“The driving force in business management”

University Lecturer Achim Hartmann on the Financial Controllers of Tomorrow

It used to be enough for financial controllers just to be good with figures. Nowadays, they need a whole host of other skills too. In this interview, Achim Hartmann, the corporate performance management expert, who educates the financial controllers of the future at institutions including the Vienna University of Economics and Business and the University of Graz, reveals what these skills are.

You train the financial controllers of the future. What awaits your students in ten years’ time?

Hartmann: In the past, financial controllers were the backward-looking bean counters. These days, they help steer companies into the future. Looking back is no longer enough. And this development is set to continue. Those still planning budgets today will need to work with forecasts and keep track of multiple scenarios tomorrow. An example is the transformation in the field of financing. The conventional loan is fading into the background. Today’s financing partners support companies and review the sustainability of their investment with regular reports. This is where excellent communication skills are called for, as well as transparent reports and plans. To prevent a loss of confidence in times of crisis, financial controllers will need to be able to address queries in detail and show that they can respond flexibly to variances from the plan.

How does that change the planning process?

The effects are far-reaching. Financial controllers must understand the business model in all its complexity, ask “What if…?” questions, and run through the impacts of changes in different business divisions. Not only must they themselves think in terms of scenarios, but they must also convey this way of thinking to the executive management. Planning increasingly requires developments to be anticipated. It’s not that we have to predict the future, but we do have to be prepared for it

What do financial controllers need for these tasks?

When I look at a company from a business administration point of view, I must do so through three lenses: the P&L lens, the balance sheet lens and the liquidity lens. Each of these lenses shows me something different; none of them can be dispensed with. If, say, you make a million in profit, that doesn’t necessarily mean you have a positive cash flow. I wish and hope that looking through all three lenses becomes a matter of routine for future managers. On top of their expertise, financial controllers need social and communicative skills – as coaches for the executive management and as intermediaries with respect to financing partners. They need to be able to see things from the perspective of their opposite number and to remain open towards critical questioning – ideally even before the discussions begin.

What part does corporate performance software such as Corporate Planner play?

First, let me say that I don’t foresee a future where a software program makes financial controllers’ decisions for them. However, financial controllers can only become the driving force in business management if they’re backed by this kind of solution. The same goes for confidence in communication with investors. To return to the previous point, it’s easier to deal with critical questions if you can model alternative scenarios and list the consequences of a changed market situation in a matter of hours. What’s more, integrated financial planning solutions make company-wide interrelationships easier to understand. And those who keep an eye on interactions and take a comprehensive view are also in a position to ask relevant questions and act as a sounding board for the executive management.

About Achim Hartmann
Achim Hartmann is a lecturer in business planning at universities including the Vienna University of Economics and Business and the University of Graz, the author of numerous specialist publications, and a consultant. He has over thirty years of executive-level experience in corporate performance management and organization at major Austrian banks, as well as having been head of the Business Planning & Consulting division at UniCredit Bank Austria AG for over twenty years. Further information (in German) is available at www.ahcc.at.