A controller position is a spot in accounting operations that includes the production of financial reports, maintenance of accounting records, and a set of controls that mitigate the financial risk for a company. A controller is a position of power and responsibility.

A controller takes finance out of the finance department and to the larger company.

If you are interested in taking on this financial career as a Controller, here’s a little of what you should know.

With Power Comes Responsibility

There is a lot of responsibility that comes with being a controller. You must be able to take control, being incredibly transparent and logical with all of your actions.

The analytical mind that it takes to be accountant is definitely one a controller should also have, but they also need to move beyond the basic number-crunching mindset.

The controller takes all the amazing work that the accounting department does and relays that information to all interested parties, so they have to take the finance world to all the other people, but they are all held accountable for the finance department.

What Brings You to Finance?

Your career goals are the first step to deciding on a career path in finance. Are you excited by accounting and finance? Do you have an analytical mind that thrives on data? Then you may be perfect for an accounting career!

But do you want to actually hop on the career path to becoming a controller?

A controller is someone who not only runs the financial “trenches,” but they also move out of the trenches and make finance a functional department. Are you the sort of person who can balance people and data?

With a controller career, you are responsible for record keeping, transparency of the finance department, maintaining transactional records, auditors that may come through, and of course, reporting all the financial transactions of your department.

Because this job requires someone to wear many hats and for them to take on a lot of responsibilities, you must enjoy what you do. You must be willing to take your love of number crunching to the people in your company, want to show off reports, and make decisions.

It takes a unique type of person to want this type of career.

Moving Forward?

There is an enormous leap from finance layman to financial officer. A lack of managerial training and introverted personalities that are typical in the lower levels of a finance department make upward mobility difficult.

Personal development is important if you want to move forward; you’ll have to find a means to managerial training and make it known that you are interested in upward mobility.

You will have to take steps to move yourself forward, as there may not be a clear path within your company to moving forward.

What Makes a Controller Different From Other Financial Careers?

There are many careers to move forward with when looking at higher financial department opportunities. Becoming a controller is only one path to explore.

If the opportunity sounds fantastic, but it doesn’t quite seem like a fit, there are many options you could take a peek at.

CFO vs. Controller

Perhaps becoming a CFO sounds more enticing than a controller, but their roles are very similar.

The main difference between a controller and a CFO is that a controller will take account of all the financial decisions that will happen (like an accountant historian) and a CFO makes future moves.

A CFO is a strategist, and a controller is the record keeper. So if you love the idea of working with people and using data to make decisions, but want to be more involved with moving the company forward than taking into account all of your accomplishments, looking to become a CFO may be a better fit.

Treasurer vs. Controller

Treasurers may seem like controllers, but they hold incredibly different roles. Treasurers usually take on more of a financial advisor role rather than responsibility for the department.

Treasurers take overviews, and controllers are responsible for the overview. A treasurer’s main responsibility is to grow money and suggest where investments may be beneficial. If you love looking at “big picture” financial data but don’t want to deal with the daily running of the “financial trenches,” becoming a treasurer may be for you.

Operational Controller vs. Financial Controller

A controller position usually refers to a financial controller position. But an operational controller can be a form of controller.

It’s a very similar position, but instead of running the financial department, they will be responsible for the control and auditing of a different department. This could be making sure that your department is internationally compliant. This could be watching a particular department or facility. It is very similar, but refers to a position outside of finance.

Bookkeeper, Accountant, CFO, or Controller?

Whose money do you want to run?

There are positions which are similar to each other but are needed by companies of different sizes. So if you enjoy money, but are looking at different company sizes and needs, looking at similar job titles may help you in your search.

You could look at bookkeeping, accounting, a CFO position, or, of course, a controller, depending on the amount of schooling and responsibility you want. 

Bookkeeping requires less schooling than the other choices and is a transitional career. That means that if you are happy keeping the books straight and inputting data all day, then this may be the career for you. This can be a low-stress career if in a supportive work environment.

Whereas an accountant requires a little more schooling and often encompasses or oversees the bookkeeper’s responsibilities.

Accountants don’t strategize or forecast financial decisions. This makes it the perfect job for someone who wants to dive into the financial trenches without having to look at forecasting.

If you want to take moves forward with the information and take a more involved role than the treasurer, then CFO and controller positions are right up your alley. These careers offer the autonomy to be innovative, to look at information, and propel your organization forward.

A controller is a fun financial career beyond the basic. But it’s not for everyone. There are so many options to explore. Comparing and contrasting them to find the perfect fit for you is worth it — especially in a field as diverse as finance.

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