What is a financial controller and what do they do?

The financial controller (FC) is a pivotal and senior role within an accounting function. Typically reporting to a finance director or chief financial officer, the financial controller is responsible for ensuring that the accounting operations of an organisation run smoothly.

They oversee the accounting function of a company, ensuring that accounting records are kept appropriately and that reported results comply with accounting standards and relevant legislation. Some of their key duties include co-ordinating and leading the preparation of the budgets and financial forecasts, preparing monthly financial statements and other periodic financial reports, ensuring that the finance team operates within a robust control environment and being the principle point of contact for external auditors.

As a senior role, financial controllers can contribute to the financial strategy of the business and will be instrumental in the development of internal control policies and procedures within the company. They may have responsibility for financial risk management and will be expected to work with other senior leadership to develop risk minimisation plans. They will also contribute to ensuring that financial systems are fit for purpose, are appropriately maintained and will help identify areas for improvement.

Key responsibilities

Responsibilities will vary, but examples include:

  • Managing accounting operations (often including Billing, Accounts Receivable, Accounts Payable, General Ledger and Counsel, Cost Accounting, Inventory Accounting and Revenue Recognition)
  • Coordinating and directing the preparation of the budget and financial forecasts, reporting any variances
  • Preparing and publishing timely monthly financial statements
  • Creating monthly and annual reports to identify results, trends and financial forecasts
  • Ensuring that all financial transactions are properly recorded, filed and reported
  • Ensuring all reporting is compliant with statutory law and financial regulations
  • Documenting business processes and accounting policies to maintain and strengthen internal controls
  • Streamlining and improving accounting systems and operations
  • Overseeing the management of cash flow and debt/debt collection
  • Supervising and managing financial department staff
  • Managing the audit process and liaising with external personnel as required
  • Contributing to company financial strategy and decision-making processes
  • Assisting the CFO in presenting reports to senior executives, stakeholders and board members

Why are they important?

Financial controllers keep a company’s financial reporting, planning, debt financing and budget management organised. A good FC is one of the most important people in an organisation, as their attention to detail and management skills are capable of releasing the CFO or finance director to focus on strategically advancing the organisation. Most of the reporting and financial optimisation is also headed by the FC.

Skills needed for this role

Financial controllers must have exceptional numerical, analytical and problem-solving skills and be able to work under pressure and to tight deadlines. They should also have strong interpersonal and communication skills, as well as good leadership and management abilities. A strong business acumen, along with the ability to influence at all levels, is also highly beneficial in this role.

Strategic Professional Options examinations linked to this role

Advanced Financial Management

Advanced Performance Management

Career opportunities presented by this role

The financial controller position is an important role in almost every organisation of scale and found in every sector and jurisdiction. Progression is usually clearly defined and successful professionals can continue into a finance director, chief financial officer (CFO) or ultimately even chief executive officer (CEO), if they can demonstrate particularly strong commercial awareness.

Competencies

High level competencies required include:

  • Audit and assurance

    A. Advises on and communicates effectively the role and scope of audit and assurance engagements to relevant stakeholders.

    B. Applies regulatory, legal, professional and ethical standards relating to audit and assurance engagements.

    C. Plans and prepares for audit and assurance engagements.

    D. Performs effective audit, and assurance engagements.

    E. Reviews and reports on the findings of audit and assurance engagements.

    F. Guiding efficient and effective operations.

     

  • Corporate and business reporting

    A. Prepares financial statements, corporate financial and integrated reports for external stakeholders using appropriate technology.

    B. Leads effective decision making through analysing, evaluating and communicating performance and position of entities.

    C. Prepares financial statements for groups of entities using appropriate technologies.

    D. Monitors, critically evaluates, and advises on the relevant accounting standards, regulations, conceptual and financial reporting frameworks.

     

  • Financial management

    A. Links developments in global trade, markets, business practices and the economic environment to required improvements in the financial and risk management of an organisation.

    B. Advises on business asset valuations, capital projects and investments using appropriate analytical qualitative and quantitative techniques.

    C. Identifies, evaluates and advises on alternative sources of business finance and different ways of raising finance.

    D. Communicates and advises on the impact on financial decision making on current developments in regulation, governance and ethics.

    E. Assesses and advises on appropriate strategies to manage business and organisational performance regarding business and finance risk and effectively communicates the impact.

  • Governance, risk and control

    A. Evaluates organisational structures and governance to protect the long-term interests of stakeholders.

    B. Recommends appropriate strategies to ensure adherence to governance structures and application of best practice internal controls.

    C. Identifies and manages risk appropriately.

    D. Uses risk management for the best interests of an organisation and its stakeholders.

    E. Monitors and applies relevant legislation, policies and procedures.

  • Leadership and management

    A. Applies appropriate leadership strategies to effectively deliver business objectives.

    B. Leads, motivates and manages people to optimise performance and effectiveness.

    C. Collaborates, supports and works to achieve the objectives of the organisation, applying appropriate digital technologies.

    D. Acts proactively and thinks strategically, in anticipating organisational needs, recognising the wider business environment and dynamics.

  • Management accounting

    A. Applies development and performance management, in the wider business and technological environment, within the context of strategic planning and implementation.

    B. Directs organisational performance through the selection and measurement of financial and non-financial performance indicators.

    C. Collaborates on the key tactical and organisational areas of budgeting and control, capital investments, people and resource management.

    D. Consults on the design and use of current and emerging technology and information systems to improve strategic decision-making and organisational performance.

  • Strategy and innovation

    A. Applies business acumen and commercial awareness to deliver business objectives.

    B. Recommends a range of suitable strategic options from which to develop sustainable plans and objectives.

    C. Evaluates, justifies and implements suitable strategic options.

    D. Adopts and applies innovative methods to implement strategy and manages change.