Few job titles carry the weight of Controller. The very essence of the position is one of regulation, integrity, and guidance. Being “in control” of a company’s finances is powerful, high-profile position that comes with a great deal of scrutiny from the C-suite, investors, shareholders, regulators, and government entities. Read on to learn about the specifics of this role.
The Controller typically reports up to the Chief Financial Officer and has daily oversight responsibilities for all activities involved in ensuring the fiscal health of the organization. Areas of accountability could include:
The company Controller is may be responsible for preparing annual budgets for all operating units, divisions and subsidiaries of the organization, as well as reviewing balance sheets, examining budget variances and deficiencies, and forecasting budgeting trends for future consideration.
The Controller and his or her accounting team have answerability for ensuring accurate and timely business transactions throughout the company. Transaction types include accounts payable, accounts receivable, payroll processing, bank reconciliation, tax payments, and all related cash flow activities.
Financial reporting responsibilities also fall into the Controller’s domain. Depending on the size and scope of the organization, internal and external reporting can include periodic financial performance reports, financial statements for annual reports, and other types of financial analyses as requested. Controllers for publicly traded companies must also deliver reports to the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) including balance sheets, income statements, cash flow statements, and associated calculations.
The Controller is responsible for instituting and enforcing internal financial controls. Mechanisms will vary from company to company but typically consist of both “preventative” and “detective” controls. Preventative controls are policies regarding how payments are authorized, how transaction data is secured, and who has access to cash, equipment, product inventory and other company assets. Detective controls are those that investigate and analyze budget variances, unexpected cash outlays, and results that stray from established benchmarks and anticipated forecasts.
The auditing function has a direct tie in with other duties such as financial reporting and internal controls. The Controller may conduct internal audits through their office on a periodic basis or if accounting abnormalities are uncovered. Preparing for and coordinating external audits also falls into the Controller’s territory. Today’s Controller will also find that automated solutions driven by artificial intelligence technologies can streamline the auditing function by being able to process large volumes of data in shorter periods of time.
Regulatory compliance combines aspects of financial reporting with a company’s legal function to ensure that industry standards and requirements are met on local, state, federal, and international levels. While legal compliance is an essential activity to all successful businesses, certain sectors demand additional scrutiny on a regular basis. These industries include, but are not limited to, healthcare, pharmaceuticals, biotechnology, life sciences, automotive, and aviation.
Growth and Earning Potential
The United States Department of Labor (DOL) Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) classifies the position of Controller under the category of Financial Managers. This occupational group is expected increase at an average growth rate of seven percent (2014-2024) across all business types and sizes. A master’s degree in accounting, though not strictly required, is often helpful in earning these in-demand positions.
As with all career choices, remuneration differs as based on a number of factors. Geographic location, company size, scope of influence, immediacy of hiring need, and other variables. Staffing firm Robert Half® and its Finance & Accounting division offer the following salary benchmarks for Controller positions:
MID: $119,250 to $159,750
Estimated salary range for Controller position at a company with sales of $100 to $250 million.
UPPER: $167,500 to $226,000
Estimated salary range for Controller position at a company with sales above $500 million.
LOW: $86,500 to $115,000
Estimated salary range for Controller position at a company with sales less than $50 million.
These 2017 salaries are 0.3 percent higher than the previous year, which bodes well for accounting professionals interested in a Controller career. According to the National Association of State Boards of Accountancy (NASBA), outstanding careers and lifestyles can be found in Boston, Chicago, Denver, Houston, Los Angeles, New York City, Philadelphia and other locations on their list of the “Top 15 Cities for Accounting Careers.”
If you feel confident in your technical and accounting acumen, following a career path to a Controller position can be a lucrative choice. However, you also need to have the business background and soft skills that make for an effective financial leader. Among the capabilities you should seek to gain are:
• Understanding of outsourcing and automation
• Innovative outlook regarding accounting procedures
• Knowledge of business law as it applies to the accounting function
• Ability to develop and implement accounting policies
• People management skills to grow a top-performing team
• Persuasive interpersonal communication style
• Ability to serve an agent of change in driving new technologies forward
• Current grasp of consumer and business economics
If you are interested in a leadership position in accounting like this one, consider pursuing an advanced degree to grow your opportunities. A Master of Accounting degree from UAB’s Collat School of Business can help you build your expertise and enhance your analytical, business, and leadership skills.