Pathways to prosperity
Former and current financial controllers – as well as those who train and hire them – say a number of factors have made the position a more vital one. They include:
• Regulation: The financial controller began to assume greater importance a decade ago, according to research by EY, with the imposition of post-Enron legislation designed to promote transparency.
• Globalization: The desire for access to Hong Kong and China by multinational corporations has created more financial controller roles at the regional and group senior levels.
• Delegation: As the CFO role becomes increasingly complex – especially in the field of fundraising – more strategic work is being handed off to financial controllers.
• Information: Accounting roles have moved closer to the heart of businesses, requiring the employment of more skilled financial controllers to oversee and disseminate financial data.
Auditors who end up working for an audit client often set out on the path to financial controllership. Thomas Tse, financial controller of MMG, a Hong Kong-listed metals company and a subsidiary of China Minmetals Corporation, followed this typical route.
Tse worked for KPMG before becoming senior finance manager at Haier Electronics Group Co. From there, he was headhunted to MMG after completing a master’s degree in business administration at City University of Hong Kong.
An Institute member, Tse stresses the importance of being able to talk among various levels of employees within a company. “A financial controller needs to communicate upward with the board and downward with his team,” he says.
In recent years, Tse adds, financial controllers have had to learn more sophisticated information technology analysis and reporting in real time. “Outside the finance aspects, a financial controller in a listed company also handles the increasingly important investor relations function,” he adds.
Tsang says the global financial downturn helped put more responsibility for company secretarial and compliance matters on financial controllers. “I think it is highly correlated to the difficult market environment,” he says. “Companies want to fully utilize such professionals.
At the Hong Kong office of Hays, a recruitment company, managing consultant Tim Smith also notices the changing role of financial controllers. “Companies are expecting that financial controllers are not only strong finance professionals, but also business partners able to work across the company and who can listen, persuade, negotiate and take decisions,” says Smith.
He adds that apart from “strong technical skills and sound knowledge of financial fundamentals,” soft skills are progressively important in the position. “Increasing market competitiveness and cost control initiatives are causing companies to demand their senior management to become versatile business partners,” he says.
Rupert Purse, a risk consultant and mergers and acquisitions adviser and a Hong Kong Institute of CPAs member, says in more cases, the financial controller, rather than the CFO, is the initial go-to person for a company pursuing a change of ownership or going public. “The financial controller will do the first cut of due diligence if a business is bought or sold. If the company is leading up to a listing, the financial controller puts the information and documentation together.”
Source: : HKICPA's APlus Magazine – October 2013