The Financial Controller Checklist (+ Free Download) (2024)

The financial controller plays a pivotal role in the success of any organization. Controllershandle a broad and diverse set of duties, centered on overseeing day-to-day accounting andfinance operations but often also including responsibility for technology and compliance.The responsibilities can seem particularly daunting for new controllers who are steppinginto the role for the first time, and for controllers at startups that haven’t yetestablished clear financial policies and processes. This checklist of 25 of the mostimportant tasks for financial controllers is designed to help prioritize and manage theworkload.

What Is a Financial Controller?

The financial controlleris a key senior role within a company’s financial leadership team. Typically workingclosely with the CFO, the controller is the organization’s head of accounting andmanages the nuts and bolts of day-to-day financial operations. The controller’s broadresponsibilities may include putting in place accounting systems and processes, managingaccounting and finance teams, handling regulatory compliance and collaborating with the CFOon strategy.

Financial Controller Checklist

A financial controller’s list of priorities reflects the wide-ranging and complexresponsibilities associated with the role — from overseeing day-to-day accounting andfinance tasks to managing staff and technology. Depending on the organization, a controllermay have to create new policies and processes from scratch, as well as ensuring thatexisting processes run as efficiently as possible.

  1. Develop a short-term cash flow forecast. Creating an accurateshort-term cash flow forecast should be one of the controller’s top prioritiesbecause the company needs to know that it will have enough cash in the near term tocontinue operating. This is not a one-time project but an ongoing task. Theshort-term cash flowforecast takes into account three critical elements: cash on hand, plus cashdue to come in (receivables), minus cash due to go out (payables). The forecasttypically covers a 13-week timeframe, but it can be adjusted based on the elements.For a new controller, the short-term cash forecast is also a crash course inlearning how the company works. How does the sales pipeline work and how accuratelydoes it predict sales revenue? Which departments are spending the most money?

  2. Review accounts receivable. One of the financial controller’smost critical functions is to understand how much customers owe and when they pay. Aclear picture of accountsreceivable is also important for developing accurate cash flow forecasts.The controller should establish standard processes for reaching out to customersthat are past due, if those processes don’t already exist. If processes existbut are not always effective, they may need to change.

  3. Review accounts payable. It’s equally critical to gain a clearunderstanding of how much the companyowes its suppliers and its processes for paying them. Review the processesfor approving vendor invoices and the company’s payment obligations undercurrent contracts. If the short-term cash forecast predicts lean times, it may beworth considering delaying payments — if it’s possible to do so underexistingterms.

  4. Understand debt payments. Companies with debt must pay specialattention to ensuring the company makes the required payments and remains in goodstanding with its creditors. The controller should review each debt agreement toverify payment due dates, interest rates and any liens or other conditions thatcould result in bigger financial problems. A financial controller should also beaware of how the company uses the borrowed money.

  5. Reconcile accounts. The controller’s job typically includesmaking sure reconciliations are conducted regularly — daily, in some cases— toverify the accuracy of the company’s accounts and cash balance. This includesreconciling the company’s internal financial data against external sourcessuch as bank statements. Controllers need to pay special attention to any areas thatinvolve manually transferring data between systems, since manual processes are ripefor human error. Automating these transfers can often improve efficiency andaccuracy.

  6. Optimize and accelerate the financial close. As the owner of the financial closeprocess, the controller is charged with closing the books at the end of eachaccounting period in an accurate and timely way, as efficiently as possible. Thiscan be a complex job, requiring the finance team to complete many sequential stepsto assemble all the necessary information and prepare accurate financial statements.It’s critical to focus on optimizing this process, because disorganized anddisjointed close processes can consume vast amounts of time and delay access tocritical information about business performance. Cloud-based accounting and enterprise resource planning (ERP) softwarecan help by providing better access to consistent data and automating time-consumingmanual processing steps, minimizing errors, creating repeatable processes andreducing risk. With the time controllers save by automating manual processes, theyhave more time for strategic analysis they’re expected to provide.

  7. Ensure accurate and timely tax returns. All companies — fromlargeenterprises with global reach to small companies serving local markets — needtosubmit tax returns on a rigid schedule. Financial controllers may not directlyprepare the returns, but they’re responsible for reviewing them and ensuringthat they meet the requirements of each jurisdiction. This can be especiallycomplicated for larger organizations with revenue and expenses in multiplecountries, due to the different tax regulations in each area.

  8. Review capital expenditures. Capital expenses often have asignificant impact on the company’s finances, so it’s important that thefinancial controller review each planned expense before the company makes apurchasing commitment. A new controller should also review the company’shistorical capital expenditures and the ongoing financial impacts, such asdepreciation. Payment terms, whether the company pays cash or finances eachpurchase, can impact the company’s balancesheet and cash flow. It’s important for a financial controller toestablish processes that ensure that capital expenditures receive review anddon’t come as a surprise.

