What is the Difference Between an Operational Controller and a Financial Controller?

When you love working with numbers and financials, choosing a career can be a tough decision. You’ve probably explored the idea of becoming an accountant or CPA. However, if you want to do more than balance books and prepare taxes, you might be considering a career as an operational controller or a financial controller. 

Both are excellent career choices that share similarities, yet diverge in several big ways. However, both careers require intense commitment, determination, and plenty of studying.

If you’re unsure which career is right for you, this article will help you make the right decision.

What are the minimum requirements to become a financial controller?

There are more requirements to become a financial controller, although those requirements also vary by company. Generally speaking, you’ll need a bachelor’s degree in finance, accounting, or economics, an MBA in finance or accounting, and experience working as a CMA will usually be preferred. You’ll also need to be proficient with spreadsheet software like Microsoft Excel or Apple’s Numbers. 

Most financial controllers pursue certified public accountant (CPA) and certified management accountant (CMA) certification to ensure they meet the requirements set by most companies. To get these certifications, you’ll need to meet strict educational requirements that vary by state and study long hours. If you plan on passing your exam the first time, you’ll need to take a prep course for your required certification(s). 

Good prep courses are easy to find online. For instance, the Wiley CMA exam review course provides a personalized exam experience and one-to-one support. You’ll also receive a predictive score that can gauge how you’ll do on the actual exam.

Professional financial certification exams require hundreds of hours of study. Exam prep courses can help you pass the exam by making it easier to take in, retain, and apply what you learn. 

What are the minimum requirements to become an operational controller?

Operational controllers only need a bachelor’s degree in business, accounting, or finance. Although, an MBA and CPA certification are of huge benefit. Also, each company will set different requirements. Some companies might require experience working in the field for a given length of time.

What is an Operational Controller?

An operational controller, also known as an operations controller, oversees an organization’s accounting operations. Their core responsibilities lie with creating strategic financial plans and monitoring financial operations.

More specifically, operational controllers direct internal and external financial processes. They also offer financial expertise to company teams, analyze trends and future estimates, perform capital analysis, calculate ROI, and more. 

Read through this sample job description to get an idea of what you might be required to do as an operational controller as it pertains to a specific company.

What is a Financial Controller?

A financial controller is a position that comes with big responsibilities. A financial controller is responsible for the overall financial workings of an organization.

Also referred to as the financial control officer or comptroller, this position will put you in charge of an organization’s daily financial accounting operations. However, rather than perform all of the financial duties, you’ll be in charge of overseeing those duties. This includes overseeing the following departments:

  • Payroll
  • Accounting
  • Accounts payable
  • Accounts receivable

As a financial controller, you’ll report to the company CFO (chief financial officer) if there is one. Otherwise, you’ll be the main person in charge.

You’ll also be responsible for ensuring that all required external financial audits are conducted properly. For instance, the Sarbanes-Oxley Act of 2002 requires public companies to perform an internal and external financial audit each year.

Becoming a controller requires intense commitment

Pursuing a career as a controller is a long-term commitment. Controller positions take years to step into, given the educational requirements. If you’re just starting college, make sure you choose the right degree for your chosen position. Look for job postings to find out what companies are requiring and pursue your education accordingly.

While both controller positions make good careers for people who love working with financials, being a controller can be a demanding position. If you’re still undecided, find a controller willing to explain what their days are like and what they’re responsible for overseeing. The details will vary by industry, so talk to a controller in an industry that interests you. This will help you make the decision that’s right for you.