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Controller Job Description

Controller

CONTROLLER FAST STATS

Salary

$127,990

Education

Bachelor’s degree (min.)

in accounting, finance or related field

Experience

7-10+ yrs

Upward Mobility

Above average

Certification

CPA, CMA, CGMA (recommended)

Job Outlook

16% growth (fast!)

2018-2028

Controller: Understanding the job

What is a controller?

A controller (or financial controller) is the head of a company’s accounting department. They are in charge of all accounting information, financial reporting, budgeting, tax documentation, bookkeeping, accounts payable and receivable - everything to do with money matters! 

In most organizations, controllers hold senior positions and the controller job description comes with a wide and diverse range of responsibilities depending on the company the controller works for. In the non-profit and governmental sector a controller is actually called a "comptroller." There are some key difference between the roles of controller vs. comptroller. A comptroller tends to have broader responsibilities, and is regarded as an even more senior position than controllers working in other sectors. 

Controllers often report directly to company owners or CEOs, and have an integral role in shaping companies' financial futures. Controllers give expert, data-driven advice to executives and managers on how to best take advantage of complex financial information to guide investments and marketing strategies. In smaller companies, controllers have responsibilities similar to that of a CFO in larger corporations. 

Top Controller Skills

What controllers do

Controllers are in charge of all accounting and financial operations in a company. That includes minimizing risk by creating thorough quality control reports and budgets, producing accurate financial reporting of fiscal activity, and maintaining well-documented financial records.

In larger companies, controllers manage a team of accounting and financial professionals that produce financial reports, maintain accurate accounting systems of all transactions and prepare tax documentation for compliance with local laws. The controller then audits the information for quality control and accuracy before passing it along to the CFO or treasurer. In essence, the job of a controller at a larger company is to prepare information that is used by the executive team or upper management to strategically guide their company's use and investment of funds 

At smaller companies, the controller job description tends to be more broad, as it involves more hands-on bookkeeping, and less management. Smaller companies usually require a controller to perform many or all accounting duties alone, or with the assistance of an accounting clerk or an accounts payable clerk. Controllers have much more immediate responsibility in smaller companies as they process all of a company’s financial information themselves, rather than managing a larger team of financial professionals. 

What great controllers do

1. Great controllers are good managers.

Great controllers organize accounting staff and delegate assignments efficiently to further organizational goals. In small companies, great controllers manage all of a company’s financials and follow custom-designed policies and procedures for keeping accounting records and creating official statements. 

2. Great controllers know their company well.

Great controllers are in tune with their company’s business plan, financial targets, and overall goals. In fact, a great controller likely played a key role in setting and advising on those goals, given their first-hand knowledge of their organization's financial situation. Great controllers are capable of advising executives or owners about cash flow management, and creating performance and feasible output goals for their company's deliverables. 

3. Great controllers are great analysts.

Great controllers are so familiar with their companies’ accounts, financial statements, revenues and debts that they are able to analyze bigger picture trends and help executives make decisions regarding their financial future. Some things a great controller may advise on include: capital investments, deriving the best value out of contract negotiations, and maximizing profitability when pricing.

Typical day as a controller

Small company

A financial controller working in a small company, (without a large team of financial professionals to manage), has a very similar day to that of an accountant - with some extra responsibility to boot. 

The typical day for a controller at a small company may begin with basic bookkeeping, making sure that all accounts receivable and payable are accurately documented and logged in the appropriate ledgers and databases. Their day may continue with gathering information and records to prepare a periodic financial statement for presentation to an owner or executive team. Controllers at small companies are often responsible for filing corporate taxes, which can be a long process that takes many months of preparation.

A small company controller may end their day by sitting down with executives or owners to give executives or owners a big-picture view of the company's current financial situation. Owners or executives will use that information to make strategic operations decisions to help plan for the future. 

''...in small businesses controllers have their hands in all matters financial and accounting and work hand in hand with executives or owners...''

Large company

A financial controller working for a larger company has the exact same responsibilities as a controller working for a smaller company, but will spend most of the day delegating and following up on those same tasks to a team of accounting and financial professionals.

They manage and monitor the team’s work for quality control, accuracy, and efficiency. When assignments are complete, a large company controller compiles all of the account information, financial statements, and tax documents to present to a CFO or treasurer.

It is a large company controller's responsibility to make sure all the information is accurate, and to be familiar enough with the information to make in-depth analyses and comparisons with the company's financial targets and operating profit margins.

If working for a multinational corporation, large company controllers may need to travel to manage accounting staff in subsidiary divisions or perform in-person quality control checks when financial data needs to be checked with a fine tooth comb.  

Controller basic duties

  • Produce financial reports and issue them for shareholder review
  • Manage accounting records
  • Manage a team of accounting professionals
  • Manage payroll, compliance, and inventory employees
  • Formulate budgets that match forecasted revenue
  • Issue all payments for accounts payable in a timely manner
  • Publicly report accurate financial statements in compliance with financial regulations
  • Prepare and file tax documents in compliance with local and regional statutes
  • Conduct internal audits of accounts and financial statements
  • Recruiting and training accounting and financial staff
  • Keep apprised of changing financial regulations to ensure continuing compliance

Becoming a Controller

Controller job requirements

Education

A bachelor’s degree in accounting, finance or related fields is expected for almost all controller positions. Having a master’s degree in business administration (MBA) or accounting is often preferred.

