Controller: Job Description & Average Salary

<div>Controller: Job Description & Average Salary</div>
<div>Controller: Job Description & Average Salary</div>

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Fact checked by Kirsten Rohrs SchmittReviewed by Andrew SchmidtFact checked by Kirsten Rohrs SchmittReviewed by Andrew Schmidt

A controller oversees the accounting operations of a company. This senior position generally requires years of proven experience in various levels of accounting. A controller’s job duties span a broad gamut.

Generally speaking, it is common for the controller of a smaller company to have the final say on every financial decision. This includes budgeting, reporting, investing, and risk management. In larger companies, the duties of the controller are often more specialized, with certain financial decisions shifted to other executives, such as the chief financial officer (CFO).

Key Takeaways

  • A controller’s role depends on the size of the company but at the very least includes overseeing the accounting operations of a business.
  • Controllers at public companies are responsible for producing financial reports according to GAAP.
  • Accounting records at a company are the controller’s responsibility, as well as budgeting, forecasting, and compliance with local, state, and federal tax laws and business regulations.
  • A bachelor’s degree, graduate degree, and CPA designation are the general educational prerequisites to be a controller.

What Does a Controller Do?

The controller manages accounting records and is responsible for the production of financial reports. For public companies traded on stock exchanges, these reports are required by law for shareholders’ review. The controller ensures they are issued on time, according to generally accepted accounting principles (GAAP), and that they fairly and accurately reflect the company’s current financial position.

The maintenance of accounting records falls under the purview of the controller. Particularly in the wake of the early 21st-century accounting scandals that brought down companies such as Enron and WorldCom, it is paramount for a business of any size to maintain an operable system of keeping and maintaining accounting records.

The controller has the final say in most companies on how these records are kept and where they are stored. They oversee all employees involved in the accounting process, including accounts receivable (AR), accounts payable (AP), payroll, inventory, and compliance.

If a company has subsidiaries, the controller oversees their accounting operations and ensures their reporting and control systems fall within the parameters set by the parent company. Accounting personnel at these subsidiary operations generally report to an accounting manager or vice president at the subsidiary, who in turn reports to the controller at the parent company.

Budgets and Transactions

The controller plays a large role in formulating company budgets and ensuring that expenses are in line with projected revenue. This job requires ensuring that the company makes AP payments on time and that debt is serviced properly.

At most companies, these duties are delegated to employees, such as an AP manager who reports to the controller. Keep in mind that the buck stops with the controller. It is ultimately their responsibility to ensure budgets make sense and payments are made on time.

Forecasting is an important part of the job for many controllers. Drawing up a budget that allocates expenses in the most auspicious manner requires having an accurate projection of how much money is coming in during the same period. At a large company, the controller’s department usually features analysts and other skilled professionals who extrapolate internal and external data to come up with the most accurate revenue forecasts.

Again, the controller may not conduct these duties on their own, but they are responsible for reviewing the work of their employees and using their findings to make final decisions on budgeting matters.


After the 2007-2008 financial crisis, a host of new regulations dictated how businesses must handle their finances and report their financial positions to the public.

Publicly traded companies must subject their financial statements to yearly third-party audits, and they must release the results of the audits to the public. It is the controller’s job to coordinate this process and ensure that the auditors have all the information they need to render an accurate judgment of the company’s financial statements.

The controller must stay apprised of all the local, state, and federal tax laws and business regulations, and they must ensure that the company operates within the proper parameters.


In many companies, the controller reports directly to the CFO.

Qualifications to Become a Controller


There are no hard and fast educational requirements that exist for those wishing to become company controllers. Unlike becoming a doctor, which requires medical school and passing the medical boards, or a lawyer, for which law school is required and then the bar exam, a person can theoretically serve as a controller without a college degree.

But in the current job market, nearly all companies hiring for the controller position want to see at least a bachelor’s degree and preferably a master’s degree, and they also generally want certified public accountants (CPAs).

To be competitive, aspiring controllers should start with a college major in accounting, economics, finance, or statistics, and follow it up with a master of business administration (MBA) or graduate degree in accounting. The master’s degree is more than an educational credential. It also fulfills the educational requirement to sit for the CPA exam, something an aspiring controller should have on their resume.

Key Skills

A controller needs to possess the same skills as a good accountant. These include strong numerical proficiency, organization, good problem-solving skills, and excellent use of logic. Since a large part of the job is delegating tasks to subordinates and then aggregating their work to make final decisions, a controller must have excellent leadership skills and a big-picture method in approaching tasks.

Having said that, most people don’t become controllers right out of school. Landing a controller role requires a willingness to work through the ranks, often starting with thankless jobs such as entry-level accounting or auditing. Individuals who excel in these jobs and put the most into them are the ones most likely to be considered for promotions, which lead up the ladder, possibly to the controller position.

Average Salary for a Controller

Accounting professionals who make it to the controller position enjoy above-average salaries. The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) doesn’t have a separate category for controllers. Rather, controllers are lumped into the financial manager category. The median annual salary for 2023 was $156,100.

Controllers at Fortune 500 companies regularly earn well into six figures and sometimes more than $250,000. At small companies, the pay is often lower. However, the advantage of working for a small business is that high-ranking employees, such as controllers, often get to share in the growth of the company.

What Does a Controller Do?

A controller is integral to the financial health of a business. The job entails multiple responsibilities, many of them carried out by others, including preparing financial reports; overseeing the accounting, payroll, and accounts payable and accounts receivable departments; managing budgets; forecasting; and maintaining accounting records, to mention a few. The controller often reports to a company chief financial officer (CFO).

What Degree Does a Controller Need?

To be competitive in the current job market, the minimum is a bachelor’s degree in accounting, finance, economics, or statistics. It can be helpful to have an MBA or master’s in accounting as well, and a CPA certification on your resume.

Are Controllers in Demand?

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, employment of financial managers, which includes controllers, is projected to increase by 16% in the decade between 2022 and 2032, which is much faster than the average for all occupations.

The Controllers Council predicted that financial controllers would be in very high demand in the coming decade. The organization, which is an association of controllers, CFOs, and corporate accounting and finance professionals, said this was due to shortages of accountants and CPAs and changes brought about by the pandemic and other recent crises.

The Bottom Line

The job of controller at a company is a critical one for managing its accounting, budgeting, forecasting, financial reporting, and more. It takes excellent organization, numerical proficiency, leadership skills, and an overview of the company and its position within its industry. Many controllers today have both bachelor’s and master’s degrees as well as a CPA. For the right individual, it can be a rewarding career with handsome remuneration.

Read the original article on Investopedia.