Machine learning in accounting is changing how startups manage their finances. Learn how it could apply to your business.
June 28, 2021
A financial controller is a seasoned accounting professional who is responsible for the financial operations, management, and regulatory compliance of a company.
It’s not uncommon for startups to use a DIY bookkeeping process or hire a part-time bookkeeper to save money when they’re first starting out. But as the business grows, its finances become more complex, or its gearing up for a big fundraise, it may be time to consider bringing on the support of a controller.
Controllers oversee every aspect of a company’s financial operations. The functions of a financial controller vary across companies depending on the business size, complexibility of the business, and industry. They often include (but are not limited to):
Regardless of the above considerations, there are a number of key responsibilities and skill sets a good startup controller should embody:
As the leader of your startup’s finances, a controller must know the ins and outs of accounting and compliance best practices; from reporting structure and audit trails, to the best vendors and fintech tools, to proper permits, licenses, or operating requirements for your business.
A controller must also have meaningful expertise surrounding Generally Accepted Accounting Principles (GAAP) and be fluent in accrual accounting method, the required financial reporting standard for businesses earning $5M or more in annual revenue.
As you strategize to grow your business, you'll require a deeper understanding of your cash flow and how to better manage it. You’ll also need to ensure your financial operations are compliant to various local, state, federal, global, and/or industry-specific accounting laws and standards.
A controller develops and implements financial policies and processes that are both tailored to your company's needs and goals, and manages these internal controls within compliance to ensure your business is running audit-ready financial operations.
The controller oversees all employees involved in the accounting process, including accounts receivable, accounts payable, payroll, inventory, and compliance. They also act as the link between the businesses' financials and other managers and executives.
For this, strong communications skills and a leadership mindset are important to improve the company's financial functions, motivate the accounting team, and communicate with stakeholders at the most senior level of a business.
Beyond ensuring the basic day-to-day accounting tasks and financial reporting are completed accurately and in a timely manner, a good financial controller anticipates the information needs of management, and provides timely financial data, analysis, trends, and recommendations based on these needs.
Numerical proficiency, organization, good problem-solving and analytical skills, and excellent use of logic are important traits and skills of a controller. When it comes to more formal qualifications and certifications, there are two notable requirements:
The role of financial controller is an intensive one and requires between 7-10 years of experience. It's important they have a strong background in accounting and applicable experience in your specific industry or business vertical.
A financial controller is usually a Certified Public Accountant (CPA), Chartered Accountant (CA) or Certified Management Accountant (CMA), meaning they have specific knowledge in financial planning, auditing, and general accounting functions. A four-year bachelor's degree in accounting, finance, or business administration is often required.
It’s not always obvious which roles you should be hiring for in your company or when to do so. For many high-growth startups, hiring for the financial side of a business presents its own set of complexities, among them whether to hire a controller or a CFO.
In short, the key distinction between a controller and CFO are as follows:
A controller oversees the accounting operations of a company, while a CFO is the senior executive responsible for managing the financial actions of a company.
As your startup grows and accounting needs become more complex, it often becomes necessary to hire a financial controller to manage the ledgers and ensure full compliance.
A few signs your startup is ready to hire a controller include:
For early stage startups that need to put better processes and guardrails around their startup finances, but don’t quite need a full-time controller, a solution like Zeni is a great choice.
Zeni is capable of performing all of the core tasks of a controller, plus those of a bookkeeper, accountant, tax specialist, and CFO. With Zeni, startups have access to every type of finance expert they might need, all working on the same platform and e team.
Working with Zeni means:
From monthly bookkeeping and accounting services to controller and CFO services, Zeni is the full-service solution your startup needs. Schedule a demo of Zeni today!