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What We Need From Controllers

There is a push by accounting firms worldwide to provide outsourced accounting services. At an initial level of producing some monthly financials and a commentary, that’s not too hard. It’s very much in the wheelhouse of what firms are used to doing.   

But the real gold for clients and firms alike is to move up into Virtual Controller services. Not only will your clients love the insight and development of their finance function, but it embeds the firm deeper, AND, provides huge job satisfaction for the team members. You can’t underestimate this!   

An aspect often missed when considering controller services is that the No1 priority for the Controller should probably be providing technology solutions to improve key processes. Many firms focus on the analysis, budgeting and forecasting, which is good, but only part of the solution. But what is the tech stack the client is using?  What does an ideal technology solution look like? Developing a strategy and goals for improvement in internal processes should be top on a Controllers list.   

A recent presentation by Deb Defer of Woodard at the BDO Alliance Evolve Conference highlighted key areas a Controller should be focusing on.   




When you look down these lists, technology solutions are the heart of many of them. What payroll software is the client using – is it optimal and what other offerings are there? How is Sales Tax / VAT managed? What purchasing and payment approval processes are there, and have they been automated? What accounts receivable automation is used? How is the accounting software utilized and what features are underused? What job costing / time recording / inventory management (depending on the client) software is used and what improvements could be made? The list is endless. Firm principals can help the team and client brainstorm the plan, and the strategy will not only provide huge benefit to client, but your firm looks proactive and savvy – and your virtual controller has value add work for the next 12 months in the bag. 

This is challenging for firms whose staff are probably not skilled in this area. In my experience getting staff on secondment to clients, even at low margin, for at least a 3 month stint, is a great way for them to understand from the inside – and will set them up well to offer services to other clients. Alternatively hiring those from industry who are used to this – but it’s a tough transition back to public accounting for many, so hire with caution. 

If you want to learn more about how to move your team towards controllership services contact Deb Defer at visit their website at or connect with her on LinkedIn at (99+) Deborah Defer | LinkedIn 


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Giles Pearson  |  After 18 years as a partner with a large public accounting firm, Giles founded Accountests to help those recruiting accountants make better hiring decisions

Accountests  |  Accountests deliver the world’s only online suite of annually updated and country-specific technical skills, ability and personality tests designed by and for accountants and bookkeepers. 

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