We place lots of professionals in senior finance roles, and that’s hardly surprising: these roles are both perfect for flexible working and, in many cases, the drivers of mature flexible arrangements themselves. For this article we’ll focus on the role of finance controller to assess exactly why finance roles are so perfect for flexible, and explore whether we can apply what we’ve learned to other roles.
What does a finance controller do?
Very (very) broadly, finance controllers are in charge of the accounts department, responsible for the smooth day-to-day running of a company’s finances. Crucially, however, the role is largely about analysis rather than administration (more on this in a moment).
This is not a role where businesses can afford to scrimp. There are no shortcuts to flawless accounting, and the cost of errors or inefficient processes can be very high. As well as impeccable attention to detail and financial knowledge, financial controllers will probably find themselves juggling a lot of balls at once, often at pace, to inflexible deadlines or with a large amount of work tied to a certain time of year. Excellent organisational skills are a must, as is the confidence and competence to act swiftly and decisively.
In short, businesses need to hire the best – but the best come with a commensurate price tag, and rightly so. In a fast-paced environment – especially one where the division of labour is more fluid, like a startup – finance controllers can find themselves swamped with the day-to-day to to the extent that it hinders their ability to strategise.
Checking rather than doing
In order to be truly valuable, a finance controller needs to implement improved processes and tools to streamline a business’s day-to-day finance. Fighting individual administrative fires is a poor use of their overall skillset, especially because it lessons the time available for analysis and strategic assessment. A good finance controller looks to improve existing processes and create new ones to increase efficiency but also give themselves more time to add genuine value to a business.
Many of these improvements will come from increased automation. There’s no denying it: finance roles are and will be significantly affected by automation, and with good reason. As well as taking away much of the labour intensive “heavy processing”, there are some things that computers are simply better at. Chief among these are collecting and collating large amounts of data, and spotting patterns therein. What to do with that information is still largely beyond machines and likely to remain so for some time, so this is where a good finance controller steps back in. Automation is unlikely to reduce the need for this role, but it will change the principles of how the role operates.
If a finance controller has been successful in the early months of their role they should find that – through a combination of smart thinking and smart automation – their traditional workload has actually diminished significantly. As a good finance controller will command a good wage – and no business wants to pay staff to sit around and do nothing – flexible or part-time working frees up financial resources for the business and allows the finance professional either more time for strategic analysis or time to seek extra work.
Other functions where working smart might mean you work less hard:
- We’ve talked about some of benefits of flexible working for senior HR/talent roles in the past. In many ways senior talent roles are about designing and implementing a better way of doing things: better hiring structures (and teaching others to use them), better HR fundamentals and processes and a positive workplace culture that, when properly supported, should become self-sustaining. The better a senior HR/talent professional does, the less they may have to do (at least without strategy or innovation).
Outside learning and development, for free
If a finance controller is not working for your business every day of the week, you may find that they’re using their time to perform a similar role in other businesses. We’d label this a net positive for a variety of reasons:
- Exposure to different financial models and practices provides hugely valuable data for assessment. It’s all well and good to study different models, but actually operating and improving them is the best way to learn. This professional development comes at no risk, and no cost, to your business.
- Most finance controller roles will have an element of management to them, both up and down. The more people they manage – and the more diverse the group – the more rounded and developed this skillset will be.
In the past finance controller was seen very much as a full-time 9-5 role, with little opportunity to operate outside that framing. As automation increases (and as businesses embrace the greater productivity that flexible working tends to bring) we expect to see this attitude shift, with more senior finance professionals adopting multiple part-time roles .
Roles that can be done twice in a week:
- The freelance/contractor-based design career path is already well established (in fact many creatives spend most of their career working on comparatively short-term contracts via agencies). Juggle has already worked with creatives who fit multiple contracts into a week.
Accounting and finance
- Much of what we’ve discussed for finance controllers could easily be applied to other mid or senior level finance roles. Any role that consists of an iterative series of processes – but is done efficiently enough that it doesn’t take up 40+ hours a week – could be duplicated elsewhere.
The freedom to be truly organised
In the past we have observed that professionals most successful at “flex” are those that a) know to ask for what they need, and b) are cognizant of reciprocity for a successful working relationship. They need to be self-managing, well organised (and need to respect organisation as a key principle), good communicators and with an eye for innovation and automation within their day-to-day processes. They can’t afford to cut corners, but if a corner can be smoothed off through clever use of technology then they’ll do so.
In retrospect, therefore, it’s no surprise at all that finance controller is a role primed for flexible working, because the attributes that one needs to be a good flexible worker and a good financial controller are one and the same.
This is indicative of a broader point: flexible working demands a particular skillset and attitude, but it’s a skillset and attitude that can be developed and cultivated in full-time roles before flex is ever part of the equation. And the skills that flexible working needs and hones are massively beneficial, creating resilient, innovative and self-reliant staff.
How to get started with a flex culture
If you are ready to make your next hire a flexible one – be this full-time with flexible location, as described above, or part-time at 2 – 3 days per week – let Juggle help.
Our experienced flexible hiring team can help you identify top-quality professionals with flexible working experience as well as help you identify how to improve your culture to better support flexible working.
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