Enabling Agile Finance: The Strategic Toolkit for the New Age Financial Controller

~ 9 min read | October 12

The role of a financial controller has been significantly evolving over the years especially in fast-growth SaaS businesses. Today, a financial controller is expected to deal with more than just accountancy and finance issues and foray into the role of a strategic business advisor who engages with external stakeholders. In SaaS, the revenue implications of every function are further amplified since success is defined by how long subscribers are retained after every billing cycle. Hence, SaaS financial controllers need to venture beyond to a more strategic role to and steer the business to growth. And in order for the new age controller to drive their finance teams to rethink operating models and become agile, being abreast of new technologies is key. 

Software plays a crucial role in helping finance teams automate their long-standing pain points giving them an opportunity to focus on business strategy. By adopting the necessary tools, the controller can focus on extracting patterns and insights from data instead of maintaining and exporting it on a spreadsheet. 

The Strategic Controller

A report from IMA and Deloitte examines the controller’s role in depth and divides the role into four components:

  • Steward: managing risk and preserving assets
  • Operator: maintaining efficient and effective finance operations
  • Strategist: shaping the future of the company
  • Catalyst: helping to drive execution

Most controllers devote nearly 70% of their time to the traditional steward and operator roles, which include blocking and tackling day-to-day responsibilities. However, they would like to reduce the amount of time spent on these activities in order to shift their focus to catalyst and strategist responsibilities.

So, what stops them? The most basic reason for these obstacles is that a controller’s role doesn’t explicitly state “strategy” as a responsibility. While a CFO is required to lead and bring in change and innovation, it is increasingly becoming an inexplicit requirement for the controller too. 

Deloitte and IMA role of a controller report
Controllers’ main obstacles to spending time on desired areas of focus

To play a more strategic role in driving the company’s growth, the controller needs to focus on leveraging new technology in order to stand out. In fact, inadequate information systems (39%) was cited as the second biggest roadblock to taking on a more strategic role

Implementing the right toolkit for finance-led business planning provides controllers the opportunity to be adaptive – pre-empt changes and plan ahead for it – and in turn, allows their organization to react quickly to change. Let’s look at what modern controllers need in their arsenal to unlock strategy in finance.

Tools for the Strategic Controller

We spoke to a bunch of finance leaders who have thrived in changing business landscapes and noticed that their agility was strongly supported by the tools they used. Their tools are divided into two categories,

  1. Automation tools
  2. Forecasting and Analysis tools

(1) Automation Tools

According to McKinsey, about 40% of finance activities can be automated. Now, with the rapid speed of technological growth, we can only imagine this number to increase.

McKinsey - what can be automated in finance

Automation tools can be useful in 4 functions within the finance teams. They are,

Accounting

SaaS accounting could be quite an arduous task. Mid-cycle changes such as cancellations, upgrades, pauses, and downgrades add an extra level of complexity to this accounting. (You can read more on this in our ‘Complete Guide to SaaS FinOps’).

Implementing automation from day one for repetitive processes such as accounting for recurring billing or reporting gives the finance teams more time to concentrate on tasks that require strategic decision-making. 

Popular accounting software include Quickbooks and Xero.

Payroll

Payroll software helps track employee time and attendance, improves compliance, withholds the appropriate tax, and generates tax forms. Automating payroll can not only help one stay compliant but also ensures regular payout for the employees for their work. Gusto and Namely are some of the widely used software for payroll.

Customer Payment Processing

The global average rate of cart abandonment in 2020, is 75.6% – Truelist

Truelist did a survey of cart abandonment rates in 2020 and found that the global average is at an alarming 75.6%! Apart from the general cold feet of customers, the other biggest reason is the unsupported payment method. 

Siloed payment solutions may not suit or adapt well to the specific needs of merchants and marketplaces Moreover declined transactions, and long latency times for approvals can damage the goodwill and reduce customers’ lifetime value. This can be avoided by integrating multiple payment support. Many fast-growing companies rely on multiple payment gateways to expand into new markets, geographies, and industries.

Drawboard, an Australian PDF markup software company, caters to different geographies. A portion of Drawboard’s customers preferred paying via wire transfer along with card payments. With Chargebee’s multi-currency support, the team was able to have ‘local financial representation’, which allowed for transfers across borders far easier. This way, they could expand their operations to new markets across the globe.

