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Finance controllers manage accounting and financial reporting activities within an organization to ensure that they are effective and efficient. In many organizations, the finance controller oversees multiple finance-related aspects, including banking, financial reporting, and tax payments. Finance controllers also monitor and pay invoices, maintain records of outstanding checks, and help prepare financial projections.
Finance controllers tend to report directly to an organization’s upper management, providing input and advice on proper financial controls to support revenue goals and profitability. In a nonprofit setting, a finance controller helps organizations properly file their reports, manage their accounts, and maintain their nonprofit status.
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Finance Controller Duties and Responsibilities
Finance controllers have many responsibilities, which can depend largely on the size and nature of their organization. However, most of these duties exist in any business or nonprofit:
Oversee Accounting Department Activities
A finance controller's main day-to-day responsibility is directing and leading accounting departments and personnel to support the organization's financial oversight and reporting activities. The finance controller develops policies and procedures for handling and maintaining information, focusing on reducing risk during financial transactions and report generation through department and organization-wide controls.
Maintain Accounting Documents
Finance controllers support reporting and due diligence activities by maintaining accounting documents such as financial reports and bank statements. The finance controller gathers and maintains documents related to accounts payable and receivable, assets and liabilities, and financial transactions. If an organization undergoes an audit, the finance controller prepares and shares these documents with auditors.
Issue Banking and Financial Reports
The finance controller periodically creates and issues reports on banking and financial activities. This can include both monthly, quarterly, and annual reports for management and executives, along with financial statements that are issued to shareholders and taxing authorities. The finance controller ensures that these reports are timely, accurate, and prepared according to internal and external guidelines.
Develop and Monitor Company Budgets
Many finance controllers support organizational financial goals by preparing and monitoring annual and periodic budgets. The finance controller examines anticipated revenue and expenditures, along with assets and liabilities, to maintain the organization's cash flow and ensure that it can meet its financial obligations. The finance controller also monitors budgets versus expenditures for any irregularities and reports these to the chief financial officer (CFO).
File Tax Returns and Payments
Finance controllers file tax returns and issue payments on behalf of their organizations. Working closely with the accounting department, the finance controller gathers financial information at the end of the reporting period and determines the organization's tax liability, if any. They then file returns with federal, state, and local governments, and issue tax documents to shareholders or partners.
Direct Invoicing and Accounts Payable Activities
Finance controllers also maintain oversight of banking activities by directing invoicing, accounts payable, and accounts receivable activities. This can include directly issuing checks to vendors and suppliers, monitoring outstanding checks and payments, and following up with customers who are late on payments. The finance controller also reconciles these payments with banking and financial data.
Finance Controller Skills and Qualifications
Finance controllers oversee a number of financial aspects and ensure proper control and reporting. Most companies hire candidates with at least a bachelor’s degree in a related field, several years of accounting experience, and the following skills:
- Financial reporting - finance analysts are directly responsible for ensuring that organizations issue financial statements, tax returns, and bank reports on time and according to internal and external guidelines, so strong financial reporting skills are essential
- Budget analysis - this role requires a strong foundation in financial analysis, since finance controllers monitor and assess the organization's revenue and expenditures to develop budgets and prepare reports
- Financial forecasting - effective projection and forecasting skills are also vital in this role, especially when developing budgets and providing overall financial direction to the organization
- Team coordination - finance controllers direct the activities of accounting departments and work with multiple departments throughout the organization to gather and prepare information, so effective team coordination is key
- Communication skills - finance controllers should be strong written and verbal communicators, able to work with accounting staff, executive leaders, and external banking and audit professionals
Tools of the Trade
Finance controllers tend to work in office settings and regularly use standard office software and equipment, along with the following:
Financial management software (QuickBooks, Sage Intacct)
Finance Controller Education and Training
Typically, finance controllers have at least a bachelor’s degree in accounting or business administration. Many companies prefer candidates who have a master’s degree in one of these fields. Finance controllers also tend to be certified public accountants (CPAs), which requires a certain number of continuing education courses throughout the year to retain certification. Most finance controllers also have at least five years of accounting and financial management experience, which gives them a sold background in managing an organization’s finances and following proper procedures for reporting and implementing financial controls.
Finance Controller Salary and Outlook
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), financial managers (including finance controllers) earn a median annual salary of $125,080. The highest-paid 10 percent of financial managers earn more than $208,000 per year, while the lowest paid earn less than $66,480 annually.
The BLS estimates that employment for financial managers will grow significantly through 2026, at a rate of 19 percent.
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We searched the web and found a number of resources if you’re interested in exploring a career as a finance controller:
Financial Executives International
this industry blog covers a wide range of topics related to financial management and oversight and provides a mailing list to help you stay informed about the latest developments
The New Controller Guidebook
Steven M. Bragg's nutsandbolts guide covers all of the topics and duties that fall under a finance controller's responsibility and provides practical guidance and advice
"Best Practices of Successful Financial Controllers"
read this blog post to find out how to succeed as a finance controller and drive your organization's accounting and reporting activities
Financial Intelligence: A Manager's Guide to Knowing What the Numbers Really Mean
this book teaches readers the ins and outs of corporate finance, from budgeting to reporting
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