What is a financial controller?

The role of a financial controller (FC) can be difficult to define. This integral and senior accounting position combines pure accounting, finance strategy and leadership. The FC generally reports to a finance director or CFO and is responsible for the accounting operations of an organization, making sure they run smoothly. A key player in the organization, they keep an eye on the company’s finances ensuring that there are no surprises at the end of the quarter.

Depending on the sector, the role may also be referred to as “financial comptroller,” a term more commonly used in the nonprofit or public sectors.

 

What is the job of a financial controller?

An FC oversees and supervises a company’s or an organization’s accounting, making sure that all recorded data is accurate, on time, and follows the company’s rules, as well as any related legislation. Among their responsibilities, there is the planning and coordination of budgets and financial forecasts; the preparation of financial statements and reports (monthly, quarterly, etc.); oversight of the finance team; and assurance of across-the-board financial and regulatory compliance. 

Day-to-day tasks include: financial reporting, transaction management, preparation of financial records, providing business plans and often overseeing tax, regulatory and compliance issues. They are the point person for any external audits.

Overall, a financial controllership is a senior position with a key role in the development of the organization’s financial strategy and internal control policies, including financial risk management; planning for risk minimization; and expense management. Part of the job entails finding the right financial tools and systems that work best for the organization, and to continually seek improvement when it comes to processes and results.

 

What skills do financial controllers need?

In order to be successful at their job, a financial controller should have a mix of hard and soft skills. As the role is high-level and also quite technical, an FC needs a certain amount of financial acumen and experience, as well as the ability to process and explain financial data. Fluency in Excel and working with data is a must. They must be analytical and organized when it comes to reporting and team management, and they must be able to meet deadlines. 

Additionally, as this role is a leadership position, soft skills like communication, charisma, and leadership, are just as important to achieve success.

Competencies

In terms of beneficial core competencies, the financial controller must understand both their department and the entire business. The FC should be a critical and analytical thinker with solid decision-making abilities. A large part of the job requires core knowledge of and comfort with process optimization and strategic planning.

 

Expense management: What are the weapons of the financial controller?

There are several kinds of tools that are essential for overseeing a company’s or an organization’s financial data and reporting. Full-service accounting software and automated accounting tools are indispensable, streamlining accounting and reporting processes. A competent FC knows that inputting data only once (rather than in multiple databases) reduces error, and that being able to share that data across teams and to generate various kinds of reports is essential for holistic financial planning and oversight. As managing company spend is a key goal, using an expense management tool that combines automation and AI can bring efficiency and added intelligence to planning and enforcing company spend policies.

Communication is another essential tool of the trade, whether that means being clear about deadlines, reporting modalities or compliance regulations. A financial controller must be able to communicate with teams effectively so that they can deliver on their tasks. Clear communication provides teams with the confidence to be more autonomous and to do their jobs right, freeing up time for the FC to focus on more high-level work.

 

Career opportunities

FCs are at the heart of company strategy, interfacing with management, teams and external parties. How do you get started? 3 - 4 years of audit or general accounting experience can be a good basis for stepping into the role. 

While FCs are crucial leaders, having experience in the role can also lead to other opportunities, like becoming Finance Director, Group Financial Controller, or CFO, depending on the organization.

Maria Khizhniakova