A controller is a financial professional who is tasked with overseeing an organization's accounting and financial activities. The terms controller and comptroller are used interchangeably to describe the same job. Companies are free to choose either version of the job title. This is a high-level job position with a lot of responsibility that goes far beyond what an accountant or bookkeeper would do. People in this role generally reporting directly to the company's Chief Financial Officer (CFO).
Essential Job Functions for Controllers
The duties performed by a controller vary based on company size and complexity, as well as whether it is privately owned or publicly traded. This is a finance and accounting role that focuses on high-level oversight and accountability rather than day-to-day transactional procedures. When writing a job description or updating your resume, adapt your version to be specific to the role you are describing.
- Forecasting the organization's financial performance
- Assisting with and overseeing building the organization's budget
- Evaluating actual financial performance against the budget
- Establishing managerial accounting practices consistent with generally accepted accounting principles (GAAP)
- Collecting and analyzing company financial data
- Ensuring accuracy of the company's financial reporting
- Exploring potential causes for unexpected financial results
- Ensuring the company is following all relevant tax rules and regulations
- Monitoring how capital expenditures are made and accounted for
- Ensuring that assets are properly recorded and depreciated
- Analyzing business costs and expenditures
- Advising other business leaders about the company's financial status
- Ensuring that financial audits are conducted in accordance with accounting best practices and regulatory requirements
- Reporting financial results to executive leadership
- Making sure that financial reports are produced and distributed to shareholders in a timely manner
- For publicly traded companies, ensuring that Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) reporting and filing requirements are met
Additional Controller Duties in Small Businesses
In a large business, controllers function primarily as executive leaders, overseeing and ensuring the integrity of a full team of accounting and financial professionals. In smaller organizations, there typically are not as many employees focused on accounting and finance. As a result, the controller wears more hats and performs more duties, but on a smaller scale. In a small business, the controller may:
- Be more responsible for day-to-day money management tasks in addition to high-level financial analysis and/or accounting functions
- Serve double-duty by holding the job title of CFO in addition to that of the controller, along with the duties of both roles
Qualifications to Work as a Controller
Controller jobs are not entry-level positions. This is a senior-level job that generally requires at least a Bachelor's degree in accounting. In practice, due to the high-level financial expertise required for this job, employers tend to prefer that their controllers have a Master's degree in accounting. Some require or prefer candidates who hold Certified Public Accountant (CPA) or Certified Management Accountant (CMA) certification.
What Do Controllers Earn?
Working as a controller can be very lucrative. According to Payscale.com, the average (mean) pay for corporate controllers is just over $101,000 per year. The pay is commensurate with the high-level responsibilities and accountability associated with working as a controller. This is not the type of job that someone is likely to land immediately upon graduating from college or even graduate school, without significant work experience in a strongly related occupation. This is the type of job that people are considered for only after gaining significant experience in day-to-day finance and accounting positions.