How To Become A Financial Controller

Financial Controller

If there’s one career field that will always be attractive to MBAs, it’s a career in finance, which why almost every top MBA program offers a finance concentration. In 2015, Harvard and Stanford each sent 31 percent of their MBA graduates into finance. And one of the most popular jobs in the field for an MBA graduate is a Financial Controller.

Financial Controllers are well respected within the accounting industry and offer a potentially lucrative career path. Each controller job is unique, but in general, whether you work for a large corporation such as Ernst and Young (EY) or a small business, all controllers analyze and develop financial information using a forward-looking approach.

So what exactly is the role of a Financial Controller within an organization?

The Day-To-Day

Investopedia‘s description of the role reads: “Every controller serves two primary functions, although some companies may require more or less than is normal. A controller is responsible for overseeing the completion of internal control audits, with focusing specifically on possible errors or fraud. The second primary job of a controller is to develop and execute an operational strategy for the finance team’s day-to-day activity.”

Financial Controllers are responsible for control of the monthly, quarterly and annual financial accounts as well as managing payables, receivables, payroll, controls and interdepartmental communication. It’s a highly analytical position that requires both a firm grasp of accounting and business concepts, which is one reason that an MBA is valuable.

According to EY, there are four priorities for every Financial Controller:

  • To find and develop talented people: “Recruiting skilled staff is rated as the number one challenge for FCs over the next five years.”
  • To improve reporting and add value to the business: “Management reporting remains the bedrock on which the FC’s role is built, because it is critical for the interface of finance and business.”
  • To get the basics right: “There is still a basic requirement to get it right: accuracy, reliability and simply being on top of things are vital. There is no margin for error.”
  • To improve efficiency: “However much you are an advocate of finance, ultimately it is a back-office function and is subject to annual productivity and efficiency pressures.”

The Financial Controller Salary

According to PayScale, MBAs who go on to obtain a job as a Financial Controller can expect a wide salary range—anywhere between $59,500 to $128,000. Digging into the data a little further, it quickly becomes obvious that salary is based on experience. Controllers with less than five years of experience make approximately $15,000 less than their cohorts with 5-10 years of experience, and $25,000 less than those with over 10 years of experience. As for the national average, Financial Controllers can expect to make around $80,000 but in San Francisco or New York, you’ll earn 30 percent more, while you’ll make around 3 percent less in Miami and 9 percent less in Portland.

Earning The Job

So, how exactly do you become a Financial Controller? It’s not a job you can obtain fresh out of college. In fact, the most common path to becoming an FC requires you to first complete a multi-year tenure as an Assistant Controller. Assistant Controllers usually have an auditing or cost control background and already have their CPA certifications. And depending on your employer, you may find that special emphasis is placed on experience within the industry.

As for the timeline and path to becoming a Financial Controller, it could take 12 to 20 years. The standard route to reach employee starts with four years in undergraduate school—typically with a degree in finance or accounting. From there, many students decide to obtain their Master’s in Finance or MBA. After that, you work in a Big Four firm for a few years, followed by a stint as a government auditor or senior-level accountant. Finally, you can become an Assistant Controller for a few years before advancing to FC.

Do You Need an MBA To Be a Financial Controller?

An MBA isn’t strictly necessary to become a Financial Controller, but it is definitely helpful. An MBA can help you get your foot in the door and make you stand out compared to your competitors. Plus, an MBA, unlike a Master’s in Finance, provides a broader range of experience, which can be especially useful for the business side of controllership.

“After completing the CMA accreditation and advancing to the Controller level, both in public and private companies, I pursed an MBA,” explained an anonymous contributor on “Earning both has provided the necessary tools and skill sets to reach beyond accounting and finance. Using finance as a platform, the MBA has allowed me to become a better financial and strategic leader. When combined, the credentials provide that intellectual horsepower to connect with the business and see through different lenses. The result is the impact and influence one can make and the overall contributions you add to the organization. That said, it’s how you apply what you’ve learned. While answers are important, it’s the questions you arrive at to drill down and solve business problems with colleagues that makes the difference.”

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About the Author

Kelly Vo    

Kelly Vo is a writer who specializes in covering MBA programs, digital marketing, and personal development.

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