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Controllers Gain Key Insights from Technology-Driven External Audits

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May 25th 2016
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The pressure’s on for corporate controllers. Ditto for external audit. So, where do the two meet? At the technology crossroads, naturally.

According to a new survey by KPMG LLP and Forbes Insights, controllers are expected to do far more than report data and tend to compliance. They are considered the underpinning of an organization’s strategies – the go-to person for interpreting broader marketplace and competitive issues.

The report, The Transformative Controller: Adding Value, Insight and a Bridge to the Future, indicates that 73 percent of the more than 200 controllers surveyed said that technology-driven external audits assisted them in comparing their organization’s performance with that of competitors. Sixty percent said engagement with their external auditors has improved their technology use. And at least a third said that a technology-driven external audit allowed them to perform a deeper analysis.

“Highly effective controllers no longer simply provide a rearview mirror look at company financial data, but offer a window into the future,” Scott Marcello, KPMG’s US vice chairman of audit, said in a prepared statement. “Controllers understand that technology, such as cognitive computing capabilities, can uncover new insights into their companies’ processes and more innovative ways to do their jobs.”

Here are the top five insights that controllers glean from a technology-driven external audit:

  • A more holistic view of the company’s prospects (38 percent).
  • A forward-trending view of risks (38 percent).
  • Greater industry knowledge of a market sector (37 percent).
  • Knowledge about improving regulatory compliance and quality assurance (36 percent).
  • A deeper understanding of data and analytics (32 percent).

Small to midsize company controllers may benefit even more because they get information they otherwise couldn’t develop, the report states.

“Being a small to medium-size company, we rely on our auditors more for information about our industry and as a second set of eyes,” Thomas Swietek, controller at IXP Corp., said in the report. “I try to stay on top of things, but we don’t have the resources to do extensive industry research. Our auditors can tell us things about industry trends and best practices that you can’t find in magazines or newspapers.

“Because of the size of the companies they are dealing with, they are able to build a database of similar-size companies and provide us with benchmarks for things like turnover and profitability, as well as insights into industry trends – both nationally and regionally,” he continued.

Still, technology poses challenges. Here’s a snapshot of what respondents reported:

  • A silo between finance and IT departments (52 percent).
  • A lack of tech-savvy staff (41 percent).
  • More demand for more data and analysis (38 percent).
  • Lack of executive buy-in (36 percent). (In another section of the report, 43 percent said they are empowered by the CFO or CEO to adopt new technologies.)
  • Lack of training (35 percent).
  • Budgetary constraints (34 percent).

“Technology, however, is only a means to an end,” the report concludes. “To make the most of what it has to offer requires vision, leadership, critical thinking, and collaboration across the enterprise. While support from the C-suite is key, there must be buy-in at all levels of an organization to successfully develop and implement new technologies, systems, and processes. This usually means demonstrating how new initiatives will benefit all stakeholders, as well as the company as a whole.”

The report is based on a December 2015 survey of 202 US finance executives with controller responsibilities. Respondents included 125 from companies with $1 billion to $4.9 billion in revenues, and 77 from companies with $5 billion or more.

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