Career Path to Become a Financial Controller – Qualification, Roles, and Responsibilities

A financial controller plays an important role in formulating the strategic financial direction of a business.

The key role of a controller is to review and analyze the financial performance of a company by managing the accounting/finance team.

What is Financial Controller?

As the name suggests, a financial controller is a person who controls or manages the finance department of a company.

A financial controller works closely with a business’s top management, including the Chief Financial Officer (CFO). The main task of a controller is to oversee the accounting and finance functions of the business.

Unlike a conventional accountant, a controller takes the role of a manager. So, a financial controller can be distinguished from an accountant on the basis of management control as well.

There is no direct educational qualification that can guarantee you a job role of a controller. In practice, most accountants develop their careers toward controllers with additional qualifications, certifications, and experience.

What Skills Do You Need to Become a Financial Controller?

Perhaps the most important trait distinguishing a financial controller from an accountant is the skillset.

Financial controllers possess a vast range of soft and hard skills.

Leadership Skills

A financial controller often manages a team of accountants and finance managers. Therefore, possessing leadership skills to manage a department is a prerequisite for this role.

Leadership skills help you create a team that collaborates efficiently to achieve the company’s strategic financial goals in the long term.

Strategic Management and Organization

Organization and management skills help you in managing large sets of financial and other data.

Financial controllers have to deal with large and complex data sets. Then, the prime task is to convert raw data into useful insights for future planning.

Critical Thinking and Analytical Skills

Financial management is the backbone of any business. Controllers can help boost the financial performance of the company.

You can contribute with analytical and critical thinking in key decisions like debt structuring, refinancing, cash flow management, budgeting, pricing, and cost control activities to name a few.

People and Communication Skills

As financial controllers manage a team, effective communication skills are important for running a successful financial section.

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Similarly, you can utilize people (human resource management) skills to analyze the performance of your team and provide feedback to the management.

IT Skills

More businesses are switching to specialized accounting and auditing software now. It means a financial controller must possess sufficient IT skills to understand and manage a company’s financials.

Therefore, merely having relevant knowledge of accounting and financial fields can still make you fall short of becoming a good financial controller.

What Educational Qualification is Required for a Financial Controller?

A financial controller is usually a qualified educational person with at least a master’s degree in accounting or finance.

Typically, financial controllers possess an MBA with majors in finance or marketing. Others possess a master’s in economics from a reputed organization.

Another educational route is to take a chartered certification from an accredited organization.

There is no exact educational qualification decision to become a financial controller though. You can take any route to start your career as a financial controller, however, education with accounting, finance, or economics as major subjects is a must.

Here are some common certifications and educational degrees possessed by financial controllers:

  • A Master’s in Business Administration (MBA).
  • A Master’s degree with economics as a major subject.
  • Qualification as a Charter Accountant CA or ACCA.
  • Membership from the Chartered Institute of Management Accountants (CIMA).
  • Certified Public Accountants (CPAs).
  • Certified Financial Analysts (CFAs).
  • Certified Financial Controllers (CFCs).

How to Become a Financial Controller?

There is no direct educational qualification that entitles you to become a financial controller. However, you can work towards becoming a financial controller and start your career as an assistant financial controller or any other junior post.

Complete a Degree

The role of a financial controller is a challenging one. Therefore, having a master’s degree in accounting, finance, or economics can help you cope with these challenges.

The competitiveness of the job also demands undertaking the highest level of educational qualification. So, earning a master’s degree or any other program with at least 16 years of education can help you get a good start.

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Earn a Professional Certification

Professional certification is not mandatory. However, obtaining one can boost your chances of success in a highly competitive job market for controllers.

Having a professional certification like a CFC, CFA, CPA, CA, or ACCA along with your master’s degree can give you a competitive edge over others.

Gain Relevant Work Experience

Most companies will want an experienced finance professional for the role of a financial controller. Therefore, you must begin at a junior post as soon as you complete your educational qualification.

Work experience can help you get a professional certification. You must look to add at least 10 years of relevant work experience before you can apply for the post of financial controller.

Apply for the Post

Once you possess sufficient knowledge and experience, consider your preferred industry to apply for the post.

Every industry requires financial controllers. Therefore, with the right skill set and experience, you can enter your preferred industry or company.

What are the Roles and Responsibilities of Financial Controllers?

Key responsibilities of a financial controller surround the accounting and finance functions of a company.

Here are a few key roles performed by a controller.

  • Management and organization of financial statements, income expense records, and reconciliation of accounting records.
  • Overseeing the payroll function of the business.
  • Managing and complying with taxation obligations.
  • Communication and mentorship to the accounting staff.
  • Communication in strategic decisions with the CFO and senior management.
  • Analysis and review of the financial performance of the company.
  • Offering leadership and strategic vision to the business for key financial decisions including financing, investments, and income distributions.

Financial Controller – Expected Salary and Outlook

The expected growth for the post of financial controller is one of the fastest-growing sectors according to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics.

The expected job growth rate for this post according to BLS is around 17% from 2021 to 2031.

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The average annual salary earned by a financial controller in the US is $97,121. Although the salary will depend on experience, qualification, and location along with other factors.

Career Growth Opportunities for Financial Controllers

The role of a financial controller is a mid to senior-level management one. You can jump to the post of a lead controller, a CFO, or a director of finance in your company.

Another possible route undertaken by controllers is to switch the industry or employers for a better remuneration package.

In small organizations, the role of a controller and CFO is often undertaken by the same person. So, you’ll likely be performing the same tasks already.

In large organizations, you can flourish to the post of a CFO with experience and an improved skill set.

Pros and Cons of Becoming a Financial Controller

The career path of a financial controller offers excellent opportunities and some considerable challenges though.

Pros Explained:

  • It is one of the fastest-growing job roles in the world and offers lucrative salary packages.
  • Controllers possess a wide range of soft and hard skills that can be applied to other sections as well.
  • Controllers can progress to higher management roles like a CFO, COO, or directors as well.
  • Financial controllers possess the expertise and relevant skills that enable them to undertake several other roles in the accounting and finance sectors.

Cons Explained:

  • The educational qualification, professional certification, and relevant work experience requirements are tough challenges for this role.
  • This job role requires at least 10 years of experience.
  • It requires substantial efforts to obtain soft and hard skills for this post.
  • It can be an expensive career path for many to pursue.

The challenges of this role can be overwhelming for many people.

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