What qualifications are needed to be a financial controller?
Financial Controllers are essentially a step or two up from regular accounting professionals in terms of career progression. As such, there is a lot of overlap between the skill requirements for accountants and financial controllers. Being a leadership position, financial controllership requires a fair bit of extra on-the-job experience, team management skills, a broader perspective and the ability to handle stakeholders in other teams. A Master’s degree in finance and accounting will further strengthen the CV of someone looking to join a career in financial controllership. For more CV building tips specifically for the financial controllership position, please visit the following CV building article.
Financial controllers generally report to the finance director or the CFO. In most cases, they are expected to fill those positions eventually in their careers. In smaller companies, financial controllers can even perform the duties of the CFO and report directly to the CEO of the company. This should give you a fairly good idea of the sort of domain experience that is expected out of this role. For details on the exact job description for financial controllers please visit the following article.
Financial controllership entails a lot of responsibility as any mistakes in the reporting of the periodic financial statements can have severe repercussions. However, financial controllers have access to teams of professionals and specialised software to help them perform their duties. They also get well compensated for their efforts. The salary figures for financial controllers in various EU countries are in the following article on salaries.
Academic qualifications and formal certifications
In terms of academic qualifications; a business, finance or accounting degree is almost essential. A strong affinity for mathematics is mandatory and it will be instrumental in completing the required courses as well as for on-the-job performance.
In terms of formal qualifications, financial controllers are required to have a formal accounting qualification which is accepted in their country of employment. The following are examples of some of the organisations which offer such qualifications:
Please note that many professionals acquire these qualifications while working in other finance/ accounting related roles. Since this is a senior-level position, the focus invariably is more towards what a candidate achieved during their several years of work experience rather than the academic pedigree. However, Fortune 500 companies might still prefer candidates with a tier 1 MBA degree, as they do for most of their leadership positions
A deep and thorough understanding of accounting standards like GAAP and IFRS is also mandatory
Most open positions for a financial controller role will require anything from 5 to 15 years of related experience in roles like managerial accounting or other senior finance department positions. The exact work experience requirement is dependent on the size of the company, the number of employees that the financial controller is expected to oversee, and the specific organisational structure of the company. Whatever the case may be, it is a position which requires a deep understanding of how the finance and accounting departments work.
To get the work experience required for a financial controllership position, most candidates usually spend several years in the finance and accounting departments. These individuals must display leadership capabilities and a superior ability to decipher and dissect financial numbers. Roles which require more interaction with other departments might offer a better opportunity for eventual promotion to a financial controller position.
In smaller companies, the work experience requirement might not be as high. However, financial controllers would still need to perform all their duties and thus need to have a thorough understanding of accounting principles and financial management.
What skills do financial controllers need?
Perhaps the most significant skill that financial controllers need to possess is a deep understanding of the world of accounting. Financial controllers usually pick up these skills whilst working in either an accounting firm or within an accounting department. However, at the more senior-level position that financial controllers occupy, they need to have a broader understanding of accounting and the ability to look at it from a holistic perspective.
The accounting skillset at more senior levels differs somewhat from what is required at the entry-level positions. Rather than being skilled at organising and manipulating data, financial controllers also have to be adept at understanding the implications of the data and having the ability to effectively communicate those implications to other stakeholders.
Financial controllers must be naturally good at understanding and deciphering numerical data. This will not only allow them to more effectively execute their roles but also add value to the organisation. Every mistake that is made by the financial accounting department can translate to significant financial or operational losses. Financial controllers who excel at spotting such mistakes will easily earn their keep by way of value addition for the organisation.
Being up to date with regulations
Regulations are frequently and rapidly changing in the European Union. Over the last two or three years, we have seen several directives which have changed the landscape for many industries significantly. Financial controllers must be always on top of these regulatory changes. They not only have to be aware of what is happening from a regulatory point of view but also can decipher the intent of those regulatory changes and apply them to their departments. Additionally, financial controllers also must liaise with the compliance teams in order to educate other departments about regulatory compliance issues.
Leadership and team management
Being a financial controller is automatically a leadership position. Financial controllers must lead large teams of finance and accounting professionals and ensure that they perform their duties in accordance with the organisation’s overall objectives. Doing this is easier said than done though, which is why financial controllers are selected from amongst individuals who have successfully displayed their leadership abilities over the course of their careers.
Handling deadlines and pressure situations
Like most of the finance and accounting departments, financial controllers’ workload also peaks during month end, quarter end, or year-end reporting periods. Pre-planning will obviously reduce some of this workload but at the end of the day, the data for a specific period is only available at a certain point. Financial controllers thus must work under enormous time pressure to put out the reports while still maintaining a flawless level of accuracy.
It might be enough just to record and report data relating to financial transactions for most accounting roles, but that is certainly not enough for the role of the financial controller. A financial controller, ideally, must possess a rather deep understanding of the sector that he or she is employed in. Such an understanding will help the financial controller to add real value to the organisation. For example, having a deep understanding of cost accounting might help the financial controller to suggest changes to management that can help reduce overall operating costs.
While being task-oriented will not hurt any financial controller in the performance of their duties, having a strategic mindset might make the job easier. Financial controllers must oversee the operations of large departments which might include any special projects. The ability to strategically monitor and fine-tune the operations of these departments and projects is critical for financial controllers.
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