We’ve all been in that situation. That moment when you want to shout in a soundproof room.

There are points in the life of a financial controller that may make you think that a career change is an attractive option but don’t worry, most financial controllers have been in the same position.

So, if any of these things are occurring to you right now, maybe this article can reassure you that you are not alone!

Wanting a totally accurate 5-year budget

This is a classic and is certainly a favourite of Venture Capital or Private Equity backers. They want a 5-year budget/forecast but they want it to be totally accurate. The problem is that accountants have a different definition of ‘totally accurate’ to many people. In our world totally accurate means… well, totally accurate!

How can we explain that we are building a forecast which is based on best guesses from sales, management estimations from ops and rough approximations from HR? What’s the best way to diplomatically explain that forecasting the economic environment we’re operating in 5-years out is at best a finger-in-the-air job?

Probably the best option here is to simply develop a charming smile and a neat line in politician-style noncommittal phrases. Is it a totally accurate 5-year forecast? Well, it’s certainly a better forecast than we have ever had and a great starting point going forward!

When receipts drop out of an envelope

It’s a cold and wet Tuesday morning. A damp, fat envelope arrives and when you open it a ton of receipts fall out. Some of them are tea-stained, some of the meal receipts have a bit of the meal still attached and some have been left on a car dashboard so they are just a crispy blank piece of paper.

The sinking feeling you get as you realise you have to sift through these, scrape off the dried food and make up a sensible expenses claim for them is almost overwhelming. Time for a stiff cup of coffee and some decent music on your laptop.

That time the auditor wants to know...

It’s never the senior that does this. They always send the junior to ask because they think that you won’t shout at the doe-eyed newbie. They have seen that one of the directors claimed expenses for a meal out 11 months ago and they’d like to see the source document. In fact, they’d like to see all the source documents for all the directors for everything.

Sure they know it’s month-end, and you have to run payroll but they really need this otherwise the whole audit will be delayed. Yeah, sure it will.

The worst thing is that you spend hours finding the receipts and take them up to the room you’ve lodged the audit team in and then they look confused and no one remembers asking for them.

The ‘special’ case

You’ve got a well-understood and structured process for expenses, supplier payments, payroll. The controls are in place for good reason, everyone has signed up to them and agrees that they are a good thing and the whole company should abide by them- Then the CEO comes to you and asks you if you could make an exception ‘just this once’.

The supplier is refusing to release the goods for an important customer or the employee will be left with no money if we don’t pay and after all, they are “soooo good at their job”. The problem is that you know once you do it then they will expect it all the time and when other directors hear about it then they will have their own ‘one-off’ special cases.

… And breathe.

The annual accounts reports

So you went through the audit which was a pain in the proverbial, you spent hours and hours in the audit sign-off meetings and you’ve proofread the accounts and notes a thousand times. Everything is ready, all you need is the CEO’s annual report.

You asked them for it six months ago, reminded them five, four, three, two and one month ago. Now the day before you need to submit your stats, they still haven’t written it. Eventually it turns up, handwritten, with spelling and grammar issues that make it look like his 8-year-old did it.

You have an hour to type it out and selectively ‘adjust’ the phrasing so that it reads a little better and doesn’t make potential investors think that they are buying into a clown factory.

Financial Controllers

The ‘Oh’ moment

You love your team but, some days….

You – “Jess, you did press send on the wages file yesterday didn’t you?”
Jess – “Oh”

You – “Steve, did you double-check the supplier’s bank details before you made the payment?”
Steve – “Ummm”

You – “Andy, I’m assuming that you did the bank rec before we produced the management accounts?”
Andy – “Errrr”

This is the point where you earn your money. It may involve chocolate, but you need to find a way to make sure that you can tidy up the carnage before the CFO finds out.

Speaking of the CFO…

The new CFO

The old CFO left under something of a cloud after an ‘incident’ at the director’s annual ‘board meeting’ at the local racecourse and now the new guy/gal has turned up. They aren’t an accountant as such, in fact, their only qualification appears to be that they were at uni with the CEO but they are keen to learn and enthusiastic. Very enthusiastic.

Your job is to teach them business finance 101, steer them away from making ridiculous decisions and make sure they don’t say anything really really stupid in public. You’ll need to make sure they don’t upset the staff, don’t take on people you don’t need, and do take on people you do. You’ll also need to match their level of enthusiasm for the great idea they have just had whilst steering them away from something that is not going to work and will cost the business a shed-load of money.

At the end of it all, you’ll probably have to write your own annual appraisal and then smile sweetly as they tell you that you need to justify why you should have a pay rise. But at least they brought you back a keyring from their trip to Paris.

It’s the problems that make it fun

OK so maybe we’re exaggerating the issues here but the truth is that if everything went to plan all of the time then life would be really boring. It’s the challenge of the job that makes the role of a financial controller a really fun gig and certainly a sought-after position for many accountants.

If you’ve had these kinds of issues then just remember that you aren’t alone and after you’ve got through it then you’ll have a great war story to tell people.