The Company Controller: A Multifaceted Role

View all blog posts under Articles | View all blog posts under Online Master of Accounting

Financial departments in companies of all sizes perform many important functions such as, keeping budgets balanced and ensuring compliance with the many intersecting requirements of national and international regulations. Failures in any of these duties could cause serious problems for companies, and there is little margin for error.

What is a controller in accounting? The financial controller is the person at the head of the financial hierarchy, tasked with overseeing the work that goes on in functions such as accounting, budgeting and auditing. Individuals rising into such a role can expect challenging and demanding day-to-day work, as well as salary and authority that reflect their importance to their organizations.

A controller makes a presentation of financial information

How Do Professionals Become Controllers?

Becoming a controller means putting in time in other financial jobs. Prospects build a combination of education and professional experience that lets top executives know they are ready for the heavy responsibility of such a high-ranking job. As Investopedia explains, companies often prefer to hire or promote controller candidates who have at least a master’s level education. These are usually employees who studied accounting, finance or business administration.

When considering professional certifications, there are no hard requirements, but companies typically prefer their controllers to have such credentials. Investopedia names a Certified Public Accountant (CPA) license as a possible certification for well-qualified controller applicants to possess. Individuals who rose to such a senior position through an accounting department may already be CPAs, having used those credentials to secure other roles along their chosen career path.

The journey to become a controller typically takes a long time, whether the position is at a small organization or a multinational corporation. Investopedia suggested candidates should have at least 10 years of experience in finance or accounting to take on a controller role. The six-figure potential salary and far-reaching responsibilities make the effort worthwhile for successful applicants.

What Are a Controller’s Duties?

Today’s companies, facing complex regulatory environments and strict demands regarding their financial performance, need people who can set their budgetary direction and agenda. This considerable authority and responsibility belongs to the controller.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics indicated that controllers’ main duties include preparing financial reports for companies, encompassing both retrospectives and forecasts. When government bodies request special reports from companies to ensure their compliance, the controller is also tasked with this urgent duty. In addition to having the final sign-off on financial statements and reports, controllers are often in charge of internal accounting, auditing and budgeting teams.

The combination of in-depth financial reporting and strategy with people management means controllers should possess a combination of hard knowledge and soft skills. Accounting expertise and regulatory acumen are essential traits of controllers, but so are the ability to delegate tasks and an understanding of employee motivation.

Robert Half describes controllers as being “leaders and teachers” in addition to handling their more hands-on budgetary responsibilities. There is an element of storytelling in controller work, as these professionals need to prepare financial information in reports that are understandable to a variety of audiences, from C-level executives to regulators with government agencies. Performing these duties today also calls for aptitude with the latest technology tools.

Investopedia adds that the exact scope of a controller’s duties will likely depend on the organization employing that individual. Smaller companies may concentrate a more general set of responsibilities in the controller position, while larger companies are free to have bigger financial teams, with each individual employee taking on a more narrow group of duties.

Government agencies and nonprofit entities may employ a version of the controller known as the comptroller. Investopedia specifies that these individuals hold senior roles within their organizations, obliging the unique financial requirements that exist outside of for-profit businesses.

How Much Can Controllers Earn and What is the Hiring Outlook?

Working as a controller is highly rewarding from a salary perspective, reflecting the years of effort that have led to achieving such a position. These professionals have shown strong ethics, an attention to detail and an ability to comprehend both financial systems and employee motivation. Companies place a high value on this combination of expertise.

According to Robert Half’s latest Salary Guide, controllers can earn a median of $118,250. Corporate controllers stand to earn $173,750 as a median, while the base salary for a divisional controller is projected to be $143,000, and assistant corporate controllers typically earn $106,250. The median figure in financial services is $127,500, Robert Half reported.

The Salary Guide also lists high demand for controllers, with the position appearing as a “hot” job in Robert Half’s report. The BLS, which lists controller as one of the options within the umbrella of financial managers, predicts that roles for that overall category of leader will increase by 16% between 2018 and 2028. That is a remarkably higher amount than the growth expected for all occupations, which stands at 5%.

The BLS indicated that the growth of financial management roles will differ by industry sector. The need for financial leaders will likely be resilient in fields such as banking. While there is a decline in brick-and-mortar banking on the horizon, positions such as controller are less prone to reduction than clerical and customer-facing jobs.

What Can Aspiring Controllers Learn in an Accounting Master’s Program?

With controllers serving as such important and in-demand members of financial teams, it’s clear that candidates may have to build a wide range of experience to face down well-qualified competitors and take on these roles. This may mean earning advanced degrees through remote learning models. An online Master of Accounting degree, for example, may help professionals prepare for controller work.

Not only does the University of Alabama at Birmingham’s – online MAc program give participants access to a focused curriculum delivered by industry experts, it also prepares graduates to take the CPA examination. Achieving a CPA certificate or similar industry credential can act as a stepping stone along a career ladder leading to a controller position.

Earning a Master of Accounting online means taking classes on an individualized schedule while still serving in a full-time professional role. Students accumulate valuable insights on the regulations and organizations guiding the financial field while keeping up with their present job duties. Even individuals who do not have a previous academic background in accounting can seek a MAc by completing UAB’s bridge program.

To learn more about the online Master of Accounting and the ways it can potentially boost your financial career, check out the program page.

Recommended Readings:
MBA vs. Master’s in Accounting: Which Degree Should You Pursue?
Is an Accounting Degree Worth It?


Investopedia – Controller

U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics – Financial Managers

Robert Half – All You Need to Know About Controller Salary Levels, Jobs