  9. Examine contracts. The financial controller may need to review allimportant contracts to make sure the company’s financial obligations areclearly understood. The financial controller will need to check that contractsdon’t contain hidden pitfalls that could result in unforeseen liabilities orpotential lawsuits. Standard procedures for approving new contracts also need to bereviewed by the financial controller.

  10. Review sales reports. The sales pipeline report provides criticalinformation about the company’s future revenue, and the financial controllershould be part of the team that reviews the report. The report shows informationabout in-progress deals, typically including the stage they’re at, thepotential revenue and the probability that they’ll result in a sale. Financialcontrollers must pay special attention to the accuracy of the sales predictions,which are critical to the accuracy of the company’s cash flow and revenueforecasts.

  11. Establish financial performance metrics. The controller plays animportant role in determining which financial key performance indicators(KPIs) the company should monitor to track profitability, liquidity,solvency and efficiency. The choice of metrics will depend on the company’sbusiness goals and current priorities. Typical metrics include gross and net profitmargin, operating cash flow ratio, current accounts payable and receivable, andinventory turnover.

  12. Create financial dashboards. Financial dashboards highlight key financial KPIsand other metrics, helping executives and the financial team track thecompany’s performance, monitor trends and spot any impending problems.Dashboards should be custom-designed to track the company’s chosen KPIs, andeach employee’s dashboard should be tailored to their specific role. Thecontroller should review any existing dashboards to be sure they accurately reflectthe company’s most important metrics. At a startup, a new financial controllermay need to get involved in defining dashboards from scratch.

  13. Review staff capabilities and training. As a mid- to long-rangegoal, the financial controller should focus on enhancing one of the company’smost important assets: the financial team. It’s important to understand eachperson’s capabilities and career goals, and to facilitate any training that isneeded. For example, new technology often affects the finance team even more thanother parts of the organization, so it’s important for staff to be equippedwith the right skills. As technology transforms financial operations, it makes senseto enhance the skills of existing staff whose domain knowledge, with propertraining, could be a great benefit to a more modern finance organization.

  14. Review department policies and processes. As a company grows,financial management and reporting become more complex and the legal ramificationsof inaccurate reporting potentially become even more severe. Clear financialpolicies and procedures help the company consistently track performance and minimizeproblems. Established and documented processes also help bring new staff up to speedquickly and ensure continuity when experienced employees leave the company. Amongother goals, finance department policies should include the following safeguards:

    • All transactions are recorded accurately and reliably.
    • All expenses are verified and supported with necessary documentation.
    • Payments are made accurately and efficiently.
    • Revenue can be traced back to its source.
    • The company has a consistent and transparent audit trail.
  15. Coordinate with an external auditor. External audits are aregulatory requirement for public companies and some other organizations.Independent auditors examine the company’s financial statements to determinewhether they accurately reflect the company’s performance. Private companiesmay also hire external auditors to assess their performance and financial controlsfor a variety of reasons — for example, a clean bill of health may make iteasier toattract funding. It is typically the financial controller’s responsibility tocoordinate with the auditor, review the auditor’s report and instigate anyaction that is required as a result.

  16. Review internal audit reports. Internal audits are designed toassess the company’s performance, internal controls and risks. They’reoften carried out by members of the controller’s team. Internal audits mayexamine areas such as corporate governance, accounting processes, compliance,cybersecurity and suspected fraud. Typically, the financial controller needs to beclosely involved, reviewing audit reports and implementing any recommendations.

  17. Check financial controls and adjust where necessary. Financialcontrols are the company’s policies, processes and technology designed tomanage risk and prevent fraud or other internal problems. Good financial controlsalso help the company maximize operational efficiency and maintain a healthy cashflow. After a thorough analysis of existing policies through internal audits orother means, the financial controller may need to add or change controls to coverany gaps. For example, young companies may not have a system to monitor and manageemployee expenses. The controller may need to address the gap to ensure thatexpenses are valid and accurately recorded.

  18. Review financial disclosures. Public companies are required tosubmit financial disclosures and reports on a schedule determined by authoritiessuch as the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) in the U.S. The financialcontroller is typically responsible for reviewing and submitting these filings.These disclosures include:

    • Securities registration.
    • Annual 10-K and quarterly 10-Q filings.
    • Annual shareholders reports.
    • Tender offers (i.e., offers to buy a large number of shares of a corporation).
  19. Review all management reports. A financial controller should reviewall management reports generated by the accounting and finance departments, assesstheir accuracy and relevance, and drive any necessary changes. Inaccurateinformation could cause problems, such as triggering spending plans for money thecompany doesn’t actually have. Relevancy is also a key consideration —reportsthat were useful earlier in a company’s lifespan may no longer reflect thecompany’s priorities. Another potential problem is duplication: Companies maybe creating multiple reports that essentially serve the same purpose.

