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Controller Job Description, Career as a Controller, Salary, Employment

Definition and Nature of the Work, Education and Training Requirements, Getting the Job

Education and Training: College

Salary: Median—$167,898 per year

Employment Outlook: Good

Definition and Nature of the Work

Controllers are in charge of coordinating, planning, and reporting on the financial activities of a large organization. Controllers work for banks, corporations, and government agencies. They set financial policies. Often they are in charge of the accounting, bookkeeping, and auditing departments and sometimes choose the accounting method a company employs. They supervise record keeping and set up controls to ensure efficiency and honesty. All financial reports made within a company go to the controller. The controller reports directly to the president or board of directors of a company or organization. The controller also supervises the financial reports that are sent out of the company. These include annual reports to stockholders, tax returns, and reports to government agencies.

Controllers explain financial policies to people who work in their organizations. They are often responsible for assets and investments. For example, they are in charge of planning purchases of new equipment. Sometimes they borrow money from banks to be used by their companies to build new factories or offices. Controllers also plan budgets. They set limits on the amount of money to be spent by their firms each year. For example, a controller working for a city government may plan the sanitation department's budget for a one-year period. The controller allocates $1 million as the budget for the year. Using this amount, the controller decides how much is to be spent on new trash trucks, salaries, dump operations, and other operating expenses.

Education and Training Requirements

Controllers must have extensive knowledge of accounting and finance as well as working knowledge of the industry they serve. Training in accounting and finance is essential. Cost and budget accounting are important courses for those interested in becoming controllers. Courses in statistics and management are helpful, because they offer exposure to various aspects of business methods. The increased use of computers in accounting and record keeping makes knowledge of data processing important to a controller. People with a master's degree in accounting or a master's in business administration (MBA) have the best chance to be hired for executive training programs that lead to top-level jobs such as that of controller.

The Institute of Management Accountants offers the Certified Public Accountant (CPA) and the Certified Management Accountant (CMA) designations for financial managers specializing in accounting. Both designations would improve an employee's chances of becoming a controller.

Getting the Job

Only the most experienced workers become controllers. Some advance to the position by being promoted from the ranks of accountants and auditors in their company, whereas others are brought in from the outside to head the company's accounting departments.

A graduating student's college placement office can help him or her find an accounting job. The placement office can also provide information on companies and organizations that have executive training programs. A person can start as a trainee and advance to more responsible positions. Junior auditors can advance to senior auditors and then to controllers of branch stores. State and private employment offices and newspaper classified ads may offer job leads. For government jobs, interested individuals should apply to take the necessary civil service exam.

Advancement depends on a good knowledge of accounting, an ability to pay attention to details, an ability to think creatively, and a talent for management. Those who want to become executives must keep up with new accounting and data processing techniques. Many consultants take seminars and courses offered by professional associations.

Advancement Possibilities and Employment Outlook

Controllers are already at the top of their field. They may decide to move to organizations that offer higher salaries or more prestige. Controllers are sometimes picked to become a company's chief financial officer (CFO) or chief executive officer (CEO).

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, employment of financial managers at all levels was expected grow about as fast as the average for all occupations through the year 2014. The need for financial managers typically grows at the rate of the overall economy. Many entry-level financial managers advance to jobs such as cost accountant, chief cost accountant, budget director, or senior internal auditor. Only a few go on to become treasurers, controllers, or financial vice presidents. However, all of these positions are well-paid, challenging jobs.

Working Conditions

Controllers and the accountants who work with them spend most of their time in the office. Controllers usually work in large corporate headquarters, banks, or government buildings in urban areas. They are often required to attend meetings with other managers to explain financial policies. They usually work more than forty hours a week without additional pay. They must also spend some time keeping up with the field by attending seminars and professional meetings.

Where to Go for More Information

Association for Financial Professionals
7315 Wisconsin Ave., Ste. 600 W
Bethesda, MD 20814
(301) 907-2862

Financial Executives International
200 Campus Dr.
Florham Park, NJ 07932-0674
(973) 765-1000

Institute of Management Accountants
10 Paragon Dr.
Montvale, NJ 07645-1718
(800) 638-4427

Earnings and Benefits

According to salary.com, controllers made a median annual salary of $167,898 in 2006. Controllers usually receive good benefits, including paid vacations of up to four weeks, health insurance, and pension and profit sharing plans.

Additional topics

Job Descriptions and Careers, Career and Job Opportunities, Career Search, and Career Choices and ProfilesAccounting & Finance