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What Is a Financial Controller?

A financial controller is a financial analyst in a very senior position who acts as a sort of de facto boss of all things money-related at a company. Usually trained as a CPA, financial controllers have advanced degrees and many years of experience in budgeting, analysis, tax law, and the like. Large companies or government agencies may have several controllers working for them, while smaller firms usually have to rely on just one.

Unsurprisingly, for a professional-level expert charged with managing budgets that may be worth billions, financial controllers tend to be very well paid and have a great deal of power over their departments. Typical salaries in Canada for CPAs working as controllers (or “comptrollers,” as they’re sometimes known) start at $80,000 a year and rise as high as $150,000.

To become a controller, ambitious young accountants almost always have to get a bachelor’s degree in accounting, finance, payroll, planning, or some closely related field. Armed with a basic education, candidates have to pass the Common Final Examination to earn professional certification. That’s when the real education begins, as most future controllers start as financial assistants who are closely supervised by more experienced controllers. Eventually, in five to 10 years, candidates may have the experience and seniority to start thinking about the top job themselves.

Once promoted, a new controller is likely to pore over the company’s books, lead audits, and supervise less-experienced CPAs as a manager. Controllers also usually keep in touch with the rest of the management team to develop strategic investment plans and ensure tax compliance. They may also be responsible for contracting with outside accounting help when the firm’s needs temporarily go beyond the in-house talent’s ability to manage.

The path to becoming a financial controller is a long one. But for all the commitment it takes, the job can be immensely rewarding for the right person.

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