In the fast-evolving landscape of financial management, controllers stand as the linchpin for steering organizations through economic flux. The 2024 corporate controller outlook underscores their crucial role and spotlights key trends like cutting-edge AI, cybersecurity, and talent strategies that are transforming the industry.
Rooted in a September 2023 survey of 346 US finance decision-makers, this report reveals how controllers are shifting toward automated, fortified, and empowered financial systems, shaping the future of business resilience and success in 2024 and beyond.
Curious to read the full report? Download it here. Read on for 7 key learnings you can use for your 2024 financial operations planning.
1. Prioritize and invest in tools to support cash flow management
7 in 10 controllers report that controlling spend and managing cash flow are top priorities.
Controlling spend has become even more crucial with recent economic trends—and the controllers surveyed plan to be more financially prudent in 2024. To get the control they need to support their more frugal goals, 3 in 5 report their company is devoting more resources to managing cash flow, implementing digital automation tools, and controlling spend.
The return on new tools can be substantial even with minimum investment. For example, free-to-use BILL Spend & Expense customers report saving $10,630 and 12 hours on average per month*. These tools empower controllers with features to promote real-time cash flow visibility and proactive budgeting. They can also streamline processes, optimize resource allocation, and help prevent overspending.
*Based on a survey of 127 BILL Spend & Expense users conducted by UserEvidence in March 2022.
2. Lead the back-office digital transformation
57% of controllers say they manage their company’s digital transformation efforts.
Digitizing the back office offers numerous advantages and is often considered essential for modern businesses seeking efficiency, agility, and competitiveness. Controllers are pivotal in their company’s digitization and automation. 61% of SMBs rely on controllers to manage the process.
With controllers leading the way, over 50% foresee their company achieving full financial automation within the next five years. Where is your company at in the digitization process? What can facilitate your company’s next steps?
3. Implement systems to maximize efficiency
83% of controllers report that financial automation saves time and improves productivity.
Closing the books quickly offers numerous benefits, like quicker access to financial insights to drive better decision-making, reduced costs, and more. However, finance teams continue to invest significant time and effort into closing the books. The most time-consuming parts of the process? Gathering receipts and employee expense reports.
Financial automation can make this process smoother. 75% of respondents say financial automation helps close the books faster and 67% say it allows them to focus on higher-value tasks. Controllers reported an intention to shift significantly toward more automated systems over the next three years.
Are receipts and expense reports bogging your team down? Look for ways to automate.
4. Opt for automation tools with embedded AI
Most controllers plan to keep direct AI investments the same—however, 3 in 5 plan to invest more in financial automation tools with embedded AI.
Controllers agree that the most significant influence on finance in the next three years will be the rise of AI. Despite this outlook, most admit their company has adopted a more reserved attitude toward adoption.
Fewer than 18% of controllers would categorize their company as an early adopter of technology compared to industry peers. Roughly 65% note that their employer would prefer to wait for technology to mature before introducing it into the workplace.
Instead, companies are placing greater priority on financial automation. According to controllers, 3 in 5 companies intend to invest in automated tools with AI embedded in the programs rather than directly into AI to streamline their financial operations.
5. Ramp up cybersecurity and fraud protection
41% of controllers report having a cybersecurity breach within the past 12 months.
Controllers hope to institute safeguards to avoid attacks that can jeopardize a company’s assets and reputation. The top threats include:
- Business email compromise (BEC)
- Check fraud
- Vendor-related fraud
However, most controllers aren't overly confident in their organization’s ability to respond to cybersecurity threats. Roughly 50% say their company is only in the early or intermediate stages of creating cybersecurity measures. Only 27% say they're “very confident” in protection against fraud.
Given these security threats, controllers might expect a greater emphasis on collaborating with IT professionals to create a more comprehensive plan for the business. There’s a constellation of tools you can leverage to increase security, including:
- Malware and virus protection software
- Multi-factor authentication
- Internal controls and separation of duties
- Digital payments and tracking
- Employee education
- Real-time spend notifications on corporate cards
- Regular security audits and updates
- Self-serve vendor payment portals
6. Focus on efficiency and benefits to reduce staffing challenges
39% of controllers express concerns about talent availability. 28% are concerned about retaining existing employees.
These concerns come in the wake of a nationwide talent shortage among financial professionals. Many experienced accountants have reached retirement age, and industry reports indicate a decline in students taking the CPA exam.
Amid these staffing challenges, business automation promises greater efficiency. While automation is no substitute for savvy accounting professionals, it can help financial departments get by with fewer workers. Additionally, it can reduce dull, repetitive tasks that lead to employee burnout and turnover.
On top of automation, while a competitive salary remains the top priority for controllers, evolving perks and benefits can also attract and retain workers—especially those in the early stages of their careers. Popular benefits include:
- Flexible schedules
- Professional development opportunities
- Access to financial automation tools
- Ability to work remotely
- Workplace location
7. Hire talents with technical skills and a willingness to learn
While controllers are concerned about the talent shortage, 40% anticipate expanding their teams in 2024.
Technical skills remain the most crucial asset for prospective talent. Just over 42% of controllers say that the “ability to quickly learn and utilize new technology” ranks among the most sought-after skills, followed closely by “accounting knowledge and standards.”
To a lesser extent, controllers also point to soft skills such as “interpersonal skills” and “leadership” as necessary for new talent.
Download the BILL 2024 controller outlook report for more tips and insights
Staying on top of industry trends and what they mean for your financial operations is essential to evolving your career as a controller and keeping your business healthy. Download the 2024 corporate controller outlook for more valuable insights and findings.