Insights from the Girard School of Business

A corporate controller is a management position that involves overseeing the accounting operations for an organization, including payroll, budget, and financial reporting duties. A corporate controller typically reports directly to a company’s chief financial officer.

A professional who wants to become a corporate controller typically works several years as a professional accountant and then applies for a graduate program. In some cases, they may have already earned a Certified Public Accountant (CPA) designation, although many use the master’s degree program as a way of reaching the credit hours required to sit for the CPA exam.

Comptroller or Controller 

The terms “comptroller” and “controller” refer to the same job and are sometimes used interchangeably. However, controller is most used in the corporate environment. A corporate controller is often a chief audit officer. Regardless of the exact title, it’s a senior level management position with great responsibility. A comptroller is usually associated with the senior auditor position within a government agency or nonprofit organization.

What Controllers Do 

Typically, accountants look backward at financial spending, creating reports for various time periods (annual, quarterly and monthly, for example). Controllers are different in that the financial reporting they handle has a forward-looking approach. They anticipate financial issues on the road ahead, typically using data and analysis that have predictive components.

Overall, they understand the financial goals of a business and work to align those goals with market reality. This involves both cost control and revenue stream decisions. Typically, a corporate controller is tasked with overseeing internal control audits and developing operational strategies for day-to-day financial activity, according to Investopedia.

How to Become a Corporate Controller 

The first step for anyone who wants to become a corporate controller or another senior-level accounting professional in a corporate environment is to earn a bachelor’s degree in accounting or a related field.

 According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), becoming a corporate controller most often requires earning a master’s degree. Many also earn their CPA license, which the best online master degree programs provide support in pursuing. Most corporate controllers also have years of experience working in an accounting department. They eventually work their way up to an accounting manager position. Some work as assistant corporate controllers, gaining the experience needed to eventually take on the top job.

Moving up in the profession is a smart move as accountants remain in demand across the country. Nationwide, the BLS projects that the number of accountant and auditor jobs will increase 10% by 2026. In Massachusetts, the mean annual salary for accountants was $81,460 in May 2018. Those in the top 25% of the salary range, which is where you’d expect to find the salary for a corporate controller, earned more than $96,500. The Boston metropolitan area ranks among the top 10 in the country for accounting jobs. The area also offered a mean annual salary in May 2018 of $82,830.

With online programs making the attainment of a graduate degree more convenient for working professionals and job demand remaining high, it’s a good time for ambitious accountants to make the commitment to enter a master’s degree.