Top 5 Responsibilities of a Financial Controller

February 8, 2021

As your company grows, the demands placed upon each department increase. Your finance team, for example, may start as a single accountant for simple bookkeeping. As your business scales, their output won’t match the needs of all the financial planning and analysis (FP&A) work. To assist, you may be interested in hiring a controller.

The controller is a member of the FP&A team who works alongside and reports to the CFO. Although a lot of their responsibilities overlap, there are some key differences between the two roles. 


Here’s what you need to know about the responsibilities of a financial controller the position entails. 

What is a Controller: An Overview 

A controller is a senior level position within the FP&A team and is involved in all accounting-related activity within a company. 

The specific financial controller responsibilities vary depending on the size and scope of the company for which they’re working. For instance, controllers employed by smaller enterprises may handle more hands-on, day-to-day responsibilities, while controllers at a larger company handle more sweeping, visionary duties.  

Regardless of company size, the finance controller holds an all-important leadership position, generally expected to continually educate themselves through seminars, webinars, and training opportunities. 

Financial controllers are typically:

  • Extremely organized
  • Possess strong problem-solving and financial reporting skills
  • Are skilled written and verbal communicators
  • Possess knowledge of IT software 

This strategic planning position also usually requires a bachelor's degree, or special certification, plus a minimum number of years of experience working in accounting or finance. 

Controller vs. CFO: What’s the Difference? 

Don’t know the difference between the CFO vs. the controller? As far as where the finance controller falls within a company’s hierarchy, typically the controller will report to the CFO, though sometimes these positions are combined in smaller companies. And in some cases, companies will only have one of these positions. 

Regardless of how a company is organized, there are still key differences between these two official positions. 

A CFO focuses on the company’s high-level, big picture, and goal oriented work. Some companies may hire a CFO early on in order to reap the benefits of their financial acumen, though most in-house, full-time CFOs operate in companies making at least $35M annual revenue.  

Some responsibilities of the CFO (that don’t overlap with a controller) include:

  • Preparing report packages for company stakeholders
  • Assisting the CEO with fundraising efforts 
  • Participating in the development of the executive team’s financial strategy 

In contrast, a controller’s focus is more detail-oriented, involving assiduous accounting preparation and oversight. Many companies employ a controller by the time they reach $10M in annual revenue.

The Five Financial Controller Responsibilities

As stated, the financial controller’s duties may vary depending on the company, but most controllers will be responsible for the five following business practices:

  1. Monitoring all accounting operations
  2. Business forecasting and strategy
  3. Ensuring reporting accuracy and fraud prevention
  4. Tax planning and expense management
  5. Assessing and improving accounting operations

#1 Monitoring All Accounting Operations 

The controller has a hand in all accounting operations, including managing the accounting team to ensure they perform basic financial operations and monitoring workflows to find opportunities for improvement

Smaller companies may have the controller perform bookkeeping, while larger companies use the controller strictly as a supervisor, in charge of accounting personnel. 

Controllers must carefully scrutinize all accounts and ensure there are no errors when closing the books. 

#2 Business Forecasting and Strategy 

The controller serves as the liaison between executive level leadership and the various branches of the financial team. As such, they observe a company’s financial performance on a microscopic level, analyzing real-time and historical financial data to offer insight and forecasts to leadership and suggest business growth strategies. The CFO and executive team will then leverage these insights to properly steer the company forward.

According to a 2020 report from Greenough Consulting Group, the role of the controller has become more strategic over time. As the CFO fulfills more of an advisory position, the controller must handle all or most strategic financial planning. 

A controller may be able to offer advice on everything from smart investments to what kind of software updates a company should consider. The goal of the controller is to find financial solutions that optimize reward and mitigate risks. 

#3 Ensuring Reporting Accuracy and Fraud Prevention

A 2019 survey of financial controllers found that 69% of respondents characterized their role as “risk manager.” Controllers oversee their team and a business’ financial operations to prevent fraud through improved reporting. 

In addition to enforcing internal control over financial reporting, controllers working for publicly traded companies are often tasked with public financial filings.

A controller is also responsible for keeping up to date with current and future legislation that could impact how the company operates and how it’s taxed. This includes filing for proper permits or licenses and sometimes filing state or federal taxes. 

Controllers may choose to invest in software that specializes in controls and risk management. 

#4 Tax Planning and Expense Management 

Financial controllers oversee the expense management and tax reporting process, including support for the CPA during an audit. 

While the controller may not be directly responsible for completing and filing taxes, they’ll need to oversee the filing of things like payroll taxes and sales tax reports. Controllers must balance their time between innovative problem solving and measured risk mitigation. 

#5 Assessing and Improving Accounting Operations

As businesses progress, controllers step into the role of finding solutions that integrate automation into workflows. This could be streamlining the accounting process, expense reporting, improving analytics capabilities, and expediting the month-end close process.

These senior-level employees are responsible for keeping up to date with the latest accounting integration and automation systems, financial planning tools which work to eliminate human inefficiency and error. A modern day controller will research various integrated accounting systems and decide which system will be most beneficial for their company. 

In other words, controllers grease the wheels of the company with their fine-tuned financial ingenuity. Choosing automated systems over something like a manual expense management process is one way they can ameliorate the bookkeeping process. The hidden cost of manual expense reports can be a dangerous drain on company resources, with up to 20 minutes spent completing just one expense report and one in five containing errors. 

With automated expense management systems, companies—and the controllers who oversee their financial well-being—save time, money, and headaches. 

Offer Your Controller the Right Tools With Ramp

Whether your business employs a CFO, a financial controller, or both, you’ll need to have the right tools and resources on your side for optimized efficiency and productivity. 

The role of a financial controller is complex, involving 24/7 oversight of all financial accounting operations, savvy business forecasting, tax planning, fraud prevention, and assessing and improving accounting operations for the modern world. 

With Ramp’s smart corporate card, you gain an automated expense management platform built-in. You'll be able to streamline expense reports, eliminating human error. Ramp syncs with the top financial accounting platforms and offers real-time visibility over expenses by automatically identifying all active subscriptions and upcoming payments. Not only that, but cost-saving opportunities are identified automatically.

Interested in learning more? Check out Ramp today. 



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