Finance Director vs Financial Controller
Most companies have an individual in a senior Finance role. Often the title given is one of Director, other times it is Controller, many times it’s confusing to understand the difference.
At its simplest, the Finance Director “directs” and the Controller “controls”.
Many growing organisations do not have a clear understanding of the two positions, often overlooking the value that a Finance Director can bring to their business. All organisations can see significant value added by a Finance Director – often it’s just a question of determining what level of Finance direction is needed, and for the typical SME a part –time FD is often an ideal solution.
Whether full time or part time it can be very valuable to have a team member with 30 years’ experience in business, the beauty of part time is that a company doesn’t have to pay for the experience 100% of the time.
To determine the level of financial leadership a company requires, and the right mix of Financial Controller / Part Time FD, it’s important to look at the differences between the two roles.
Understanding the Duties of the Finance Director and Controller
The Financial Controller is often thought of as the head of the accounting department, although this role shouldn’t be confused with that of a bookkeeper. The primary function of the Controller is to maintain and operate the books and records of the business, looking back at data already generated.
Under the guidance of the Finance Director a Controller also maintains standard operating procedures for all accounting and bookkeeping functions. The FD is the financial leader of the business.
While the primary function is to look ahead, the Finance Director must also be able to understand past financial performance in order to accurately predict the organization’s financial future.
The chart below summarises the key differences between the two roles – obviously the level of importance and experience / time required varies between the size and complexity of Companies:
|Corporate Strategic Planning|
|a) Participation in strategy discussions|
|b) Selection of initatives|
|c) Creation of financial plan (p/l, b/s, cash)|
|Risk management strategy|
|Internal Control Strategy|
|Market / Product / Competitive Analysis|
|Functional oversight / management|||
|Non-finance staff areas (HR, IT, etc.)|
|Manage Accounts Receivable - billing/collection|
|Manage Accounts Payable - payment/discounts|
|Cost Accounting (job cost, per unit, etc.)|
|Reconcile Bank accounts/loans|
|Issue basic financial statements|
|Design and maintain Chart of Accounts|
|Month end close process|
|Compliance with GAAP|
|Design Management reports|
|Prepare Management reports|
|Develop Action Plans from Mgt Reports|
|Design Financial Statements: historical & projections|
|Prepare Financial Statements: historical & projections|
|Develop Performance Measurements|
|Maintain Performance Measurements|
|Operational Reporting package|
|Develop Action Plans|
|Develop Budget targets and other financial plans|
|Facilitate budget process: accountability, schedule|
|Prepare budgets & forecasts|
|Project cash flows|
|Review Capital requests/approval process|
|Process Capital requests|
|Internal Controls / Audit|||
|Design and review Policies and Procedures|
|Maintain Policies and Procedures|
|Review Internal Control system|
|Maintain Internal Control system|
|Manage Auditor relationship|
|Prepare Audit information/schedules|
|Develop Action Plans relative to internal control needs|
|Board of Directors / Investors|||
|Board reporting - preparation/delivery|
|Maintain investor relations|
|Contracts / Outsourced functions|||
|Negotiate Outsourced functions|
|Maintain Outsourced functions|
|Maintain insurance coverage|
|M&A / Divesture activities|||
|Develop M&A targets|
|Investment / Funding Activities:|||
|Develop banking relationships|
|Maintain banking relationships|
|Arrange debt financing|
|Conduct equity placements|
|Monitor cash balances|
There is a significant difference between the strategic and tactical value that FDs brings to the executive leadership teams of their respective organisations, and that of Controllers.
For example, the Controller’s role is to provide financial statements and gross profit statements showing a 5% decline in the company’s quarterly revenue. The FD’s role is to evaluate and explain the causes behind the decline; they look beyond the numbers to see root cause, as well as the corrective actions needed.
The Value of a True Finance Director
The FD holds a variety of responsibilities, including cash management, budgeting, compliance, internal controls, corporate credit and collection, audit, financial planning and strategic planning. The Finance Director acts as a trusted advisor to the executive leadership team, working as a sounding board when key decisions are being discussed.
The most significant value provided by a FD often centres around the area of financial oversight and management. Analysis of the reports provided by the Controller enable the Finance Director to generate working capital and forecast information. Analysing and reviewing monthly P&L statements, balance sheets and cash flows provides the information needed to drive toward data-based decisions.
Ultimately, the FD works to correlate operational and financial data provided by the finance department so that the executive team understands the financial impact of decisions in real-time.
Growing businesses cannot often afford, or may simply not require, the services of a full-time FD. Yet, they may be seeking the forward thinking skill sets that such professionals bring to the table. A part-time FD can often provide the needed financial expertise and direction at a fraction of the cost, creating affordable options for small and growing businesses.
A part time FD who functions on an as-needed basis can become a trusted advisor to the MD, offering key business, financial and operational insights needed to control and shape the direction of the organisation.
Although there are no hard and fast rules (and turnover for service based companies will have a lower threshold than these typical non service company thresholds), as a general guide:
Assuming the firm is in fund-raising mode with limited staff, it may want to consider a part time Finance Director with fund-raising capabilities and outsource the basic accounting (ie. Controller) functions until they can build a management team. Typically the fund-raising will be more efficent and successful if an experienced Part-time FD has been used to prepare the Business model and Competitive analysis.
Under £10M in Sales
Full-time Book keeper / Controller + Part Time FD for significant events (acquisition, major contracts, etc.) and monthly overview / guidance. Consider a fund-raising Part Time FD if capital is needed.
£10M – £40M
Typically the same as under £10M, but will have controller and maybe finance staff unless the firm is in rapid expansion, secured substantial investment or in rapidly changing environment (new pricing models, etc.). If firm is going public, generally a full time FD is added to oversee process.
Assuming firm is looking to grow, then a full time FD is likely to be appropriate – even then much will depend on the underlying complexity of the operations (overseas trading, multiple customers, manufacturing operations). The skill level need will vary with the company’s needs (e.g. acquisitions, new systems, managing non-finance areas, etc.)
Not withstanding a full time FD, in many cases it is very worthwhile to also use an experienced part time FD for significant projects, or independent view point to the Board.
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