How to Become a Business Controller

Mar 10, 2020

Find out how to become a business controller. Research the education requirements, and learn about the experience you need to advance your career in financial management.

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Should I Become a Business Controller?

Business controllers are directly responsible for the financial reporting of companies and organizations. Job tasks include analyzing future earnings and expenses, as well as summarizing the company's financial position under guidelines set by regulatory authorities. Sometimes controllers manage others, such as individuals working for budget, accounting, or auditing departments. The monumental responsibility of this profession may be stressful, and work hours are often long. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported a median annual salary of $127,990 for financial managers in May 2018.

Career Requirements

Degree Level Bachelor's degree required; some employers prefer a master's degree
Degree Fields Accounting, finance, business, or a related field
Licensure and Certification Certified Public Accountant (CPA) licensure is often required; voluntary certification is also available
Experience At least five years of finance experience
Key Skills Ability to think analytically and make decisions to solve problems; strong attention to detail; math proficiency; organizational skills; familiarity with Microsoft Excel, enterprise resource planning software, accounting and financial analysis software and database interfaces; ability to work long hours

Sources: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, job postings, O*Net OnLine

Steps to Become a Business Controller

Let's take a look at the steps you'll need to take to become a business controller.

Step 1: Obtain a Bachelor's Degree

Since a business controller must be able to prepare financial reports, implement cash management strategies, and monitor investment activities, employers prefer candidates who have strong backgrounds and bachelor's degrees in business administration, accounting, finance, or economics. A four-year degree in accounting, for example, provides instruction in business law, managerial accounting, financial management, enterprise information systems, auditing, and taxation. These curricula may offer internship opportunities, and some accounting degree programs prepare students for CPA licensure by offering additional coursework to meet state requirements.

Success Tip:

  • Consider earning a master's degree. A bachelor's degree coupled with experience may be sufficient for becoming a business controller; however, employers have more recently begun to favor applicants who hold Master of Business Administration (MBA) degrees. In fact, the BLS reports that financial management professionals who hold master's degrees should see greater job prospects. Additionally, completion of a master's degree program can qualify one for the CPA designation.

Step 2: Become a Certified Public Accountant

Many job openings for business controllers require licensing as a CPA. Requirements for this licensure vary by state, though most states require 150 semester hours of undergraduate courses - around 30 hours more than a traditional bachelor's degree program. Qualified applicants may then sit for the Uniform CPA Examination, which is developed by the American Institute of CPAs and is comprised of four sections that cover auditing and attestation, business environment concepts, financial accounting and reporting, and regulation. A candidate may be required to obtain at least one year of accounting experience before applying for CPA licensure through his or her state's board of accountancy.

Step 3: Gain Work Experience

Becoming a business controller requires a strong background in financial management developed through work experience. Controllers may begin their careers as cost accountants or other accounting professionals and then, as they demonstrate leadership skills and financial expertise, advance to the role of accounting manager or budget director. The next step up the career ladder is a position as a management accountant, which can then lead to a career as a business controller.

Step 4: Gain Additional Certifications

In addition to becoming a CPA, an individual can pursue voluntary certifications, such as the Chartered Financial Analyst (CFA) designation offered through the CFA Institute. To become a CFA, a candidate must be a CFA Institute member and must have a bachelor's degree, four years of work experience, or an equivalent combination of education and experience. Qualified candidates must then complete the CFA study program, which entails passage of three exams and usually takes 2-5 years to complete.

Other applicable credentialing includes the Certified Treasury Professional designation awarded by the Association for Finance Professionals and the Certified Management Accountant designation offered by the Institute of Management Accountants. Certifications are very beneficial in giving business controllers a competitive edge in job promotions and career advancement.

To become a business controller, you'll need a bachelor's degree and to become a CPA.

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