Before you enroll in a master of finance degree, one of the highest paying master’s degrees, you need to consider what you want to do with your education. If you enjoy the work and the challenges of financial reporting and analysis but want to make a bigger difference than you could by working for a for-profit company, consider aiming for a career as a comptroller. This high-level role would allow you to be in charge of managing financial reporting in the public sector, including the financial position of the nonprofit or governmental organization as a whole.
The Role of a Comptroller
If you’ve noticed that the title “comptroller” sounds very similar to “controller,” you’re onto something. A comptroller is similar to a financial controller, a role that carries responsibility for all financial statements and forecasts as well as budgeting, auditing and accounting.
Comptrollers typically work for government agencies, nonprofit organizations and other public-sector entities, while private-sector companies usually use job titles like financial controller and chief financial officer (CFO). Cities, states and the federal Department of Defense (DoD) are examples of government entities that may employ a comptroller to manage their financial reporting.
Comptrollers working in different types of organizations may have different duties. For example, while a state comptroller may be responsible for overseeing tax collection, a duty which nonprofit comptrollers don’t have.
Graduate Degree Options for Aspiring Comptrollers
Comptroller is a high-level role, second only to – or in some cases, equivalent to – the organization’s CFO. It should come as no surprise that having an advanced education in finance can help you rise to the level of comptroller. Although not strictly required, a graduate degree can put you ahead of the competition, add prestige to your resumé and equip you with advanced knowledge of the financial management field that other candidates lack.
According to O*NET, 32 percent of treasurers and controllers – the occupational profile that includes comptrollers as well as corporate controllers – report having a master’s degree. Master’s degrees may be more common among certain types of comptroller roles. For example, 41 percent of city comptrollers report having a master’s degree, according to job search site Zippia.
Many comptrollers with a master’s degree focus their graduate studies on finance, accounting or business administration and management. Any of these potential paths could be suitable for an aspiring comptroller, so which graduate program to choose depends on your interests, your strengths, your undergraduate background and your intended career moves as you work your way up to this position. If you start out with a bachelor’s degree in accounting, earning your master’s in finance can help you expand your area of expertise.
However, if your undergraduate degree was in finance, you may want to embrace accounting studies at the graduate level. Another option to consider is a Master of Business Administration (MBA) degree, which can help you cultivate strong leadership and management skills that complement the finance knowledge you already have.
While you keep developing your strengths, don’t forget to work on areas where you are weaker. For example, if you don’t have much management experience but prefer to earn a master’s in finance instead of an MBA, consider taking a class on leadership strategies.
The Qualifications to Work as a Comptroller
It takes more than just a degree to become a comptroller. You will need many years of experience, including repeated promotions to higher-level roles throughout your career. You don’t jump right up from an entry-level analyst role to the top-ranking financial role in the organization. Advancement happens more gradually.
The competition for a comptroller position will be fierce because these roles are so rare and sought-after. While a company may have room for many financial analysts, accountants and examiners, an organization only needs one comptroller.
Besides a master’s degree and an impressive work history, holding professional certifications can add to your viability as a comptroller candidate. Earning these credentials can also help you move up in your career as you work toward this executive-level role. Some of the different types of professional credentials you may consider include the like certified public accountant (CPA), certified management accountant (CMA), certified internal auditor (CIA) and chartered financial analyst (CFA) designations.
Each credential has different requirements regarding the experience and the education – both a formal degree and specific coursework – needed for eligibility. Additionally, each credential requires you to pass an exam.
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