How CFOs and controllers can partner on finance automation

CFOs are increasingly focusing on strategic efforts beyond managing day-to-day financials, which is propelled partly by automation that has helped their lean finance teams accomplish more with fewer resources and greater autonomy.

This efficiency has allowed CFOs to dedicate more of the time traditionally spent on reviewing financials to growth strategy and business counsel. However, realizing the benefits of finance automation requires a comprehensive understanding of the processes it enhances. For this reason, the rising interest in finance automation presents a compelling growth opportunity for controllers to establish themselves as de facto ‘finance CIOs’.

Automation starts with process knowledge

Chief information officers (CIOs) are generally responsible for planning and executing IT strategies to support business objectives. Controllers operating as ‘finance CIOs’ amid the ongoing CFO role understand earned efficiency sounds great on paper, but realize it is impossible without thorough process knowledge.

  1. The CFO-controller conversation

When meeting with your CFO, dedicate time to understanding the extent of their responsibilities and how they envision the finance function evolving in six to 18 months. Identify the areas your CFO is most concerned about and map out how your team’s current processes can be optimized to support those areas.

Getting buy-in from the CFO is critical for securing the top-down and cross-department communication and support needed to prioritize your efforts, and for positioning them as a company-wide issue instead of a siloed finance matter.

As CFOs expand their scope to oversee areas including data analytics and growth strategy, starting a dialogue with your finance chief — and, more importantly, how you can provide value to your finance lead as automation use cases flourish — sets a strong foundation for future transformation success.

  1. Finance technology priority roadmap

This next step can vary depending on how long you’ve been with your current organization. For recent joiners, building trust within your organization by delivering quick wins that tap your previous experiences is essential. Your understanding of the business will grow over time with each win.

Controllers with a year or more experience in their organizations should take steps to create a priorities roadmap. Segment automation-driven efficiency opportunities by impact level, the effort required, and relative priority. Once you have a clear view of your low-hanging fruit, this is usually the best place to start to build momentum for larger initiatives.

As your team executes these quick-win scenarios, you can simultaneously use the experience and knowledge gained to map out more comprehensive wins in collaboration with your CFO.

  1. Manage resistance to change

With process change, you inevitably encounter the trap of status quo from internal stakeholders: “We have always managed this process in a certain way, so why, after all this time, are we changing it?”

To answer this question, let’s first consider the counterargument. The CFO role is evolving, and organizations are increasingly adopting automation in the finance function, but the pace and outlook vary depending on the companies you survey.

Even if you aren’t actively examining how your finance operations can be streamlined, your competitors are. Technology is a critical lever for businesses to remain competitive.

Become a positive change agent

Another question controllers might have is why they should be responsible for driving change. If your goal is to become a CFO one day, operate your own business, or take on a strategic role elsewhere, taking the initiative now to get transformation experience provides early reps for work you’ll be expected to lead one day.

Having top-down support from other departmental leads will empower controllers to overcome resistance to change and drive transformation that not only improves the finance function but delivers positive change for other departments. By taking this leap as a finance CIO, you will build trust with your CFO and gain valuable experience that will serve you well in your future leadership role.


Adapted from: “How CFOs and Controllers Can Partner on Finance Automation”, by Bryce Armbruster, controller at the automated finance platform Rho, published on CFO News on 18 July 2023.

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