An accounting controller has many different financial-related tasks as part of their job description.
However, the functions of controllers in accounting go far beyond creating budgets and making financial reports. In some cases, they might have administrative or managerial duties, oversee employees, and conduct risk management, all of which may or may not be part of the job description, depending on the place of employment.
What is certain, though, is that accounting controllers must have the proper education in accounting and finance, as well as a good deal of work experience to get the job done and done correctly.
Let’s take a deeper look at the job description, function, educational requirements, and salary or accounting controllers.
Job Description of an Accounting Controller
Though accounting controller job descriptions vary somewhat depending on the size of the company, there are some essential functions (outlined in more detail in the next section) that are highly common.
Controllers are in charge of the accounting operations of an organization. This means preparing and overseeing budgets, maintaining detailed accounting records, and creating reports on the financial health and stability of the organization.
In many cases, accounting controllers are in senior positions in an organization’s management team. As such, they tend to have management responsibilities, like recruiting new workers and training new staff members.
In addition to having a robust understanding of generally accepted accounting principles, accounting controllers must also be superb communicators, can evaluate the work of others and provide critical feedback, guide and direct the work of subordinates, and dispense with disciplinary action, if needed. They must also possess keen technology skills, have the ability to problem solve, and have top-notch analytical skills.
Regardless of the size of the organization for which they work, accounting controllers work with auditors to make sure that the organization complies with proper reporting standards. Likewise, accounting controllers are responsible for establishing and overseeing internal controls as they pertain to accounting practices and reporting procedures.
Also part of an accounting controller’s job description is to keep tabs on legislation that might impact the organization’s finances. For example, changes to the corporate tax code would be of interest to an accounting controller, as those kinds of changes could significantly impact the company’s bottom line. A related responsibility is to prepare and file state and/or federal taxes for the organization.
An additional aspect of monitoring potential changes to future laws is ensuring that the organization will be compliant with new requirements to obtain permits and licenses. Without these documents, a business could very well not be able to operate. Therefore, this is a crucially important part of an accounting controller’s job description.
In some cases, the functions of controllers in accounting also include knowing regulations from the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC). What’s more, controllers in this position should be familiar with the Sarbanes-Oxley Act, which requires public companies to undertake specific accounting-related actions, such as:
- Internal control tests
- Strengthening disclosures
- Strengthening audit committees
Likewise, the Sarbanes-Oxley Act makes accounting directors personally liable for an organization’s financial statements, so there is an utmost need to operate with the highest possible accuracy.
Functions of Controllers in Accounting
The primary function of controllers in accounting is to be responsible for accounting operations. This includes a wide range of tasks and responsibilities.
Generally speaking, accounting operations include developing budgets, maintaining accounting records, and generating financial reports.
When developing budgets, the goal is to ensure that the organization is engaged in business practices that minimize financial risk and maximize financial gain. These budgets, along with financial controls that are also developed, are not the sole responsibility of an accounting controller but are developed with input from other stakeholders in the organization as well.
Accounting controllers are also the point person for developing and maintaining sound accounting records. Not only do these records have to be accurate, but they must also be secure and safe from hackers while also being easily accessible by those that need access.
Creating financial reports is another primary function of controllers in accounting. These reports are generated periodically and inform people within the organization about the financial health of the business. Accounting controllers must be sure that their reports comply with accounting standards and principles, as well as comply with state and federal finance laws.
Depending on the size of the organization, an accounting controller might take on added responsibilities as well.
For example, in a small business setting, the accounting controller might oversee risk management in addition to the tasks outlined above. But in a large business or corporation, risk management is more often the responsibility of the chief financial officer.
Accounting Controller Education Requirements
In most cases, jobs as an accounting controller require applicants to have at least a bachelor’s degree in accounting. Sometimes, organizations will accept applicants that have a bachelor’s degree in business administration with a minor in accounting.
It’s typical for hiring committees to give preference to applicants that have more educational and work-related experience. For example, Certified Public Accountants (CPAs) will often be given preference over applicants that do not have a CPA. Likewise, Certified Management Accountants are highly sought after.
Having experience in accounting is also important. Many positions require applicants to have multiple years of experience in accounting. Sometimes, this requirement might be specifically for large organizations or businesses.
Accounting Controller Salary
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the annual median salary for all financial managers was $127,990 in 2018. This occupational category is broader than just accounting controllers, however.
Instead, the BLS lumps financial managers from many different sectors into one category. Breaking it down by sector, financial managers in the finance and insurance industry earn a median annual salary of $124,250.
However, the average annual salary for accounting controllers is much lower as reported by Payscale, at $79,992. Still, this can be a lucrative position, particularly if hired by a large organization where salaries tend to be higher.
The job outlook for accounting controllers is quite robust. The BLS estimates that jobs for financial managers as a whole will grow at a 16 percent rate through the end of the decade. Again, this includes many other occupations besides accounting controllers, but it nevertheless offers a glimpse of job potential for the near-term.
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