What Is a Financial Controller?

Written by Coursera • Updated on

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

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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. 

What does a financial controller do?

Controllers have a number of functions, many of which depend on the size of the company or organization. In smaller companies, a controller must be versatile, as they may have control over almost all the accounting functions. In larger corporations, you may take a leadership role, making decisions to ensure financial stability. 

As a financial controller, your responsibilities may include:

  • Tracking cash flow

  • Managing expenses

  • Establishing internal accounting procedures

  • Preparing financial documents

  • Ensuring the accuracy of reports, statements, and balance sheets

  • Maintaining compliance with financial regulations and laws

  • Overseeing staff in the accounting department

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

  • Analyzing financial data

  • Evaluating and managing risk

  • Handling tax matters

  • Ensuring the company or organization is financially stable

The 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.

Did you know? 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 financial department.

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Why pursue a career as a controller?

Financial controller is a sought-after, high-level position. According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, financial managers like controllers had a median annual pay of $134,180 in 2020. The position is expected to grow by 17 percent from 2020 to 2030, which is faster than average [1].

If you're considering a future career as a controller, now is a great time to get a solid financial education and the right certifications to set yourself up for success in the years to come.  

How to become a financial controller

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

Educational requirements

Most financial managers, including controllers, have at least a bachelor’s degree in finance or accounting. Many companies prefer candidates with a master’s degree in finance or a Master of Accounting (MSA).

Read more: What Can You Do with a Finance Degree? 7 Career Paths

Certifications and professional experience

In addition to earning a degree, financial controllers typically have several years of professional experience as an accountant or auditor. 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.

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 skills to effectively inform management about important financial decisions 

  • Competency with financial management software

  • Organizational skills

  • Problem-solving

Your career path in finance

Explore for yourself whether a career in business finance is a good fit for you through the Finance for Non-Finance Professionals course from Rice University. If you’re ready to take the next step in your career, learn more about earning a graduate finance degree from a top university, like the Master of Business Administration from the University of Illinois.

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Article sources

1. US Bureau of Labor Statistics. “Financial Managers, https://www.bls.gov/ooh/management/financial-managers.htm.” Accessed January 24, 2022.

Written by Coursera • Updated on

This content has been made available for informational purposes only. Learners are advised to conduct additional research to ensure that courses and other credentials pursued meet their personal, professional, and financial goals.

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