  20. Review computer systems. Growing companies often outgrow thecapabilities of the technology they start out with. A financial controller needsenough technological savvy to understand the role of each system, its limitationsand how different systems interact with each other. For example, many companiesinitially use entry-level desktop accounting systems, but transition tohigher-capability cloud-based financial management software as their needs expand.Growing companies also often replace a collection of disconnected applications withan integrated ERP suite that provides a real-time view of operations across theentire business.

  21. Drive budgeting process. A reliable and accurate budget enables thecompany to plan its future activities. The budget sets out a company’s targetsand priorities, and determines which projects will get funding. The financialcontroller should drive the budgeting process, in collaboration with managers acrossthe company.

  22. Perform periodic budget reviews. The budget is not a static document— it should be revisited periodically. The financial controller should driveperiodic budget reviews — initially perhaps as often as monthly — tocompare thebudget forecast to actual events. This enables the organization to recalibrate itsbudget to more accurately reflect reality.

  23. Review inventory. At some businesses, the financial controller needsto get involved in ensuring that the company’s financial systems accuratelyreflect the company’s inventory. For example, the company may need toperiodically make changes to its general ledger based on the results of physicalinventory counts. Market changes, spoilage and other losses can impact the value ofinventory, requiring the company to adjust its records to maintain an accuratefinancial picture.

  24. Implement document retention processes. The financial controllerneeds to review the systems and policies used for document retention needed to meetbusiness needs and legal requirements. Companies need an effective retention policyfor financial documents to comply with tax and other legal requirements, and to helpsettle any vendor and customer disputes. This policy dictates how long documents areheld before they are destroyed. A document retention system can help manage the jobof storing documents, classifying them, searching them and removing them whenthey’re no longer needed.

  25. Automate, automate, automate. Automating basic financial tasks suchas data entry and reporting can save companies an enormous amount of time and reducemanual errors. Finance leaders are heavily involved in implementing accounting andfinance software, and believe 89% of financial tasks are automatable,according to Gartner Inc. Leading financial software solutions automate reporting,revenue recognition and other important everyday financial processes, helping toimprove accuracy and compliance. Roboticprocess automation, chatbots and other tools can automate routine tasks,such as responding to basic requests from customers and vendors about invoices orpayments.

Downloadable Checklist for Financial Controllers

This downloadable checklist lists 25 top priorities for financial controllers.

Get thechecklist

How NetSuite Can Help

NetSuite financialmanagement software helps financial controllers drive greater business success,expedite daily financial transactions, reduce budgeting cycle times, ensure compliance andaccelerate the financial close. NetSuite’s extensive capabilities enable companies toincrease efficiency by eliminating time-consuming, error-prone manual processes andautomating accounting and financial operations. The cloud-based software provides areal-time view of financial activities, helps accelerate the financial close and improvesrevenue recognition. Customized dashboards and automated reports enable controllers tomonitor key metrics and drill into information about revenue, payables and receivables,expenses and more. Automatic upgrades and built-in features help companies stay compliantwith tax and regulatory changes.

Because NetSuite financial management is part of an integrated suite of business software,companies have the ability to better track operations across the entire business andeliminate the need to manually transfer data between systems for analysis. Businessesswitching to NetSuite reported improvements including a 45%-70% reduction in time to close and a 55%-80%increase in visibility across all operations. As businesses expand globally, theycan take advantage of NetSuite’s built-in support for multiple subsidiaries, hundredsof currencies, dozens of languages and tax reporting in 50+ countries.


Financial controllers face a wide range of tasks and challenges every day of the week.Staying on top of a checklist of the most pressing priorities can help financial controllersachieve their ultimate goal: ensuring that the company stays in good financial health.

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Financial Controller Checklist FAQs

What should a financial controller do?

Financial controllers manage the organization’s accounting function. They have a broadset of responsibilities, including handling the financial close process and producingfinancial statements and reports.

What should I look for in a financial controller?

Financial controllers should have in-depth knowledge of accounting and finance operations,plus the ability to work closely with both senior management and members of the finance andaccounting teams. They need to be able to understand the myriad everyday details of thecompany’s finances and how the accounting team can support the company’s broaderbusiness goals.

What are the 5 significant roles of a financial controller?

As the head of the company’s accounting function, a financial controller actually mayhave many significant roles within an organization. Five of the most important duties arepreparing financial reports, managing the financial close, monitoring internal controls,participating in the budgeting process, and streamlining accounting operations.

The Financial Controller Checklist (+ Free Download) (2024)


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