What is a Controller in Business?

A controller in business is the company’s chief accounting officer and leads the accounting department. They are responsible for the company’s payroll, budgeting, general ledger, tax compliance, financial statements and accounts payable and receivable. At larger companies, the controller will supervise tax, credit, payroll and cost accounting managers, according to Investopedia.

Position Overview

Business controllers are the authoritative analyzer, interpreter and disseminator of financial data to key parties. They have basic functions in planning and reporting, but are also the company historian, budget lead and decision maker for major projects. The position of controller is a big role in each company because each job is highly customized to fit business needs and preferences. Although financial accuracy and timeliness is important, controllers provide the big picture when it comes to long-term strategic planning.

Controllers do more than just supervising the financial and accounting departments. They also support executives by providing the financial information needed to make sound decisions and create successful strategies. Business controllers must be familiar with all departments and comfortable learning new things. They are responsible for the management of accounts payable by periodically reviewing vendor reconciliations and working to identify process improvement areas.


All business controllers should have similar qualifications in order to maintain efficiency and success. First, they must be educated in organizational leadership, regulatory compliance, managerial accounting and business analysis tools. Second, their personality should lean towards being sociable and dynamic, but also analytical and supportive. Third, credibility and reliability are established through candor, integrity, objectivity and sound judgment.

Fourth, they will need technical skills related to analysis tools, accounting techniques, regulatory laws and accounting information management systems. Fifth, controllers need the interpersonal skills in order to smoothly mediate conversations between different personalities and opposing views. Sixth, they will need the intuitive ability to assess situations and build relationships with people in order to make the best decisions.

Job Description

Business controllers are responsible for driving excellence and setting high standards in financial and accounting processes. They promote a culture of growth and productivity by exemplifying honest and transparent practices. They are responsible for overseeing payroll, accounting, auditing, financial reporting, risk management, internal controls and compliance processes. They will ensure that financial statements and accounting activities are continually compliant with GAAP and IFRS policies.

They complete quarterly and annual audits per corporate timelines and report to executives on non-compliances and opportunities for improvement. They are expected to take a hands-on approach to managing the accounting function through ensuring that day-to-day processes are performed according to policies. Business controllers oversee the general management of accounts receivable, so they are involved with things like minimizing customer deductions and outstanding sales invoices.

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Even though some companies combine the two positions, there are major differences between CFOs and controllers. That is, a controller in business is usually a senior accountant, but a CFO is a master of financial, accounting and operational areas. CFOs must understand how business operations and financial systems interrelate in order to see the big picture and create successful strategies.