can’t articulate and internally sell their strategies.

Additionally, the controller needs to keep teams on track and aligned with your business goals. If they foresee obstacles, they need to clearly communicate any issues along with developing a workable plan around them and then get the team on board with a new direction.

2. Analytical thinking is essential. An effective controller will continually dissect financial data for actionable insights. They reevaluate processes for accuracy, compliance and efficiency and automate them to save time and costs.

Analytical skills are necessary when identifying which metrics to track in order to ensure the overall health of the organization. A controller keeps close watch on these KPIs to monitor profitability and solvency.

3. Adaptability ensures the controller is able to navigate changes inherent to the ever-evolving world of private equity investments. They help the company make smart decisions and continually adapt to changing business models and financial environments.

As a company grows and financial management needs change, a good controller has the resources to not only adapt themselves, but keep your financial teams on track through changes both good and bad.

Financial Controller Considerations

Below, we’ve created a list of considerations to help you determine the skills, background and personality you want in your fractional financial controller. These will help you understand key qualifications as well as how they respond in various situations.

Skill and experience considerations:

  • What is their management style?

  • What types of compliance experience do they have?

  • What financial software/applications are they competent in?

  • Can they leverage an experienced team and network?

  • Do they know where and when to get specialized insights to situations they may be facing?

Scenario-based considerations:

  • How would they respond to a sudden market downturn?

  • Do they understand the metrics that are most important to you?

  • How would they adapt to new technology?

  • Can they troubleshoot errors?

Cultural fit:

  • Do their values and visions align with the company?

  • Would you trust them to handle conflict within the team?

  • Is this someone that can integrate into the leadership team?

  • Is this someone you can be around?

Why Hire a Financial Controller?

The role of a financial controller is vast. Here are three reasons you may need a financial controller:

people analyzing data in notebook, computer, and ipad

Strategic Financial Oversight

A financial controller offers strategic oversight to ensure that your investment objectives align with your operating company’s financial goals. They effectively interpret financial data, forecast trends, and provide actionable insights so that you and the leadership team can make informed decisions.

Efficient Financial Operations

Beyond strategy, a controller manages the day-to-day financial operations. This includes verifying accurate financial reporting, managing cash flows, overseeing budgets, and ensuring compliance with financial regulations. A financial controller streamlines these operations to ensure that the financial machinery runs smoothly.

Risk Management

The world of business is replete with both opportunities and risks. A financial controller, with their depth of financial knowledge and analytical prowess, identifies potential financial risks and implements appropriate strategies to mitigate them so that the company stays on track with its goals.

Start from a Position of Strength

Often, you seek a financial controller to help you fix difficult situations. While putting out fires is critical, proactively utilizing an interim controller allows you to start every year from a position of strength. This means creating a solid revenue forecast with spend in line so that you achieve your EBITDA goals.

When Should You Hire a Financial Controller?

Here are three indicators that it’s time to start benefiting from a financial controller’s skills:

Scaling Up

As an operating company grows, so does the complexity of its financial operations. As you transition from startup phase to a scaling phase and your financial challenges multiply, a dedicated financial expert, like a controller, can offer stability and guidance.

Increased Portfolio Complexity

If you’re in the process of diversifying your portfolio, either in terms of the sectors it covers or the geographies it spans, a financial controller can help manage this added complexity. An experienced controller can also navigate the nuanced financial requirements of different industries and regions to ensure your investments remain solvent.

Major Transactions

If you’re gearing up for a major transaction such as a significant acquisition or a merger, the preparatory phase is an opportune time to bring a financial controller onboard. Their expertise is invaluable during due diligence and can also ensure that a company’s financial health remains robust during the transition.

In essence, for operating companies, a financial controller isn't just a role—it's a strategic asset. Recognizing the signs of when to integrate this asset can be the difference between merely surviving and thriving.

During Economic Downturn/Uncertainty

As businesses go through times of uncertainty or economic challenges, a strong controller can help the leadership team understand where challenges and opportunities are. Controllers partner with business leaders to implement cost management strategies and identify areas of the business to manage through challenging times. Controllers help define and track progress against business objectives to help lead the company through the difficulties and position it for future growth and profitability as the environment changes.

The Importance of a Fractional Financial Controller for Scaling Firms

For growing businesses, hiring an outsourced financial controller offers a sweet spot of expertise without the commitment of a full-time employee. This approach provides cost-effectiveness and unparalleled flexibility when you’re scaling your business. It also offers a higher level of expertise immediately, without downtime, allowing the business to run smoothly.

Citation: Marta Maria Maranda de Costa, “How to hire in finance and banking : the case of a human resources consulting firm” Catholic University of Portugal.