How Much Does a Controller Make?

Accounting majors from around the United States graduate every year wondering, how much does a Controller make? Before learning the answer to that question it is helpful to understand what it takes to be a controller for any company.

Educational Needs

Although a degree with a major in accounting or finance is a huge help to anyone aspiring to be a controller it is not completely necessary. Accounting classes teach students about the rules and regulations of accounting. Those same classes do not train the students how to apply that knowledge in the real business world, neither does studying for and passing the CPA exam.

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This only comes from experience working in the field. Unlike a doctor who is required to have a medical degree and be licensed, there is no regulatory body that requires every controller to have a bachelor’s degree in accounting or a CPA license. However, one or both are highly recommended and extremely helpful as almost every employer requires at least a degree.

What does a Controller do?

In most companies, the controller is the leader of the finance and accounting department. Sometimes the position is the highest ranking financial position in a company, but in others the controller reports to the Vice President of Finance or Chief Financial Officer. Typically, the controller oversees all the day-to-day accounting functions of the company such as accounts receivable, accounts payable, payroll and general ledger accounting. The controller is also responsible for producing periodic financial statements, reconciling balance sheet accounts, coordinating annual audits and preparing local, state and perhaps even federal tax returns.

Common Traits of Successful Controllers

Aside from technical knowledge there are other qualities a controller must have in order to be successful. A controller not only leads the accounting staff, but works with the rest of the executive staff to lead the company. The controller must exhibit leadership qualities such as superb communication skills, decisiveness and thoughtfulness. A controller needs to listen well and be open-minded. Above all else, a controller needs to have the highest level of integrity possible and needs to exhibit honesty and integrity in everything they do.

Salary Range

Salary ranges for controllers depend on many factors. The first and generally most important factor is experience. The more experience a person has in a certain field, the higher a salary that person can command. However, it is important to note that even experienced controllers run into ceilings on salary. Having a CPA license or an MBA also increases the salary a person can command. Another factor is the company’s industry. As an example, manufacturing companies typically pay better than hospitality companies. Yet another factor is the size of the company. Smaller companies typically cannot afford to pay as much as larger ones. However, in general, a controller can expect to make a salary in the range of $75,000-$125,000 annually depending on these and a few other factors.

Controller Careers

There are many important things to consider when embarking on a career path towards being a controller. What education is needed? What traits make the best controllers? More often than not the first thought is how much does a controller make?

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