What is a financial controller and what do they do?

In some ways, financial controllership is a combination of many jobs. It can often be a Ven diagram of a mixture between accounting and financial strategy all rolled into leadership capacity.

Good financial controllers need to have both keen attention to detail, have great accountancy and strategy skills already in place and long term goals in their sites. As the job title suggests, a financial controller is tasked with controlling finance. This means ensuring both accuracy and efficiency simultaneously which can be a difficult balancing act at times.

So, what actually is a financial controller?

In the simplest terms, a company or external financial controller acts as a company’s lead accountant. A financial controller would oversee accounting activities and ensure that ledgers are accurately representing and accounting for money both coming in and going out of the company, whether that be from an external or internal capacity.

Responsibilities of a financial controller can often be:

  • Overseeing accounting and ledging
  • Creating internal policies and optimising processes where possible
  • Managing spend controls
  • Setting up direct debits and other bank accounts
  • Coordinating tax payments to be paid correctly and on time
  • Accounts receivables/ payables

However, it is important to remember that this role and responsibility can change depending on the businesses and which financial services are dependent on their success.

When applying for a financial controller role, it’s usually expected that any job application worth viewing will show significant (often multiple years) experience in both accounting and tax management plus leadership qualities and experience managing a team.

Often, having leadership qualities is vital to getting policy and legislation that can help streamline accounts and company books.

What is the difference between controlling and accounting?

This often only applies in bigger corporations as often in smaller businesses a finance controller would facilitate a lot of their time to manual accounting themselves. However, when in control of a team in a bigger company structure, a lot of accounting is done by members of their team.

Accounting is the procedure of recording all the company’s transaction data correctly and efficiently. Accuracy is of the upmost importance within accountancy, so for a financial controller to be able to rely on a team is vital if they delegate this work to people below them.


Controlling on the other hand, is often more focused on ensuring that recorded data is up to date, complete, accurate and hitting deadlines both set by HMRC and the company internally. When there’s a discrepancy or question to be asked within data in the books, the controller’s role is to spot it, figure why it is there and follow up with the parties involved to make sure the issue is corrected as well as it can be.

They’re also typically in charge of policies and procedures to ensure that transactions are undertaken in the most efficient, time and cost effective way by both clients, customers and employees.

Financial controllers also have a key role to play in the financial close process which consists of balancing the books at the end of every fiscal period, making sure everything is submitted correctly and on time so that there are no discrepancies when starting the next period of finance.

What’s the difference between a controller and a CFO?

Already slightly confused? Well, in smaller finance teams, the controller and CFO are often the same person.

The CFO is simultaneously the leader of the finance team and a member of the executive leadership above. Much like a controller, they have to ensure that the finance team is well run and working efficiently, successfully and without discrepancy. Where a CFO can often differentiate with a controller is having the power to make strategic decisions to help the company achieve its full potential. This can include working directly with the CEO and proposing changes that can massively affect how a company is run.

For this reason, the CFO isn’t necessary an expert in accounting and often come from a consulting or entrepreneurial background but specialise in financial planning or strategy, rather than manual accounting itself.

Still not sure which service you require? PCFO offer a full range of Chief Financial Officer ( CFO) Services to businesses of all sizes. Speak to one of their experts today who can provide you all the information required in a bespoke manner based on any information around your company you provide.