Career Outlook: How to Become a Financial Controller

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Financial tools and documents laid out on a table

Investors evaluate a company’s finances to determine if investing in the organization will generate a return. A company, therefore, must strictly monitor its financial health to maintain long-term growth and sustainable profits. Accounting experts known as financial controllers lead finance teams, and these financial controllers continually monitor financial controls and relay information about company performance to senior management. Professionals interested in how to become a financial controller need to have an excitement for numbers with a desire to lead business decisions.

The Role of a Financial Controller

A financial controller’s role is to make sure a company’s day-to-day finances are operating efficiently and there are no unexpected results during regular reporting periods or auditing. Senior management also relies on a financial controller to provide expertise in standardized accounting methods and tax regulations. Therefore, many large organizations require a financial controller to have a master’s degree in accounting or business administration and be certified as either a Chartered Professional Accountant (CPA) or a Certified Management Accountant (CMA). A financial controller with these credentials may have the expertise to take on the following leadership responsibilities:

  • Set and monitor finance policies and procedures
  • Create and adjust department and project budgets
  • Understand and provide guidance on tax regulations
  • Contribute to the company’s financial strategy
  • Recruit and manage finance department personnel

As a financial controller has a significant influence on the decisions made by a company, organizations prefer to have professionals with previous experience as either a business analyst or accountant. A company’s decision to expand into a new country or to adjust employee salaries requires technical expertise to understand accounting practices and tax implications. The financial controller must clearly guide these decisions to prevent the loss of time and money.

Skills a Financial Controller Must Have

Information from a business continually flows into its finance department, and the financial controller communicates this information to senior management. Often, data from the company is complex, and the financial controller must simplify it for management to make quick, effective decisions. A financial controller with the skill to explain numbers and add valuable commentary can quickly become successful.

Depending on the size of the organization, a financial controller may require a team of skilled professionals to handle components of a finance department, such as taxes, treasury, and payroll. These professionals must lead the department by setting clear objectives and relying on the expertise of other employees to deliver projects on time and work around challenges. A particular problem in recent years has been the increased number of changes to accounting regulations and standards.

New regulations take time to understand and integrate into current company processes. A professional set on becoming a financial controller must know how these regulations will impact their organizations and present a path forward to implement them. Updates to technology systems and processes are fundamental in executing many regulatory changes. These updated systems have begun to standardize reporting, making it faster for a financial controller to produce, analyze, and present information.

The Need for Financial Controllers

There is a definite need for qualified people to accept the responsibilities of leading a company’s finance department. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) expects the market for financial controllers to grow 19 percent between 2016 and 2026. A financial controller can work in organizations of any size and industry. Small businesses that have experienced significant growth will employ financial controllers to provide the necessary finance expertise and alleviate the owners’ workload. Financial controllers may see a wide range in salary based on the size of the company. The median salary is $125,080 per year, according to the BLS.

It is critical for professionals interested in how to become a financial controller to understand the importance of the role to an organization. Executives lean heavily on the finance function to identify options for maintaining and increasing a company’s profitability. As such, financial controllers have begun to accept more responsibilities that were previously handled by the company’s CFO, such as managing the finance team and working on the business’ overall development. It can be challenging for a financial controller to stay on top of information and provide consistent, reliable data. However, the financial controller who can build a competent team and remain organized will become a true partner of the business in addition to their role as a finance leader.

Learn More

Visit our website to find out how Ohio University’s online Master of Accountancy program helps prepare students for success as financial professionals.

Recommended Reading:

Finance vs. Accounting: How Different Are They?

How Financial Statement Analysis Helps Business Grow

Discovering the 4 Types of Accounting


Robert Half

Ernst & Young LLP

Bureau of Labor Statistics