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What Is a Financial Controller?

July 19, 2021

If you are interested in a career in finances, you may want to consider becoming a financial controller. This in-demand position is lucrative, fulfilling, and challenging, as it requires strong management skills. To help you decide if it's the best role for you, you need to know more about it. In this article, we describe what a financial controller is, discuss their primary duties, required skills, average salary, how you can become one, and answer frequently asked questions you may have about the process.

Related: How to Choose a Career Path in 10 Easy Steps

What is a financial controller?

A financial controller manages a company's accounting activities by fulfilling the following tasks and responsibilities:

  • Managing billing, accounts receivable, accounts payable, general ledger, cost accounting, revenue recognition, and inventory accounting
  • Overseeing the finance department and reporting to the Chief Financial Officer (CFO)
  • Preparing and publishing monthly financial statements
  • Coordinating the preparation of budgets, financial forecasts, and regulatory reporting
  • Staying up to date with the financial industry
  • Monitoring the company's processes and policies for compliance
  • Ensuring quality control over financial reporting and transactions
  • Developing and implementing accounting policies and processes
  • Managing tax filings

How to become a financial controller

If you're interested in pursuing a career as a financial controller, here are the steps you can take to do so:

1. Get a bachelor's degree

The minimum requirement for becoming a financial controller is a bachelor's degree. There are many programs you can pursue, such as finance, accounting, or business administration. These courses prepare you for the role as they cover topics like economics, business law, managerial accounting, budget analysis, human resources, and financial management. It typically takes three to four years to obtain a bachelor's degree.

2. Consider an internship

While you're working towards obtaining your bachelor's degree, you may want to consider pursuing an internship as well. Your program may require you to complete an internship, but even if it doesn't, internships are a great option as they provide hands-on experience in the finance industry. If you perform well in your internship, the company may even be happy to hire you when you get your bachelor's degree. Internships are also a great way to network and break into the industry.

3. Pursue an entry-level job in finance

Financial controllers are managers, so they must have a strong background in the industry first. To get this experience, you need to start in an entry-level role and work your way up. There are different paths you can take, such as becoming an accountant, auditor, or analyst. However, these roles may require additional training. Research the different roles to help you determine which one suits your needs. Many companies prefer financial controllers with at least five years of experience in the finance industry and another two years in a leadership role. So, you need to start in an entry-level role and develop your skills and expertise over time.

Related: Understanding Entry-Level Jobs

4. Get certified

After finding the path that suits you best, you need additional certification to become a financial controller. If you want to become an accountant first, you need a Certified Public Accountant (CPA) credential. To get this certification, you must have a relevant bachelor's degree and one year of experience in accounting. This allows you to complete the CPA Professional Education Program (CPA PEP) which takes two years part-time as you continue to work in accounting. Before receiving your certification, you need to pass the Common Final Examination, a three-day test allowing you to become a CPA.

Another certification that allows you to become a financial controller is the Chartered Financial Analyst (CFA) certificate. To do this, you need a relevant bachelor's degree and four years of professional work experience in the investment field. Then, you can complete the CFA training program, which takes around three to four years to complete while you're still working. You need to pass three exams to finish the program and get certified.

5. Consider an advanced degree

Employers may not require financial controllers to have an advanced degree, but it can set you apart from other candidates. Consider pursuing a Master of Business Administration (MBA) or a related degree. This qualification teaches you more about the finance industry and prepares you for the role of financial controller.

6. Apply for financial controller roles

After years of hands-on work experience and specialized training, you're ready to become a financial controller. Consider applying for internal roles first with your current company. Employers are more likely to promote current employees to management roles than hire externally, so you have a better chance. If there aren't any financial controller roles available at your current company, look through local job postings from other companies.

Ensure you create an updated resume and tailor it to each job. To do this, look through the job posting you're applying for and note any keywords that come up a lot, such as specific skills or knowledge. Ensure you include these keywords in your resume to help you get the hiring manager's attention and receive an invitation to interview for the position. In the interview, use the opportunity to elaborate on your skills and experience and explain why you're the best fit for the role.

Average salary

The national average salary for a financial controller is $79,442 per year. This salary varies depending on your location, experience level, and company. You can negotiate your salary when you have received a job offer and state your salary expectations in an interview.

Related: How To Negotiate Salary (With Examples)

Working conditions

Financial controllers hold a management position, so they typically have their own office and work in front of a computer. Financial controllers can work in banks, government buildings, or corporate offices. They usually work typical office hours, nine to five, from Monday to Friday. During tax seasons or other busy periods, they may work more than their typical 40 hours per week.

Financial controllers collaborate with a team of accountants and clerks and report to a chief financial officer. As they work with a team, financial controllers often need to attend or run meetings. To stay up to date with the finance industry, financial controllers attend seminars or conferences.

Frequently asked questions about becoming a financial controller

To help you determine whether financial controller is the role for you, here are some answers to FAQs you may have:

What skills does a financial controller need?

A successful financial controller needs the following skills and attributes:

  • Problem-solving skills
  • Organizational skills
  • Math and accounting skills
  • Strong attention to detail
  • Written and verbal communication skills
  • Interpersonal skills
  • Management skills
  • Reliability
  • Honesty
  • Integrity

Related: How to Improve Your Skill Set and Keep Skills Current

What is the difference between a CFO and a financial controller?

A CFO is the senior executive of the finance department at a company. They manage the company's financial actions through financial planning, tracking cash flow, and overseeing the finance team. A financial controller typically works directly under the CFO and manages the financial departments day-to-day operations.

How long does it take to become a financial controller?

As there are different paths to becoming a financial controller, there's no strict amount of time it takes to become one. Your bachelor's degree will take three to four years and allow you to get an entry-level finance role. This allows you to pursue further certification as a CFA or CPA. The CPA program takes two years, and you need one year of experience prior. The CFA program takes three to four years and requires four years of experience prior. Then, you may decide to pursue a master's degree for one or two years. After all your training and five to seven years of experience in the finance industry, you can become a financial controller.

What are job prospects for financial controllers like?

Financial controllers tend to work in urban areas so large cities will have better job prospects. According to the Government of Canada's Job Bank, here are the job prospects for financial controllers in each province and territory:

  • Alberta: fair
  • British Columbia: good
  • Manitoba: limited
  • New Brunswick: good
  • Newfoundland and Labrador: fair
  • Northwest Territories: fair
  • Nova Scotia: fair
  • Nunavut: fair
  • Ontario: good
  • Prince Edward Island: fair
  • Quebec: fair
  • Saskatchewan: fair
  • Yukon: fair

Where do financial controllers earn the most money?

According to Indeed Salaries, these are the highest paying cities in Canada for financial controllers:

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