Financial Controller: Hitting The Top Of Your Accounting Career

Once you hit Financial Controller level, you're slap bang in the middle of the senior spaces of the accounting career ladder. 

But one thing is for sure: it’s certainly not all about sitting back and letting your team do all the work why you take all the glory! Let’s find out why…

The Troops and The General 

The Financial Controller of an organization must sometimes feel that they’re a mid-ranked army officer halfway up a hill.

Beneath her or him are their troops (the accounting team), looking to be guided in the right direction.And above them is the general (the CFO), stepping gracefully to the side as the enemy (all of the organization’s financial systems, reports and issues) approaches.

The Financial Controller is the entry and exit point for most financial matters in an organization. Depending on the organization’s size, they may have a team of accountants and clerical staff to do most of the grunt work, but they need to be across the detail to almost the same extent as their team members. 

It’s actually a great position to be in. The Financial Controller needs to be fully conversant with the day-to-day and monthly transactional activities, plus they get exposure to more strategic issues. 

It is also a common springboard to the most senior accounting position of CFO, and many CFO’s have earned their stripes looking after the financial accounting teams before being charged with responsibility for the whole finance function.

A Wide Set Of Repsonsibilities

As the leader of the accounting team, the Financial Controller is generally accountable for the full suite of tasks. These will usually some or all of the following:

  • Financial Accounting (get the books in order)

  • Financial Reporting (reporting to internal and external stakeholders)

  • Tax Accounting (but not tax planning – leave that to the specialists)

  • Management Reporting

  • Financial Planning & Analysis

Many Financial Controllers also look after other functions such as accounts payable, accounts receivable and payroll, which are staffed by non-qualified accounting employees.

The Big, Bad and Ugly Month-End – Welcome To Hell???

All these responsibilities mean one unavoidable thing. The dark side of corporate account.


You may already be aware of the importance of month-ends in accounting, but the work involved to close the accounting period and prepare the necessary reports and analysis can’t be underestimated. 

Be prepared to take any future vacations in the middle of the month! 

What is a Group Financial Controller?

Some Financial Controllers have the word “Group” in their title. This means that their company will likely consists of a number of other companies (aka subsidiaries) which together form a group. 

From an accounting perspective this usually result in quite a lot more complexity in showing results for the consolidated entity. Consolidation accounting is one of the most technical and challenging areas of accounting. Some people love it. And some cringe with fear. Which camp will you fall into?

Skills and Qualifications

Financial Controllers must have a super strong pedigree to get hired. Have a look at the list below of expected attributes and you’ll understand why:

  • They will almost always be degree qualified accountants with a CPA designation or equivalent.

  • Many have also undertaken additional accounting or business related graduate studies.

  • At such a senior level you must have a super strong grasp of the general technical aspects of accounting. That means a significant investment in their CPE (continuing professional education) program.

  • Although they may not be the organization’s technical accounting specialist, they need to be well versed in some of the more complex financial and accounting concepts that the organization or industry might be facing.

  • Given the skills and experience needed, Financial Controllers would generally have at least around seven or eight years of direct, relevant experience that they can bring to the role, although clearly this depends on the size of the organization. 

  • Most businesses will want someone who has a solid background in, and understanding of the industry they operate in.

  • Additionally, a key component of the role is often team leadership. This means that a Financial Controller generally requires prior experience with leading at least a small team.

  • And finally, one of the main attributes of a good Financial Controller is the ability to communicate well at all levels of an organisation. Along with having to explain a tax planning issue to the CEO, the Financial Controller could find themselves reviewing actual versus budget cost variances with a factory supervisor. It takes versatility and a personable nature.

Now you know why they get paid the big(ger) bucks.

Is Being a Financial Controller for you?

A Financial Controller is a vital part of most organizations, as it’s the often the intermediate and most visible point between the accounting team and rest of the business. The face of the accounting team, if you like.

The role itself is certainly one to aspire to. It means you’ve progressed through the ranks of an accounting or finance team, and have developed good leadership abilities. 

If your ultimate career goal is to be the financial general (CFO), you’ll generally need to spend a number of years broadening and rounding out your skills as a Financial Controller.