A controller oversees an organization’s daily accounting operations, including the accounting, payroll, accounts payable and accounts receivable departments. The controller also helps guide a company’s strategic financial decisions — and is therefore integral to the financial health of the firm. If you’re aiming for this role, you’ll want to research controller salaries, skills and responsibilities, so you’ll be well-prepared to compete for this senior management position.
First, to better understand what controllers do, and the expectations they must typically meet, take time to review some current controller job descriptions. You’ll likely find that the responsibilities for controller roles often include the following:
- Preparing financial forecasting reports and financial statements (internal and external)
- Maintaining accounting records, including general ledger, payroll and taxes
- Reconciling accounts
- Coordinating audits
- Managing budgets
- Recommending financial performance benchmarks
- Communicating regularly with (and often reporting to) the CFO
- Overseeing accounts payable and receivable departments
- Ensuring income tax compliance
Staff management duties are often part of the controller’s job, too. And, in some companies, a controller may be the only accountant in the organization.
Qualifications for controllers
Candidates for controller jobs should have a minimum of a bachelor’s degree in accounting or business, but preferably an MBA. They should usually have at least seven years of experience in the accounting field, and some public accounting experience is often required.
Many controllers have several professional certifications, such as the CPA, chartered global management accountant (CGMA), chartered financial analyst (CFA) or certified management accountant (CMA).
Other qualifications that employers look for in a controller include:
- Working knowledge of generally accepted accounting principles (GAAP)
- For public companies: Knowledge of U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) regulations and the Sarbanes-Oxley Act (SOX)
- A strong work ethic
- Advanced knowledge of accounting software and financial analysis
- Attention to detail
- The ability to multitask
- Problem-solving skills
- Managerial abilities
- Interpersonal skills, including collaboration and communication
The specifics of the controller role can vary across different organizations, but fundamentally, controllers should possess a solid understanding of a company’s accounting operations and job functions. Controllers are considered the advanced technicians of the accounting world, so they should have the skills to evaluate the effectiveness of accounting software, systems and processes, as well.
Trends in controller salaries
Now, what about compensation for this position? What might you expect to earn as a controller, provided that you have the skills and experience required for the specific job and employer you’re targeting?
The 2020 Robert Half Salary Guide for Accounting and Finance Professionals reports that the salary midpoint (or median national salary) for a controller in financial services is $132,000. Controller salaries in corporate accounting can be even higher. The midpoint salary for a corporate controller is $177,750. (Use our Salary Calculator to find out what controller salaries are typical in your area.)
Keep in mind that many employers will also offer bonuses and other incentives to accounting and finance executives like controllers. So, depending on the organization you apply to, and trends in your local job market, you may earn compensation that is higher than the median national salary for the controller position.