What Is a Financial Controller?

Written by Coursera Staff • Updated on

Learn 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. 

What does a financial controller do?

Controllers have many functions, which can vary by the size of the company or organization. A controller in smaller companies must be versatile, as it may control 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.


Why pursue a career as a controller?

Financial controllers are sought-after, high-level positions. According to Glassdoor, financial managers like controllers had a median annual pay of $107,888 in Canada [1]. Salaries vary widely by location and experience, with Ontario, Alberta, and Nunavut reporting the highest median hourly wage [2].  

If you're considering a future career as a controller, now is a great time to get a solid financial education and the proper 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 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 a bachelor’s degree in economics, commerce, business administration, or a similar field. Many companies prefer candidates with a master’s degree in finance or a Master of Accounting (MSA). Employers looking for candidates for this position may seek experience in accounting, budgeting, auditing, financial planning, and related skills. 

Certifications and professional experience

In addition to earning a degree, financial controllers typically have several years of professional experience as an accountant or audit manager. You can make yourself more appealing to hiring managers by earning an industry-recognized certification. Popular options include Chartered Accountant (CA), Certified Management Accountant (CMA), and Certified General Accountant (CGA) designations.

Skills for financial controllers

Effective financial controllers leverage technical and people skills to 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

  • Mastery of math and accounting

  • Auditing skills

  • Communication skills

  • Competency with financial management software

  • Organizational skills

  • Problem-solving

Your career path in finance

Explore whether a business finance career is a good fit for you through Rice University’s Finance for Non-Finance Professionals course on Coursera. 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.

Article sources


Glassdoor. “Financial Controller Salary in Canada, https://www.glassdoor.ca/Salaries/financial-controller-salary-SRCH_KO0,20.htm.” Accessed June 12, 2024.

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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.