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How to Become a Financial Controller

The business world is about earning money at the end of the day and after a company reaches a certain size, a financial controller has to start looking after that money.

The CFO is usually the person that is directly responsible for a large company’s finances, but often, the CFO has someone under them in order to make sure those finances add up. This is where financial controllers come in.

What Is a Financial Controller?

Financial controllers are trusted to prepare financial reports for a company. Depending on the size of an organization, they may even end up serving the de facto role of a CFO. This position is also sometimes just called a comptroller, or just controller, but finance is implied in these settings.

This career path can be great for people with bachelor’s degrees in finance and can be considered a more specialized version of business administration.

What Does a Financial Controller Do?

Financial controllers collect and translate raw financial data from a company into financial statements in order to forecast an organization’s future. On top of that, they have a few other duties as well.

Ensures Financial Accuracy

Financial controllers’ responsibilities include collecting data from the finance department and making it available to all while ensuring that data is accurate.

Though it’s usually not as exciting as discovering fraud or corporate espionage, workers may accidentally list a transaction wrong or their numbers may not add up because they forgot to enter a couple of key transactions.

Financial managers are tasked with poring over the ledger to ensure all the financial data is accurate. They monitor transactions to be certain that everything on the books is running smoothly.

Interprets Financial Data

After the data is collected, it can be hard to see what it means for a company outright. That’s where the financial controller comes in.

With a company’s finances in hand, controllers work to prepare financial projections and create statements for the company. They also decide how certain trends in their particular industry and market as a whole influence the day-to-day operations of the organization.

Manages Staff

If a company is large enough to have multiple people in the finance department, oftentimes these people will have to report to the financial controller. Because these workers are all offering their information to a single person, controllers are expected to put all of the staff’s reports into a single picture of the organization’s financial health.

They can also be responsible for invoices and payroll modifications when the time comes for people to spend money on a company’s behalf. They usually also pick the best software for their company to track financial data and payroll, and are in charge of ensuring smooth adoption when introducing new software tools.

Investigates Before Mergers

If a company is planning on merging with or acquiring another organization, it often falls on a financial controller’s shoulders to ensure everything goes as planned.

They may be responsible for doing the due diligence to ensure that the other company’s finances are in the shape that they promised. They also take care of filings with the Security and Exchange Commission in order to make sure their company’s finances are in order.

Essential Financial Controller Skills

Financial controllers make a living from their attention to detail and deep knowledge of their field. Below are a few skills that are key to anyone’s journey on this career path.


You’ll have employees who may not see the point in tracking every little thing they do and others who will take to every new financial system easily and keep their logs clean. You can hone your managerial skills while dealing with both sets of employees.

If a company is large enough, you may have to also oversee a team of employees in the accounting and finance departments. Motivating these workers while maintaining standards is one of the biggest ways to make sure that you’re successful in your post.

Financial Knowledge

You don’t have to be an expert in finance to keep track of a company’s ledger, but you will definitely have to have a good grasp of the elements that pertain to the finances of your business.

Any successful financial controller has to know exactly how money is being spent and earned by an organization. They have to look for ways to constantly optimize the situation.

The financial knowledge needed to handle this position can be taught in school, but as every organization has differences ranging from very subtle to large, there may be a bit of a learning curve before you know what a company has been doing and what it is capable of.

An Eye for Trends

Having an eye for trends in the industry that you’re working in and the market at large is one of the most important skills in this position.

A financial controller can be responsible when a company decides to expand or when it needs to tighten its belts. Looking at the finances of the organization and how they compare with what’s going on outside of it is a key interpreting skill that can make or break a financial controller’s career.

Financial Controller Salaries and Job Outlook

According to ZipRecruiter and ADP, financial controllers make an average of $90,368 per year. That figure ranges from a low listing of around $37,000 up to a high of $136,000.

There are usually thousands of financial controller jobs available at any given moment. Organizations large and small will always need someone to take care of their bookkeeping and finances.

Though the business world is in a state of flux at the moment, business accounting will never disappear. You may also have opportunities to work for a public accounting firm. There are endless possibilities.

How Long Does It Take to Become a Financial Controller?

It can take anywhere from six to eight years to become a financial controller. There are a few different paths to success for financial controllers, though you will always have to earn a four-year undergraduate degree in finance or accounting. After you get this degree, most jobs call for their candidates to become a CPA or earn an MBA, or both.

The Certified Public Accountant designation is awarded to people who take an exam, which requires at least 150 hours of college credits, with 30 hours in accounting and 25 in business. The certification also requires a measure of work experience in the accounting field, often a minimum of two years.

A master of business administration is a two-year graduate degree that can only be obtained after an undergraduate degree.

Accounting for the education and work requirements along with the exam, you’re looking at eight years to become a CPA. There are similar requirements for a Certified Financial Controller (CFC), but we’ll touch on that later.