Billing Intelligence

The core business of billing software is to efficiently process, collect, and account for money paid by customers. In matters of recurring billing with upgrades, pauses, and downgrades, billing gets very complicated. That’s why it’s important to think beyond a billing software that processes payments to a billing intelligence platform that has many integrations and ties in different functions of your business together. 

Chargebee offers a platform for SaaS businesses to not only manage recurring billing but also helps manage other aspects such as the lifecycle of the business, dunning, and churn prevention. It also helps sync data between other sales and accounting automation software.

(B) Reporting & Analysis

Forecasting

The modern controller needs a single source of truth that could help highlight the right data and the right insights in a useful way. This can help in experimenting, financial analysis, and forecasting on a consistent basis. Based on your metrics, your financial forecasts need to be altered to match the changing scenarios every quarter.

For example, Rise Vision used third-party analytics tools that showed invoice-deep data. Since they ran their metrics on invoice information, their MRR was not a true representation of their revenue numbers as it did not take into account information such as promotional credits — something that Rise Vision issued in abundance to push for better product engagement and higher renewal. Chargebee’s RevenueStory provided a 360-degree view of the transaction and customer-level metrics. With the help of this, the team at Rise Vision saved 50% of their time that was spent reconciling numbers earlier.

Data Visualization

Organizations today have access to more quality data than ever from internal and external sources. Thanks to the wide array of analytical and cognitive technologies available for the finance teams, these teams are able to provide critical information for organizational decision-making. However, this story knitted by data might not be coherent to everyone.

Here’s where data visualization comes into place. Data visualization helps complement analytics and related data-crunching tools to provide user-friendly reports that can be tailored for a specific audience. This gives clarity and helps to convey the same story to everyone across the organization in a way they would understand.

Today’s technology offering in the area of visualization tools falls under three main categories.

  • Design-focused visualizations: These tools are quick to set up, offer multiple capabilities, have access to data from different parts of the organization. It is a great choice for an organization that is beginning to familiarize its teams with visualization due to its ease of use. Vendors include Tableau, Qlik, and others.
  • Business Intelligence tools: They are broader in their nature and include vendors such as IBM, Oracle, SAP, etc,. They can address complex platform needs but might need IT support to integrate these tools with underlying data and related applications. 
  • Open-source tools: D3 is one of the best tools for this purpose. It requires a certain level of proficiency in JavaScript, HTML, and other coding languages. Open-source tools help develop interactive visualizations within websites, such as interactive maps, demographic trends, and other forms of data-driven insights.

Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP)

While traditional ERPs are not equipped to match the needs of the new age controller, next-generation ERPs such as SAP S/4 and Oracle Fusion, change the name of the game. These systems offer capabilities to handle large amounts of data and provide real-time analytics for an enhanced user interface. They also offer a simpler data model and enable easier integration to help build agile finance capabilities.

Ernst & Young suggests that to become truly agile, finance leaders need to think about automation technologies that will embed intelligence in the manual processes. 

EY Agile CFO chart

As any business grows, the complications it faces, increase. And to combat those complications, the once traditional role of the controller has evolved. Furthermore, the expanding role of the controller shows the importance of their presence beside the CFO and why finance controllers deserve a seat at the table

The new age controller is expected to straddle all three personas – accounting, strategic finance, and leading – with finesse. And the cornerstone to said finesse is an integrated toolkit. The authors of the book Nine Keys to World-Class Business Process Outsourcing rightfully said: “The value is in the integrated toolkit, not any individual tool.” A cohesive toolkit will be the distinguishing factor from the best financial controllers to the rest. Hence, a comprehensive financial tech stack – that integrates seamlessly and serves as a single source of truth – should be a controller’s best friend.  

For instance, Chargebee ensures:

  • Seamless billing and invoicing
    • Consolidated invoices – accurate invoices sent on time, packed with all the relevant information
    • Advance invoices – collecting payments for any number of future renewals for a subscription
    • Global tax support – staying on top of tax rules in every country that you’re selling to
  • Solid accounting integrations from the get-go – smooth pairing with popular finance tools like Xero, Quickbooks, and Stripe
  • All the essential nitty-gritty of payments, automated 
  • Accurate and real-time reporting – assessing the health of your business at the tap of a button

A cohesive financial toolkit will help shape the strategy of an organization, but it would also enable controllers to become more agile.

If you’re a strategic financial controller reading this, and if you feel pumped up to unleash the agile CFO in you, get in touch with our experts so that we can help you build your tech stack today!

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Sinduja Pk

I am the human version of Daria Morgendorffer minus the glasses | Marketing specialist @ Chargebee