Seven questions about the financial controller service

The financial controller service has been added to the list of BDO Estonia services, which focuses on business-critical issues and covers topics related to financial management, including corporate accounting, financial and regulatory reporting, budget and forecast preparation. We talked to Helen Kutser-Sannik and Anneli Tamla, the financial controllers of BDO Estonia, who introduced us in more detail to what the job of a financial controller includes.

Helen joined the BDO Estonia team in 2016 as an auditor. By quickly acquiring new knowledge, showing initiative, and taking responsibility, Helen became the project manager of the audit business line. Helen has long-term work experience as a project manager in various assurance practices, such as audit (including reporting to group auditors), inspection, auditor control of packaging report, control of the legality of transactions, etc. From the fall of 2022, Helen became the project manager of BDO Estonia's accounting business line, providing clients with both accounting and controller services.

Anneli joined the BDO Estonia team in 2016 as an auditor. Ambition, bold initiative, and excellent ability to collaborate quickly led her to the position of audit project manager. From the fall of 2021, Anneli is a member of the business outsourcing and reporting team, where in addition to daily accounting services, she also offers the financial controller service to a production company. Her main tasks include analysis and presentation of local financial data to the group, participation in the budget process, and contributing to the smooth execution of external and internal auditor controls.


The title of financial controller sounds very important and exciting. What does a person with such a title do in these work sections, and why is this position necessary for the company?


The financial controllers essentially starts their work when the accountants are ready with their books. They prepare detailed reports for the management and the group, check the execution of the budget, analyze income and expenses, and look for reasons where and why the budget and the actual result differ, etc. In smaller companies, the role of the controller is often performed by either the (chief) accountant or the manager himself, but as the company grows, it makes sense to separate these functions. That helps regulate the volume of work, and since the person entering and verifying the data is not the same, errors are more easily detected.


One of the functions of the controller is also change management. Often, any change is initially difficult or even unpleasant, whether it is the introduction of new accounting principles, the introduction of programs, or any other activity or action that has previously been done in a different way. The controller is a valuable intermediary in such situations, whose role is to ensure a smooth transition.


When it is said that the job of the financial controller is to focus on business-critical issues, what does that include?


Often the management of the company does not have an accounting background, and it is not necessary for their daily work. The task of the management is to lead the company in the direction of profit, and for this, it is necessary to make right decisions. In order to make decisions, however, it is necessary to know how big the expenses are for the production of certain products or the provision of services. In addition to material costs, general costs, such as electricity, room rent, labor costs, etc., must also be taken into account. This is where the controller comes to help the management, who prepares various analyses, graphs and tables, on the basis of which it is easier to get an overview and make new decisions.


Several members of your team have previous work experience in the field of financial assurance and audit services. How useful is it for reporting, forecasting and budgeting?


The work of controllers is similar to that of auditors One of the most critical tasks of both controllers and auditors is to analyze company data and see the bigger picture. At the same time, controllers must also have a strong technical background, such as proficiency in accounting programs, to know where and what kind of raw data they can obtain. Auditors typically use Excel extensively to check records and perform a large part of the analysis. Similarly, controllers are expected to use Excel, PowerBI, and other similar tools for reporting, including preparing various analyses, graphs, charts, and presentations to report the results. Based on this, management can make decisions on how to move the company forward to achieve better results, such as identifying departments that are making a profit or loss, directing more energy towards specific areas, and forecasting for the next months.


Therefore, in our opinion, it is easier for a former financial auditor to take over the position of a controller than an accountant, although accounting experience is also valuable. Our team comprises both former financial auditors and professionals with long-term accounting experience, all of whom have extensive management experience.


What about the work rhythm and when is the financial controller's peak load?


The work rhythm for financial controllers is similar to that of accountants. Generally, the busiest period is during the first two weeks of the month, but it can vary depending on specific tasks and when the financial results of the month need to be recorded in the accounts. From a reporting perspective, it is crucial to know the date by which the company expects information. This can vary between companies, with some closing their month on the first few working days of the month, while others have more time. The financial controller's peak load also depends on the company's size and complexity, with larger companies typically having more transactions and data to process. In order to begin reporting, all accounting entries must be made and verified. It is common for important data to arrive in the accounting system just 1-2 days before the reporting deadline. However, the controller's work does not end once the reports are submitted, as management requires ongoing input from the controller.


If in the past it was customary to keep financial specialists close to management, there are now more entrepreneurs who entrust this work outside the company for cost savings, greater flexibility, or access to specialized expertise. What are the benefits of using an outside financial controller?


An external expert can bring a fresh perspective to the company's finances. Financial controller service providers often have extensive experience in financial auditing, allowing them to work effectively with large amounts of data while maintaining a high level of precision and attention to detail. Behind the service provider, there is often a global network of top players in different fields, including taxation, payroll, accounting, and HR, all of whom are available at their fingertips. By choosing an external service provider, the responsibility of fulfilling the position of financial controller becomes the task of the service provider. This means that recruitment, training, and education are no longer the responsibility of the company using the service.


Is it better to procure accounting and financial controller services from the same service provider, or from different providers? What are the pros and cons of each solution?


Both options have their positive aspects. If services are procured from the same provider, there is greater synergy between personnel. Colleagues are familiar with each other's work methodologies, and direct communication is guaranteed. On the other hand, using different service providers can help to keep functions separate and mitigate some risks. However, using different providers also comes with risks, such as potential communication gaps, coordination issues, or conflicting advice. Often, a combination of in-house accountants and outsourced financial controllers is used to balance the risks and benefits.


What can you say in conclusion?

The role of the financial controller is vital for companies to manage their financial data accurately and comply with applicable regulations. With the increasing complexity of financial regulations, having a dedicated financial controller is essential. They not only perform traditional financial reporting tasks but also play a crucial role in risk management by identifying and mitigating financial risks facing the company. The financial controller's expertise in analyzing financial data provides valuable insights to management, enabling informed decision-making to optimize costs and resources and increase profitability. Choosing between in-house or outsourced financial controller services depends on various factors and should be evaluated based on the company's specific needs. In conclusion, the financial controller's role is critical to a company's success in today's competitive and ever-changing business environment.

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