You may be able to land a job as a financial controller with solely an MBA, but to open up all prospects, it’s probably best to have both the CPA designation and MBA degree.

How to Become a Financial Controller: A Step-by-Step Guide

To become a financial controller, you must learn the ropes of financial management in college before taking the next steps to deepen your knowledge in graduate school. Below are the steps you’ll be taking to land a financial controller job.

Step 1: Go to College

A degree in finance or accounting is essential to landing a job in this field. With a four-year degree, you’ll establish a baseline of knowledge in handling numbers and making connections between them.

People who enjoy math and working with numbers are great candidates for this line of work, which can provide an alternate path to engineering or academia.

Step 2: Get your MBA

After graduating from college, it’s best to enroll in grad school to earn an MBA degree.

These degrees not only cover accounting but also give you an in-depth idea of everything that goes into running a business. You’ll learn about the human elements of a business and how to effectively communicate in and outside of that setting.

By the time you complete your MBA degree, you’ll be able to understand every facet of a business and your role as the financial controller. By getting a grasp on these facets, you can see how they may affect the future of a business.

Step 3: Become a CPA

You earn your CPA after about eight years of work and study combined. This certification shows prospective employers that you’ve mastered everything that it takes to become an accountant.

There may be a certain level of experience past a CPA that employers will ask for, but with all of these qualifications under your belt, you’ll be a great candidate when it comes time to start submitting those job applications.

Required Education to Become a Financial Controller

Really the only hard requirement that you’ll need to be a financial controller is a bachelor’s degree in finance or accounting. A CPA designation and/or MBA can raise your prospects of finding a good job, and there are programs that can add to your appeal as a candidate for financial controller positions.

Best Programs and Courses to Become a Financial Controller

You have options when it comes to deciding between a finance or accounting degree as an undergrad. You can also take that next step by choosing to get an MBA. Below are some of the best courses that will put you on the path to success.

University of Pennsylvania

UPenn is the best school for an undergraduate finance degree in the nation, according to US News and World Report.

You’d be hard-pressed to find a better option if you decide you want to follow through and earn your MBA from the same institution. UPenn is tied for first in MBA school rankings on that same listing.

University of Texas at Austin

UT-Austin is the best school for an undergraduate accounting degree, according to US News and World Report.

This school has topped the listings in this field for 15 years in a row. With that pedigree, you can rest assured that you’re getting a top-quality education in the accounting field.

Southern New Hampshire University

Southern New Hampshire University started its life as an accounting and secretarial school in the 1930s, but now hosts one of the best online accounting programs in the modern era.

If you’re looking to get a degree online to start working towards becoming a financial controller, SNHU’s offering is one of your best options.

Financial Controller Certificates

Certified Public Accountant (CPA)

A CPA is a certificate that shows people that you’ve studied and worked long and hard enough to be trusted as an accountant.

CPAs can set up their own firms or work as accountants under a company, but in this context, you’ll be able to prove that you know everything there is to know about finance to recruiters.

Certified Financial Controller (CFC)

This certificate is offered by the American Association for Investment and Financial Management (AAIFM) to prove that the holder has mastered the unique skillset of a financial controller.

These certificates also require about eight years of a mix of studying and on the job experience before potential testers gain eligibility. The reason we haven’t focused on this certification as much as the CPA is twofold.

Firstly, this certificate is geared more toward CFO’s than financial controllers. Though the skillsets have clear overlap, businesses tend to be very clear in job listings if they’re looking for either a financial controller or a CFO.

Secondly, the AAIFM is known for requiring less rigorous academics and less study for applicants, so it may not put you head and shoulders above the competition to go for this certificate, though it can still come in handy.

At the end of the day, use your best judgment when going for a CFC. If you want to learn more after you’ve secured everything else, it certainly won’t hurt.

Should You Become a Financial Controller in 2020?

If you’re interested in numbers and finance, the answer is yes. The business world is always expanding in large and small ways, not to mention nonprofits and other jobs in the government that need people to watch their money and make sure they’re making smart decisions for the road ahead.

This is a very safe career that will always be in demand, so if it seems like something you may enjoy doing, go for it.


What’s the difference between a financial controller and a CFO?
CFOs tend to look at the current picture of an organization’s finances and make recommendations for how they can improve and optimize them. They also usually make the reports to stakeholders and provide financial guidance by interpreting reports. Financial controllers usually make a determination of a financial situation of a company and look at outside forces acting on that organization to make decisions about ways to proceed in the future. They tend to work under CFOs as part of a finance team, though in smaller companies, they may wear both the hats of a CFO and a financial controller.
What’s the difference between a CPA and CFC?
The CPA certificate is more prestigious and widely accepted as proof of one’s knowledge of finance. The CFC is nice to have but does not carry as much weight with potential employers as a CPA.
Do I need a degree to work as a financial controller?
You may want to at least get a bachelor’s degree if you’re looking to pursue a career in this field, but after that, you should be good to go.
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