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What is a business controller?
Business controllers occupy the interface between the finance department and operational management. Your core task in the company is to pay attention to the profitability of the area or product you are responsible for and to point out opportunities and risks.
Business controllers work in medium-sized companies or corporations with sales in the higher double-digit millions. Depending on the industry, they are responsible for the profitability of a project, a product line or a business area. They are sometimes also referred to as business performance controllers because they act on the key question of how the operational business is performing.
In order to monitor the performance of an area, they define target figures in the form of budget or plan values, analyze and comment on the monthly financial figures, compare them to non-financial structural data and derive recommendations for management from plan deviations.
They not only concentrate on cost-cutting measures, but often also work on ideas for new products, the optimization of marketing campaigns or other sales-enhancing measures.
Direct line to management
The business controller reports the background of the current developments to the CFO, but he has to explain to the operational management how the implementation of new accounting rules will affect them. In addition, business controllers support operational management in analyzing current business developments.
For their work, they use the hard financial facts from the monthly statements and more in-depth operational systems, which they receive from financial controlling or a self-service BI tool, and combine them with non-financial KPIs. So you classify the monthly financial result in the overall situation of the company. The focus is on questions like these:
- What value drivers do we have?
- How do these value drivers fit into the financial data?
- What are the reasons for any deviations from the target figures/plan values?
- What can we do better in the future to achieve goals (even better)?
Finally, business controllers prepare their analyzes and recommendations for action for management.
Examples of successful business controlling
Here you can read two real examples from the publishing industry – how a business controller has influenced the operative business through his analyzes and recommendations for action:
- Market observation: Good business controllers include the market and competitors in their analyzes and considerations. Possible questions are: How successful am I in a market comparison? Which new products are coming onto the market and how successful are they? A business controller at a publishing house divided the market for food magazines into a high-price segment and a low-price segment and found that circulation in the high-price segment was much more stable. He also found that the average copy price of a food magazine in the low-price segment has steadily decreased in recent years, while the average price in the high-price segment has even increased slightly. Both volume and price development spoke in favor of an increased focus on the high-price segment.
- Revenue Increase: Monthly analysis of a trade journal with 10 issues per year revealed that the variable revenues of each issue exceeded the variable costs. The business controller concluded from the figures that an increase in frequency with a stable circulation would increase both sales and earnings. The corresponding recommendation for action to increase to 12 issues per year was discussed with the sales, advertising marketing and editorial departments, presented to the publishing manager and then successfully implemented.
Digitization offers more opportunities than risks
For the area of activity of business controllers, both risks and opportunities arise from digitization. On the one hand, digitization brings with it automation measures, e.g. of processes. Digital tools simplify data analysis and processing, so that in the future less and less time will flow into work steps such as collecting and processing data.
This harbors the risk that jobs will become superfluous; on the other hand, ever larger amounts of data also allow more and more analyses, which increases the demands on business controlling. In the future, too, companies will definitely need employees who have an affinity for numbers and who know how to correctly interpret this large number of data analyses.
The job as a business controller or business analyst is not only more complex and exciting due to the new opportunities, but ultimately even qualitatively upgraded. As the complexity of the business world increases, so does the demand for qualified personnel to make this business world transparent and explainable.
The most important things in 5 seconds
- Education: Successfully completed studies in business administration or a comparable subject or commercial training and comprehensive further professional training
- Starting salary: €45,000
- Top salary: €90,000
- Opportunities for advancement: Head of Business Controlling, Head of Controlling
What does a business controller do?
- central contact person for all business-related questions of the supported business area
- Support of the operative business
- Participation in strategic development
- Data preparation, analysis and evaluation of key figures according to business areas
- Optimization of processes, methods and tools of profitability and risk management
- direct contact for the business unit manager, the executives and departments
- Analysis and commenting on monthly, quarterly and annual financial statements
- Advising the management in the formulation of corporate goals
- Interface to other company and functional areas such as accounting
How do you become a business controller?
Business Controller is a possible job for career starters if they can prove relevant internships, part-time jobs or other relevant professional experience. Apart from that, applicants should have the following skills:
- Successfully completed studies in business administration or a comparable subject or commercial training and comprehensive professional training
- if necessary, special industry knowledge
- excellent user skills in MS Office, in particular a secure command of all MS Excel functions
- fluent spoken and written English
What does a business controller earn?
up to €90,000
Business controllers earn between € 45,000 and €90,000 gross per year. The exact amount of the salary depends largely on the professional experience, the industry and the size of the company. But special skills and knowledge, such as in the areas of international accounting or taxes, can also influence the value for a company – and thus also the salary level.
What do you expect from the business controller?
In addition to classic financial know-how and an affinity for numbers, business controllers also need a business acumen and fun understanding and influencing the operative business. In order to master their task successfully, they have to work together with almost all departments. Not only an open personality with network skills is required here, but also a sure instinct. Because it is important to filter out which information from the department is valid and which is to be questioned in order to define really reliable and realistic target figures and plan values.
In addition, business controllers need a high level of persuasion and assertiveness — especially when they make negative recommendations for action or face opposition from the company. Here they must remain steadfast and support their analysis with facts. They should be able to present complex issues simply and confidently and bring social and moderation skills with them.
Opportunities for advancement as a business controller
The classic career path leads the business controller to the head of business controlling or the head of controlling. Anyone who is not only involved in controlling but also in related financial areas such as accounting, international accounting (IFRS/US-GAAP) or in the area of taxes can climb the career ladder to CFO.
In addition, it may also be possible to switch from business controlling to operational business. Because the business controller works very close to the business, communicates with all departments and coordinates closely with management. This gives him a high level of business understanding and knowledge of all operational processes, so that the leap into operational business is not too big.
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