Before a controller can delve into the specifics of the controller job description, it is first necessary to determine how the accounting function fits into the rest of the organization. This used to be a simple issue; the accounting staff processed transactions to support business operations—period. This required a large clerical staff managed by a small cadre of people trained in the underlying techniques for processing those transactions. In this environment, the stereotypical image of an introverted controller pounding away at a calculator was largely accurate.

The role has undergone a vast change in the last few decades, as technological improvements, the level of competition, and a shifting view of management theory have resulted in a startlingly different accounting function. This section describes how the accounting function now incorporates many additional tasks, and can even include the internal auditing and computer services functions in smaller organizations. It then goes on to describe how this functional area fits into and serves the needs of the rest of the company, and how the controller fits into the accounting function.

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Finally, there is a discussion of how ethics drives the behavior of accounting employees, and how this shapes the way the accounting staff and controller see their roles within the organization. In short, this chapter covers the high-level issues of how the accounting function and its controller fit into the modern company, not only to process its transactions, which was its traditional role, but also to provide additional services.

The accounting function has had sole responsibility for processing the bulk of a company’s transactions for many years. Chief among these transactions have been the processing of customer billings and supplier invoices. Though these two areas comprise the bulk of the transactions, there has also been a long history of delegating asset tracking to the accounting function. This involves all transactions related to the movement of cash, inventory, and fixed assets. Finally, the accounting staff has been responsible for tracking debt, which can involve a continuous tracking of debt levels