Financial Controller Qualifications & Skills

Financial Controllers oversee financial reporting, accounting records and other daily activities at the company and senior level. They ensure all projects are accurately performed and follow various accounting regulations. The Controller may additionally play a role in strategic plans and work closely with the company’s Chief Executive Officer.

There is much overlap between the skill requirements for Accountants and Financial Controllers. However, Financial Controllers are a step or two up from regular accounting professionals regarding career progression. As 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 for a financial controllership position, visit the following article.

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Financial Controller Job Description

The FC serves as the head of the finance team. Usually, the candidate will have significant experience preparing accounting and tax forms, plus the ability to lead and control the company book. Supervisory managers need organisational management and a willingness to adopt a broad corporate culture with policies and procedures for compliance. The key component that links finance to the entire management team is good communication.

Financial controllers generally report to the Finance Director or CFO. In most cases, they will 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 company’s CEO, giving a good idea of the domain experience expected from the role. Please visit the following article for details on a financial controller’s detailed job description.

Financial controllership entails much responsibility, as any mistakes in reporting periodic financial statements can have severe repercussions. Therefore generally, 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.

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Financial Controller Academic qualifications

Financial controllers are more likely to get a job through graduate studies. A Bachelor’s Degree in Accounting usually satisfies the minimum requisites for controller positions. However, hiring managers prefer candidates with MBAs or Masters in Accountancy.

As Controllers must demonstrate leadership and financial guidance, MBAs provide comprehensive preparation for managerial jobs. This wide variety of degrees covers economic planning, business management and accounting. The graduate programme offers an additional opportunity to develop professional skills.

A strong affinity for mathematics is mandatory and will be instrumental in completing the required courses and on-the-job performance.

Formal Certifications

Financial Controllers must have a formal accounting qualification accepted in their country of employment. The following are examples of some of the organisations which offer such capabilities:

Association of Chartered Certified Accountants (ACCA)

Chartered Institute of Management Accountants (CIMA)

Institute of Chartered Accountants in England and Wales (ICAEW)

Many professionals acquire these qualifications while working in other financial accounting-related roles. Since this is a senior-level position, the focus is invariably more towards what a candidate has 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.

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Work Experience and Internships

A Controller should show their work readiness on CVs, resumes and achievements. The candidate is also well-equipped to learn generally accepted accounting principles. Since many firms value experience and educational experience, internships are a way for a student to prepare for work in accounting. Students typically attend these programmes after graduating with university credits. Both options are available for accountants seeking practical knowledge and having a professional network.

Most open positions for a Financial Controller role will require 5 to 15 years of related experience in functions such as managerial accounting or other senior finance department positions. The exact work experience requirement depends upon the company’s size, the number of employees that the Financial Controller will oversee, and the specific organisational structure of the company. Whatever the case, it is a position that requires a deep understanding of how finance and accounting departments work.

Most candidates spend several years in the finance and accounting departments to get the work experience required for a financial controllership position. These individuals must display leadership capabilities and a superior ability to decipher and dissect financial numbers. Roles that require more interaction with other departments offer a better opportunity for eventual promotion to a Financial Controller position.

In smaller companies, the work experience requirement might be lower. However, Financial Controllers would still need to perform all their duties and thus thoroughly understand accounting principles and financial management.

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What Skills Do Financial Controllers Need?


The most critical skill that Financial Controllers need to possess is a deep understanding of accounting. Financial Controllers usually pick up these skills while working in an accounting firm or within an accounting department. However, in 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 that required at entry-level positions. Rather than being skilled at organising and manipulating data, Financial Controllers have to be adept at understanding the implications of the data and having the ability to communicate those implications to other stakeholders effectively.

Numeracy Skills

Financial Controllers must be naturally good at understanding and deciphering numerical data allowing them to execute their roles effectively and add value to the organisation. Every mistake the financial accounting department makes can translate into significant financial or operational losses. Financial Controllers who excel at spotting such errors will quickly earn their keep through value addition for the organisation.

Keeping Up to Date With Regulations

Regulations frequently and rapidly change across all environments, and Financial Controllers must always be on top of these regulatory changes. A deep and thorough understanding of accounting standards like GAAP and IFRS is mandatory. They have to be aware of what is happening from a regulatory point of view and decipher the intent of those regulatory changes and apply them to their departments.

Financial Controllers must also liaise with their compliance teams to educate other departments about regulatory compliance issues.

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Top Soft Skills for Financial Controllers

Financial Controllers must also have strong technical skills to excel in their respective fields and their qualifications or certifications. Below are six skills which will be helpful for success in this role:

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 they perform their duties following the organisation’s objectives. Doing this is easier said than done, which is why Financial Controllers are individuals who have successfully displayed their leadership abilities throughout their careers.

Handling Deadlines and Pressure Situations

Like most finance and accounting departments, Financial Controllers’ workloads peak during month-end, quarter-end, and year-end reporting periods. Pre-planning will 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 must therefore work under enormous time pressure to produce the necessary reports while maintaining flawless accuracy.

Business Acumen

It may be adequate to record and report data relating to financial transactions for most accounting roles, but this is certainly not the case for the position of Financial Controller. A Financial Controller, ideally, must possess a deep understanding of the relevant sector. Such an understanding will help them to add real value to the organisation. For example, having a deep knowledge of cost accounting might help the Financial Controller suggest management changes that can help reduce overall operating costs.

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Strategic Planning

Whilst being task-oriented will help any Financial Controller perform their duties, having a strategic mindset will make the job easier. Financial Controllers must oversee the operations of large departments, which may well include special projects. The ability to strategically monitor and fine-tune the functions of these departments and tasks is critical for the Financial Controller role.

Communication Skills

The best Finance Controller is a good communicator. They will often provide information about complicated finance to non-experts in this role. Strong communicants speak clearly and concisely, target messages to audiences carefully and read others’ advice carefully.

Time-Management Skills

Financial Controllers must adhere to tight deadline responsibilities. They must prepare and report annual budgets, weekly forecasts and quarterly reports as part of a yearly tax return. Financial Controllers can manage their duties efficiently, meet deadlines and manage stressful conditions.

Controller vs CFO

In smaller financial departments, the Controller and CFO can be similar. However, generally, the organisation’s Chief Financial Officer also acts as the executive leader. Aside from ensuring the financial team’s good running, the role ensures everyone gets the necessary information. They also assist with strategic decisions that help develop a company’s prospects. The CFO may work closely with the CEO and provide reports to the board. Therefore, CFOs are less directly involved with the accounting department’s day-to-day running than the Financial Controller.

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Career Growth Opportunities

Financial Controllers gain valuable leadership training to support their future careers. Often a CEO or Treasurer position in an enterprise is the next step for an experienced Financial Controller.

To learn more about becoming a Financial Controller, please visit our resources page, or search for Financial Controller roles here.

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