Financial Controller Career Guide: Salary, Responsibilities, and More

Written by Coursera Staff • Updated on

Learn more about the skills and education you need to work in this sought-after financial role.

[Featured image] A businessman holds paperwork as he works from home.

A financial controller is a senior executive who manages a company's financial health. While the controller is typically the company's lead accountant or financial manager, they do far more than just keep the books. This person analyzes data and trends and makes financial decisions to help companies prosper. 

Let's take a closer look at this career.

What is a financial controller?

A financial controller leads day-to-day accounting operations and guides a company's financial strategy. They are typically situated within the finance department, and depending on the size of the company, they may head the department or report to the chief financial officer (CFO).

Salary and job outlook

Financial controller is a sought-after, high-level position. According to Lightcast™, financial managers in the US earn an average annual salary of $140,792 in 2023, and there has been an 8 percent growth in the field from 2021 through 2023 [1]. ("Financial manager" is an umbrella term that financial controller falls under.)

According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, the position is expected to continue growing at a rate of 17 percent from 2021 to 2031, which is much faster than average [2].

Job description

The scope of a financial controller's role can depend on the size of the company or organization. In smaller companies, financial controllers oversee the company's entire financial operations. In larger companies, the financial controller is typically still a business leader, but may report to the CFO.

As a financial controller, your responsibilities may include:


  • Tracking cash flow

  • Managing expenses

  • Establishing internal accounting processes

  • Preparing financial statements

  • Confirming the accuracy of reports, income statements, and balance sheets

  • Overseeing regulatory compliance

  • Managing direct reports on the finance and/or accounting teams

  • Conducting financial analysis

  • Developing a financial growth plan for the company's future

  • Evaluating and implementing financial risk management procedures

  • Overseeing tax filings

  • Maintaining broad financial stability

The financial controller's forward-looking role in the organization distinguishes them from other accountants. While accountants typically analyze and keep track of past data, the controller uses financial information and projections to help the organization plan its future financial activities.

Financial controller vs. CFO

Chief financial officers (CFOs) take a higher-level, strategic role in a company’s finances. A CFO tends to perform management-oriented tasks, while controllers take a more tactical approach to the day-to-day operations of a company’s accounting department.


How to become a financial controller

Most financial controllers have extensive experience working in business and finance. Let’s take a closer look at the typical job requirements and recommendations you should consider to advance your career in this field. 

Educational requirements

According to Lightcast™, the typical entry-level education to become any type of financial manager, including a financial controller, is a bachelor's degree [1]. For these high-level positions, some companies may prefer candidates with a master's degree.

If you're interested in becoming a financial controller and haven't earned your bachelor's degree yet, you may want to consider a degree in accounting or a degree in business administration.

If you've already earned your bachelor's degree and want to continue your professional education, you may want to consider pursuing an advanced degree, such as the Master of Accounting (MSA), Master of Finance (MSF), or a Master of Business Administration (MBA).

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Certifications and professional experience

In addition to earning a degree, financial controllers typically have at least five years of relevant experience [1]. You can make yourself more appealing to hiring managers by earning an industry-recognized certification. Popular options include the Certified Public Accountant (CPA) or Chartered Financial Analyst (CFA) credentials.

Job skills for financial controllers

Effective financial controllers leverage a wide range of technical and people skills as they steer a company’s financial future. If your career goals include advancing to a role as a controller, spend some time now working on these skills: 


  • Analytical skills to help you make informed decisions about the company's financial future

  • Mastery of math and accounting

  • Auditing skills

  • Communication and interpersonal skills to effectively inform stakeholders about important financial decisions 

  • Competency with financial management software and accounting systems

  • Organizational skills

  • Problem-solving

Keep learning

Explore whether a career in business finance is right for you. Learn basic financial concepts in Finance for Non-Finance Professionals from Rice University, or earn a Professional Certificate in Bookkeeping from Intuit. If you’re ready to take the next step in your career, learn more about earning a graduate degree from a top university, like the Master of Business Administration from the University of Illinois.

Article sources


Lightcast™ Analyst. "Occupation Summary for Financial Managers." Accessed May 1, 2023.

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