April 15, 2021

7 Best Practices for Financial Controllers in 2021

How Financial Controllers Can Approach 2021

As companies close the books on 2020, Financial Controllers and their accounting organizations are turning the page and looking forward to 2021. The year 2020 undoubtedly brought global disruption, and for many companies, this disruption fundamentally changed the way accounting organizations operate.

Financial Controllers and their teams navigated a shift to fully remote work and executed a remote close for the first time. Beyond stabilizing the close, Financial Controllers were also increasingly relied upon to support the CFO and executive leadership with real-time insights, analysis, and strategic partnership.

In shifting their focus to the future, Financial Controllers should look for opportunities to move past stabilization toward optimization. Leading Financial Controllers are making the move to modern accounting to create capacity, so they can not only meet compliance and regulatory requirements, but also support their company’s strategic objectives.

To enable the move to modern accounting, Financial Controllers can focus on the following best practices.

Unify & Document All Global Close Activities in the Cloud

With a disparate work force, Financial Controllers no longer have real-time visibility into the close process.

“You go from having immediate access to someone, sitting in a cubicle next to you or being able to get up and go into someone's office and ask a question, and everything that comes along with that, to needing other ways to work and communicate.” notes Thyra Williams, a former accounting close manager and current BlackLine product director.

To address this challenge, Financial Controllers should look to have all global close activities documented in one centralized location. This will help to drive accountability and also provide visibility into the status of the close.

Evaluate Policies, Procedures & Internal Controls

Once global close activities are documented in a centralized location, Financial Controllers should look to ensure continuity and control in their global close activities. Accounting organizations should review policies, procedures, workflows, and segregation of duties to identify gaps in the new environment.

There may be key internal controls or policies and procedures that need to be revised or established as companies operate in a new environment.

Identify & Measure Close-Related KPIs

“I would definitely want to see my close activities all in one space, with real-time updates of where we are in the close and what still needs to be done,” says Williams.

With centralization and control, Financial Controllers can better monitor the status and results of the close. They can leverage dashboards and KPIs routinely to identify trends, resolve issues, and gain real-time visibility into financial data.

Identify Areas to Execute Accounting Continuously  

With the increased visibility into the status and results of the close, Financial Controllers should look for bottlenecks in the process and identify opportunities for efficiency. One way to make the close more efficient is to identify areas for Continuous Accounting, like reconciling high volumes of data on a real-time basis, prior to period-end. Other opportunities for efficiency include automating workflows to ensure real-time notifications between team members or auto-certification for accounts with no changes for the period or other pre-determined criteria.   

Increase Efficiency by Automating Manual Processes

Financial Controllers should look to automate routine manual processes to save time and reduce risk. Areas for automation may include high volumes of transaction level data, financial data feeds from third party sources, manual journal entries, and many more.

In a traditional close environment, there are a lot of areas where accounting organizations are performing manual work. “I would try to automate transactions, ensure that systems feed into the general ledger seamlessly, and reduce the number of manual journal entries that would be required,” Williams recommends.  By focusing on automation, accounting organizations can increase efficiency and increase capacity to focus on other strategic objectives.

Centralize Supporting Documents

Financial Controllers should look for a tool to enable centralization of documentation. Adding supporting documentation and comments to global close activities, balance sheet reconciliations, and journal entries, gives Financial Controllers a single source of truth that is accessible from anywhere.

Accounting organizations usually rely upon shared drives, which can lead to version control issues, or hard-copy files, which limits accessibility. “I would be considering how to get supporting documents online and have them stored safely and properly. I would really be looking for a one-stop-shop,” says Williams.

Shift to Auditor Self-Service

Last but not least, Financial Controllers should enable a self-service practice for auditors. When company financial documentation is centralized, it enables auditors to access support for balance sheet reconciliations, internal controls, and other financial statement support—from wherever you’re working. This will help accounting organizations reduce time and effort spent supporting the audit.

Leading Financial Controllers Are Moving to Modern Accounting

Financial Controllers around the globe are embracing technology to optimize their accounting processes and move their organization to modern accounting. Leading accounting teams save time, reduce risk, and create capacity to support their organizations strategic objectives by leveraging technology solutions, like BlackLine, for the financial close.

Read this ebook for five ways technology can equip your F&A teams to move to modern accounting and thrive in this virtual world.

Katherine Becraft, Senior Manager of SAP Solutions Marketing

Modern Accounting