Making the Transition from Accountant to Controller

Many accountants dream of the day they make it to controller. Working just below the Chief Financial Officer (CFO), controllers have their finger on the pulse of the business’ financial dealings. Controllers are in charge of managing and processing an immense amount of data. Much of their work involves income statements and balance sheets, which they use to prepare historical financial reports detailing the company’s financial position and project future earnings and expenses.  Far more than “crunching numbers,” a controller’s duties include sending the appropriate information to company leaders so that they can plan the organization’s future direction and strategy.

Most controllers begin their careers as accountants. There are two typical career progressions. One is to earn an accounting degree and an accounting certification, then spend a few years working in public accounting before sitting for the Certified Public Accountant (CPA) designation.  The other path involves working in a corporate setting and then pursuing the Certified Management Accountant (CMA) designation.

Some public accountants accept positions as controllers at smaller firms, most often for a smaller paycheck. Others work as staff accountant’s at large companies and work their way up the corporate ladder – first to assistant controller, then to controller.

While a staff accountant must possess technical and analytical skills, a controller also needs soft skills and the ability to process information and quickly. They must also be personable and possess excellent communication skills, as they will need to convey information to leaders in an enlightening and persuasive way. Organizational skills are also highly desirable, as they enable the controller to compile information from disparate sources and consolidate it into cohesive, understandable financial documents.

Accountants can help themselves along the path to controller-ship by taking continuing education classes. Reviewing the information contained within the CPA exam is also beneficial because it covers three areas which are critical to controllers: technical accounting, business operations, and strategic management.  If their technical skills are strong, but they are lacking communication skills, it may prove beneficial to serve on various boards. They can also ask an experienced controller, CFO, or treasurer to serve as their mentor.

The path to controller takes hard work and dedication, but the rewards are rich. According to the Robert Half International 2012 Salary Guide, controllers working at companies with $500 million or more in sales earn an average of $135,750 to $183,250, while controllers at a $50 million company average $69,000 to $95,000.

For a more thorough discussion of your career choices, contact Daley and Associates. We offer superior recruiting and placement results, specializing in auditing and financial placement.

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