What is a Controller in Accounting?
A Financial Controller is in a position of considerable responsibility, one that within the grand ecosystem of financial management sits at the critical juncture between budgeting, planning, cash flow management, maintenance of bank accounts, cost, debt, and inventory accounting.
One of the critical differences between a Controller and a Financial Manager is down to reporting and presentation of budget, and overall financial decision-making – Controllers don’t make the decisions, but they provide the high-quality evidence that informs them.
A CEO or Financial business leaders will often make investment and cash flow decisions based on the wide-ranging financial statement and trend analysis conducted by the Controller, which means Controllers must be both tapped into the C-Suite, aware of business goals, and connected intimately with cash flow management and implementation of financial strategy.
What is an Accounting Controller?
Financial Controllers are almost always senior-level executives who oversee the operations of the finance and accounting departments.
Controllers in smaller companies with fewer teams might have to do more of the work themselves rather than delegating it. Whereas at the larger business houses, Accounting Controllers have daily routines that are closer to what a Finance Director might do, but again as mentioned above, a crucial difference between FM and controller lies in the power over budget responsibility and expenditure – FMs make investment and financial decisions, Controllers help prepare reports indicating how the financial landscape sits.
Who hires an Accounting Controller?
Anyone and everyone who requires a high level of financial reporting – financial institutions such as banks, insurance firms, audit firms, investment vehicles, governmental departments, non-profits, large and small commercial firms, on and on the list goes.
As mentioned above, however, and parallel to other high-level finance roles, often the day-to-day responsibilities of a Controller can, and often are, split across other executive figures, especially in enterprises that are small and where board-level staff are few and far between. In this case, CFOs, CEOs, Treasurers, and even Senior Accountants will operate as Controllers.
What are the primary responsibilities of an Accounting Controller?
- Financial management,
- Corporate accounting,
- Regulatory compliance,
- Financial reporting,
- Corporate budgeting,
- Financial planning,
- Cash flow management,
- Financial risk management,
- Debt management and collection,
- Cost management,
- Managing payrolls,
- Developing financial governance
- Control policies.
What skills are needed to be an Accounting Controller?
As we highlight in our Financial Controller Qualifications & Skills and Financial Controller Job Description resource pages, Controllers are essentially a step or two up from regular accounting professionals. As such, there is a lot of overlap between the skill requirements for Accountants and Controllers:
- A business, finance, or accounting degree,
- Accounting qualification,
- Ideally a tier 1 MBA degree,
- Understanding of accounting standards like GAAP and IFRS,
- Tangible work experience in a finance or accounting department,
- High-level numeracy skills,
- Communication skills,
- Analytical skills,
- Reporting skills,
- Regulatory knowledge,
- The ability to handle high-pressure,
- A deep understanding of the sector that he or she is employed in,
- Have a strategic mindset.
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