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How to Find a Good Comptroller

Today's comptroller must do much more than they used to.

As an employer, you have a comptroller whether you call them that or not. In fact, what a comptroller is literally called varies from organization to organization. Some say the word phonetically, while others spell “comptroller”, but say “controller”. In many companies, the full title is “financial controller”. Sometimes the CFO doubles as the comptroller. But in all cases, the comptroller is the person overseeing the accounting and financial reporting of your company…Or are they?

Traditionally, the duties of the comptroller included overseeing the day-to-day functioning of the financial department, monitoring accounting practices and cash flow (including accounts payable and accounts receivable, expenditures, budgets, etc.), and managing regular financial reporting. These duties scream routine. However, several economic forces have altered the role of comptroller, making it more demanding – and more in-demand.

The changing role of the comptroller

As globalization continues to “shrink” the world, intertwining economies evermore tightly, and as regulations, particularly regarding transparency, become more stringent, CFOs in larger organizations have had to exercise more soft skills than ever before, building stalwart relationships with more and more stakeholders and keeping an even sharper eye on risk management. As a result,An comptroller tears away his dress shirt like a superhero. CFOs have had to download some of their duties to the comptroller, forcing the once back-office figure further to the forefront.

The comptroller is now tasked with knowing a lot more about the holistic operations of their organization, including what the sales, marketing, and human resources departments are doing. These newly paved avenues grant the comptroller not only a greater presence – as they must now develop relationships with the heads of these departments – but greater prominence as well. Today’s comptroller is expected to play a part in the overall strategy of their organization, acting as a business partner, as many have put it, rather than working primarily behind the scenes.

So with so many more demands placed on the comptroller, what specifically does today’s successful comptroller bring to the table?

What to look for in a comptroller

Given how the role of the comptroller has evolved, it’s no surprise that, much like a CFO, a good comptroller has to employ a host of both technical and soft skills. However, as is discussed in our article about hard versus soft skills in other technical fields, such as engineering and IT, it’s important not to be too swayed by the hype of “soft skills”, which seems to have become something of a buzz term. As important as soft skills are, roles like that of the comptroller must still be heavily grounded in the accounting skills and knowledge that they are traditionally associated with. Specifically, your comptroller should demonstrate expertise in the following:

  • AccountingA baby at an abacus. Accounting is still the foundation for a comptroller.
    There are no ifs, ands, or buts, about this one. The comptroller is still the head accountant despite the added demands of their role. Firstand foremost, look for someone with an accounting designation, such as a CGA or CMA. That’s a no-brainer. But ensure that they also have a very comprehensive understanding of how an accounting department works.
  • Well-rounded finance knowledge
    Accounting isn’t the only area a comptroller should have a firm, holistic grasp on. They should have a keen understanding of finance in general. Everything from insurance to invoices should be familiar to them. In fact, almost everything your CFO knows, your comptroller should also be comfortable with.
  • Efficiency experience
    Since the comptroller is still at the end of the day responsible for financial reporting and a host of other processes, you want someone who not only has process management experience, but who can also demonstrate that they’ve employed creative problem solving and innovative thinking to streamline systems and save costs.
  • Software savvyA comptroller should be comfortable with different software programs.
    Related to process efficiencies is the software that helps realize those efficiencies. The comptroller is integral in selecting the software tobe used by the finance department. They should know not only how to use various enterprise resource planning (ERP) programs, but what makes one program more efficient and user-friendly than another so that they can be relied on to make informative decisions about program purchases.
  • Industry insight
    Since each industry comes with its own set of financial rules and regulations, finding a comptroller who’s worked specifically in your industry is a major plus.

As crucial as these skills and experiences are to a successful comptroller, so too are the following soft skills. In fact, when trying to hire a comptroller, it’s tempting to look at the above attributes as foundational and the soft skills below as icing on the cake. However, that wouldn’t be the best approach. The technical skills above and soft skills below must make up two sides of the same coin:

  • Communication skillsToday's comptroller must be a good communicator.
    As touched on above, today’s comptroller takes a more visible role in their company, playing a vital role in developing business strategy.This requires a lot of interaction with various stakeholders, from department heads to investors. And considering the highly technical nature of the information the comptroller deals with daily, they must be able to boil that information down into engaging bites that non-financial experts can easily consume.
  • Interpersonal skills
    On top of solid communication skills, a good comptroller must interact well with people. Being able to organize your thoughts and convey them compellingly is one thing, particularly if it’s in writing. But as a “business partner” interacting with many stakeholders, the comptroller must be able to carry on engaging and diplomatic conversations at the drop of a hat. This is especially important in maintaining a close and productive relationship with the CFO as the two will collaborate on everything from strategy to software choices.
  • Leadership skillsToday's comptroller must be a true leader.
    Always remember, especially at larger organizations, that your comptroller is a manager; they will be overseeing a team of accountants and other finance professionals.That’s why, in addition to communication and interpersonal skills, they need to know the ins and outs of leadership.


If you’re in need of a talented comptroller that can help take your business to the next level, please don’t hesitate to contact our team at Adecco Finance or, if you’re located in Western Canada, at Holloway Schulz & Partners.

Click here to visit Adecco Finance

Click here to visit Holloway Schulz & Partners

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