Certification

A Certified Public Accountant (CPA) qualification tends to be highly desired or required in controller job postings. A Certified Management Accountant (CMA) or a Chartered Global Management Accountant (CGMA) qualification can also be a big plus for a controller candidate to help them stand out from the crowd of other candidates.

These qualifications can be difficult to obtain, require graduate-level credits and years of accounting experience. Extra certifications are taken after some preparatory training or coursework.

Experience

Seven to ten years of relevant experience in accounting or finance is usually a baseline requirement for any controller position. Larger companies tend to prefer some of that experience be in a large business or corporate environment. In smaller businesses, employers tend to prioritize hands-on experience with all aspects of accounting and finance over managerial skills.

Skills

Controllers are required to have all the skills of an accountant; being a numbers expert, accurate reporting and analysis, detail-oriented auditing, confidentiality and ethical behavior, organization, time-management, and communication.

They are also required to have strong leadership and management skills, be savvy and up-to-date on laws and regulations regarding taxes and finance, and be comfortable with Excel and other accounting and bookkeeping software.

''Controller salary is typically quite high, particularly in larger organizations or multinational corporations where salaries can exceed $250,00 or more.''

Ideal controller resume

The ideal controller resume lists 10+ years experience working as an accountant in a position that allows for deep understanding of financial trends, for both reporting and forecasting. It also lists an MBA in finance or master’s degree in accounting as well as a CPA, CMA or CGMA certification.

Even better for larger companies or corporations is some experience working with a team of accounting professionals and even having some managerial experience over a team or at least a section of a team.

One may even acquire the ideal controller experience by working their way up through an accounting team, getting to know the organization and colleagues in a way an external applicant cannot.

For smaller businesses, an ideal controller resume may list experience working as an accountant in other small businesses within the same industry, having hands in all matters financial and accounting, and working hand-in-hand with executives or owners to develop investment strategies, manage cash flows, make budgeting projections and price and market products or services.

Controller salary

The U.S. Bureau of Labor and Statistics categorizes controllers as financial managers, listing the median controller salary in 2018 as $127,990 per year. The job growth outlook for controllers (financial managers) is 16% between 2018-2028, which is a much faster rate than the average rate of growth for other job categories.

Controller's salaries are typically quite high, particularly in larger organizations or multinational corporations where salaries can exceed $250,00 or more. Smaller businesses tend to pay closer to or less than the median salary but often consider controllers as executives and offer them stakes in their organizations’ growth as a recruitment incentive.

"...job growth outlook for controllers is 16% between 2018-2028, a much faster rate than the average rate of growth..."

Is controller the right job for me?

Like an accountant, being a controller is a very specific career path that begins with a  focused education in accounting or finance. The expectation for controllers to possess a higher accounting certification narrows the path towards becoming a controller even further. Acquiring accounting certifications require graduate degrees in accounting or finance and years of experience working in the field.

If being a controller sounds like the right job for you, the next step is deciding between a more managerial role in a larger organization, or pursuing hands-on accounting work and being an executive adviser in a smaller business.

Both have their finer qualities and can be a good fit depending on the type of work environment you're looking for. Think about whether or not you are keen on leadership and management and whether you prefer higher pay for taking on more responsibility in shaping your organization's financial future.

The role of controller can be a high stress position depending on the type of organization and your specific role within the company. However, being a controller can be an incredibly rewarding position, and put you on the path to becoming a CFO or CEO or leading a smaller business into future growth, profits, and success! 

Top controller skills

Management and leadership - delegating tasks to a team of accounting professionals and monitoring their performance for accurate reporting; guiding the team through changes in regulations, policies, procedures or financial targets and goals.

Math and numbers - calculating taxes owed; creating spreadsheets to calculate expenditures and receivables; making simple and complex calculations for current and projected account status.

Analysis - looking carefully at accounts and financial documents to add money-saving efficiencies to business plans and client goals; creating financial and accounting solutions to reduce expenses while increasing profit; smart budgeting that takes advantage of current conditions and maximizes resources; forecasting and making budget projections to meet new targets and increase profit margins.

Communication - establishing trust with executives and accounting and financial team members, and clients; making accounting and financial transaction language easily digestible to help executives make informed financial decisions.

Time management - managing competing demands for document preparation and account auditing; presenting accounting reports to executives; filing tax documents; budgeting and bookkeeping simultaneously.

Compliance - documenting and analyzing confidential financial information for clients and businesses; filing accurate tax reports; reporting financial transactions accurately to regulatory compliance agencies.

Similar or related job titles

  • Accountant
  • Financial manager
  • Comptroller
  • Chief Financial Officer (CFO)
  • Internal auditor
  • Revenue analyst
  • Accounting research manager
Last updated: 11 Feb 2020

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