4 Steps to Become a Controller

By | February 6, 2024

A controller is a role that can be found in nearly every organization, from small to large. At a large company, there might be multiple departments and roles that play a role in achieving the company’s overall objectives.

The job of a controller is to ensure the organization follows its financial, operational and risk policies, as well as any government or third-party regulations. A controller’s responsibilities include monitoring and analyzing the company’s financial data, managing overall operations and optimizing the risk of the organization.

Read on for more details about what a controller does and the best ways to become one.

You’ve probably heard the saying ‘money doesn’t grow on trees’. And for good reason. To budget for everything you want and need, you’ll need to get a handle on your finances.
To do that, you’ll need to know how to manage your money. And one great way to learn how to manage your finances is to become a controller.


Controllers manage capital, staff, and time to make sure that a company has the resources to run its business. They also manage the financial and operational aspects of a company. They oversee finance, accounting, treasury, risk management, internal audit, tax planning, IT, project management, and more.
Let’s take a look at the role of a controller, common duties, salary, and education requirements.

What does a financial controller do?

At any big business, the finance department is one of the most important. They serve as a check on the other departments, making sure that money is being spent wisely and that everyone is working towards the same goal. They also help maintain financial records so that the business knows where it stands at all times. Additionally, their department is in charge of planning and budgeting.

It’s important to understand what a financial controller does to succeed in this field. For example, if you work in a company where a finance department doesn’t exist or you don’t see yourself taking on such responsibilities, there may be other fields you’d be interested in. Even if you don’t think you can do it, read on to learn more about the different tasks a financial controller performs.


Some of the responsibilities a financial controller can expect are:

  • Lead the preparation of financial records, such as income reports, expense reports, balance sheets and periodic accounts

  • Manage tax compliance

  • Maintain accounting records

  • Oversee the accounting staff

  • Manage payroll

  • Report to and advise the chief financial officer

  • Craft future financial policies for the company

  • Oversee internal audits

  • Hire and train financial staff

  • Analyze the financial performance of the company

How to become a financial controller

Financial controllers are usually highly qualified finance professionals with years of experience in finance and accounting. Most companies also seek candidates with both educational or professional credentials in accounting or related fields. Besides credentials and work experience, many hiring managers look for individuals with strong accounting and mathematical skills that can help them lead a financial team and make good business decisions. Consider the following steps to help you become a financial controller:

1. Earn a degree

Most companies that hire financial controllers require candidates to have at least a bachelor’s degree. Degrees in accounting, finance, business, economics or related fields are good options. Most bachelor’s degrees take four years to complete.

Many businesses seek candidates with master’s degrees in finance, business administration, accounting or a related field. Earning a master’s degree can make you a more competitive candidate and qualify you for some leadership positions in finance and accounting. Most finance- and business-related master’s programs take about two years to complete.

2. Earn professional credentials

Getting a finance or accounting certification is a good way to show you have extensive knowledge in the field. Additionally, many companies require financial controllers to have a certification. Here are some of the main certifications to consider:

  • Certified Public Accountant: A CPA license shows you have met strict educational and experience guidelines and passed a thorough exam. Each state has its own accounting board that designates the requirements to become a CPA.

  • Certified Internal Auditor: This certification shows that you are qualified to complete internal audits, which may be part of a controller’s job. You generally need a mix of education and work experience in internal auditing before taking the exam.

  • Chartered Financial Analyst: This financial certification demonstrates your skills in accounting, portfolio management and economics. You need a bachelor’s degree or four years of work experience, and you also need to pass a series of exams.

3. Gain work experience

Most employers seek financial controller candidates with five to seven years of finance and accounting experience. You can expect to start your career as an accountant, financial analyst or auditor before pursuing a leadership position.

Companies often prefer two or more years of leadership experience, as they often expect you to manage the financial team as a controller. You may get the opportunity to work as an assistant controller to gain leadership experience before applying for a financial controller position.

4. Apply for the position

After gaining the necessary qualifications, you can consider where you want to work as a financial controller. A few of the businesses and public institutions that usually hire financial controllers are:

  • Colleges and universities

  • Government agencies

  • Banks

  • Hospitals

  • Manufacturers

  • Investment groups

  • Technology companies

What skills does a financial controller need?

Financial controllers often possess an extensive set of professional skills besides their degrees and certifications. Some skills that employers might look for are:

  • Leadership: As a financial controller, you may be in charge of your company’s financial staff. Leadership skills can help you create an effective and cohesive team that can achieve the business’s financial goals.

  • Organization: Organizational skills can help you maintain large numbers of financial records effectively.

  • Analytical skills: Employers may often require you to analyze complex financial data and make sure that the company follows best accounting practices.

  • Communication: As a financial controller, effective communication can help you direct and cooperate with the staff that you manage. Communication skills can also help you share your concerns or ideas with your supervisors.

  • Critical thinking: An important part of the controller’s job is participation in important decisions about the future financial direction of their company. The ability to think critically and make decisions under pressure is often essential.

  • Knowledge of relevant software: Most accounting and auditing departments rely heavily on accounting and financial management software, and they are usually an important part of the controller’s daily work.

Financial controller salary and job outlook

Although pay varies, the average base salary for financial controllers is $86,940 per year. These positions often offer extensive benefits, which usually include health and dental insurance, paid time off and retirement plans. Other incentives can include bonuses and stock options.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the employment of financial managers, including controllers, is projected to grow 15% from 2019 to 2029, which is much faster than average. In addition, financial controllers who excel at their jobs may have the opportunity to pursue positions such as chief financial officer or other positions in high-level financial management.


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