The traditional controller will be a thing of the past in 2030. More and more organisations share this conviction. Certainly, now that countless new technologies are coming onto the market that can perform the controller’s current tasks faster and more efficiently. But, where does this leave the controller? Will the controller still exist in 2030? And, if so, what role will he or she play? I think that a special role is reserved for controllers, especially with respect to analysis and consultative tasks.
Finance will undergo a profound transformation in the coming years due to big data and new technologies. Simple solutions, like digital invoicing, are only the tip of the iceberg. Innovations like blockchain, artificial intelligence and augmented reality will play an important role in the finance sector in the coming years. These developments will influence the controller’s role. After all, many of the tasks that are currently performed by a controller can be done faster and more efficiently with technology.
The robot collects, verifies and reports
It seems to be only a matter of time until robots will collect, verify and process financial numbers. Right now, these tasks are still time-consuming and complex. With a robot, these troubles will be a thing of the past. A robot will make sure that the facts and numbers are correct, in no time. A controller might then only be needed for the final check. Therefore, in this particular role, the controller adds little extra value. The robot also takes over the majority of the controller’s reporting tasks. Thanks to new technologies, everyone in an organisation will soon be able to request (near) real-time reports, while a controller reports on a monthly or quarterly basis. You’d think that this trend predicts the end of the controller’s role, wouldn’t you?
The controller’s new role
However, this is not the case. The controller’s role shifts towards a more analytical and consultative role. With artificial intelligence, data is available very fast, and the data is accurate, but who interprets the numbers? What do the numbers mean? And, which conclusions can you draw from them? Also, how will you advise and direct the business to make the right choices?
At the moment, organisations often still disregard analyses. In the future, controllers will spend more time telling the story behind the numbers. The controller will soon focus more on the relevant decisions’ financial impact. The controller will then advise the business based on his or her findings. This means the correct numbers, alone, will not suffice for the controller. He or she must also be able to convey the story. This calls for an understanding of the business, knowledge of IT, and the ability to look beyond one’s own organisation. This will enable the controller to signal risks and opportunities and to issue sound advice. In other words, controllers must develop new skills to generate maximum value for the business. Competencies that enable controllers to make broader use of their expertise in finance.
Which skills does the controller of the future need?
Which skills must the controller of the future have to create added analytical and consultative value? I will list the most important skills.
- The controller of the future is an analytics wizard. He feels at home in the world of analytics and knows how data flows in the organisation. He knows which tools are best to convert large volumes of data into relevant information. He combines financial numbers with operational and external data like social media data, demographic data and big data, to advise the business when asked and on his own initiative. By implementing analytics, the controller gets insights faster, can compare (future) scenarios and can assess risks.
- To ensure that analyses are relevant to his organisation, the controller of the future must have extensive knowledge of the business and strong social skills. He understands the hierarchy, gets the politics that are at play within the organisation, and knows which KPIs are important to the different managers. He is a leading figure within the organisation who knows how to negotiate and exert an influence. However, he also understands that the boundaries between the organisation and the outside world are fading. He looks for ways to cooperate and is alert to the developments outside of the organisation.
- Apart from business and external factors, the controller also camps out in his new role between finance and IT. He speaks the language of data professionals and has sufficient IT knowledge to support himself readily. The controller bridges the gap between the departments, promotes cooperation, and brings data streams together.
- New developments follow each other in rapid succession. The controller keeps a close watch on them in cooperation with the business. He investigates what impact new technologies might have on the business. How will you respond to and steer based on these developments? Which KPIs will you incorporate, as an organisation?
- Besides opportunities, the controller also identifies risks in the data. He is constantly aware of what is happening in the market. Any potential threats to the business? Are any developments in the social or political sphere likely to influence the organisation? Is the organisation still compliant?
Personally, I think the controller’s role will only become more interesting in the years to come. He or she will combine his or her current knowledge of finance with new skills. The controller will no longer be responsible for the numbers in the reports because this task will have been assigned to the robot. The controller’s added value is to take responsibility for the story behind the numbers. You most definitely cannot assign that role to a robot.
That’s why I encourage you to get started as soon as possible. Register for a seminar, follow workshops and courses. Improve your social skills, delve into the organisation and take a look behind the scenes of your partners and clients. After all, the controller who broadens his horizons now will have an excellent head start in 2030.
Which skills do you, as a controller, have to develop to be prepared for the future?