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Assistant Controller Career Guide

What is an assistant controller?

An assistant controller is a financial professional who helps the controller (or chief financial officer) oversee an organization’s accounting and financial functions. This role is typically found in larger companies with more complex financial operations requiring layered oversight. They are pivotal in ensuring financial accuracy, timely reporting, and regulation adherence.

They act as a bridge between the granular day-to-day operations of the accounting department and the broader financial strategy that the controller or CFO formulates. Their involvement guarantees that the financial data is reliable and that strategies are rooted in accurate, real-time information.

Duties and responsibilities

The assistant controller’s responsibilities often involve managerial and hands-on accounting tasks. They might be involved in preparing financial statements, budget reports, and special internal reports. This often involves reviewing journal entries, account reconciliations, and ledgers to ensure accuracy. They may assist in month-end and year-end close processes, ensuring that all financial reporting deadlines are met.

In addition, these professionals often supervise junior accounting staff, guiding them and ensuring that their work aligns with company standards. They might also be involved in internal audits, tax filings, and compliance-related tasks. Continuous improvement is crucial; hence, they often recommend improvements to accounting systems and practices.

Work environment

Assistant controllers typically work in an office setting, closely collaborating with other finance and accounting team members. Given the importance of their role, they frequently interact with other departments, providing financial insights or gathering data crucial for financial reporting.

They heavily rely on financial software, databases, and other technological tools to efficiently manage and analyze vast amounts of financial data. The nature of their job requires attention to detail, strategic thinking, and a proactive approach to problem-solving.

Typical work hours

Assistant controllers generally adhere to a standard 40-hour work week. However, like many roles in the finance and accounting realm, there are peak periods, such as the end of fiscal quarters or years, when longer hours might be necessary to finalize reports, conduct reconciliations, or address audit requirements. During such times, early starts, late finishes, and occasional weekend work might be required to ensure all financial responsibilities are met timely and accurately.

How to become an assistant controller

The assistant controller position requires a mix of academic qualifications and practical experience. This career guide section covers the steps you’ll need to follow:

Step 1: Earn a bachelor’s degree

The first step is to earn a bachelor’s degree in a relevant field, such as accounting, finance, or business administration. These programs typically include financial accounting, managerial accounting, financial management, and business law coursework.

Step 2: Gain work experience in accounting or finance

Next, gain practical experience as a staff accountant, financial analyst, or auditor. These roles allow you to apply academic knowledge and develop financial analysis, budget management, and financial reporting skills.

Step 3: Obtain a professional certification

While not always required, many employers prefer candidates with professional certifications such as Certified Public Accountant (CPA), Certified Management Accountant (CMA), or Certified Financial Analyst (CFA). These certifications boost credibility and broaden knowledge and skills in specific areas of finance and accounting.

Step 4: Pursue a master’s degree (optional)

Some assistant controllers choose to further their education by pursuing a master’s degree in business administration (MBA) or accounting. While this step is optional, it may benefit those seeking higher-level management positions or wanting to work in large corporations.

Step 5: Apply for assistant controller positions

With the required education, experience, and certifications, you are ready to apply for jobs. Look for openings in industries like manufacturing, retail, financial services, and healthcare.

Step 6: Plan for ongoing professional development

Staying updated with the latest industry trends, regulations, and best practices is important even after securing a job. Consider attending professional development seminars, taking advanced courses, or pursuing further certifications.

To continue your education, here are some options for online courses:

How much do assistant controllers make?

Assistant controller salaries can be influenced by geographic location, years of experience, level of education, industry, and the company’s size. In addition, their responsibilities and job complexity can significantly impact income. Some may receive additional compensation through bonuses, profit sharing, or commissions.

Highest paying industries

  • Finance – $115,420
  • Management of Companies and Enterprises – $112,730
  • Insurance Carriers – $110,580
  • Federal Government – $109,920
  • Manufacturing – $107,450

Highest paying states

  • New York – $122,840
  • New Jersey – $120,150
  • Massachusetts – $118,620
  • California – $116,890
  • Virginia – $115,230

Browse assistant controller salary data by market

Types of assistant controllers

In this career guide section, we will explore the various types of assistant controllers, shedding light on their unique responsibilities and areas of focus.  

Corporate assistant controller

These assistant controllers work within a corporate environment, typically in larger organizations. They assist the controller in managing financial activities, including preparing reports, ensuring compliance with regulations, and overseeing accounting staff.

Nonprofit assistant controller

The nonprofit sector is routinely audited to ensure operations align with governing regulations. These assistant controllers manage financial operations and ensure that reports, budgets, and audits align with nonprofit rules and standards. 

Manufacturing assistant controller

In manufacturing, an assistant controller’s role involves aiding in managing the financial aspects of production, including cost accounting, inventory valuation, and production efficiency analysis. These tasks are crucial in financial planning and decision-making related to manufacturing processes.

Government assistant controller

Government agencies are highly regulated because they use public funds. Assistant controllers help prepare budgets, conduct audits, and ensure financial activities comply with government rules and policies.

Healthcare assistant controller

In the healthcare sector, an assistant controller aids in managing the financial operations of hospitals, clinics, or other healthcare facilities. They may oversee patient billing, insurance claims, and budgeting for various departments, ensuring that financial practices align with healthcare regulations and standards.

Small business assistant controller

These assistant controller takes on a broader range of responsibilities for small businesses due to the size of the finance team. They may assist with everything from bookkeeping and payroll to financial reporting and compliance. A wide-ranging understanding of the business’s financial operations is needed. 

Top skills for assistant controllers

Key skills for success as an assistant controller include a solid understanding of accounting principles, analytical skills, attention to detail, communication skills, and proficiency in financial software.

An in-depth understanding of accounting is paramount for applying various principles to financial tasks, such as reconciling accounts and preparing financial statements. This knowledge ensures accuracy in reporting and compliance with financial regulations and standards.

Analytical skills are another essential trait. They often analyze financial data to detect patterns, discrepancies, or trends. These insights can inform a company’s financial decisions and strategies, contributing to its fiscal health and growth.

Professionals in this role deal with complex financial data, where minor errors can have significant implications. Meticulousness and attention to detail help ensure the integrity of financial records, prevent mistakes, and maintain compliance with financial regulations. 

Financial reports share vital information with other departments, management, or external auditors. Clear and effective communication ensures stakeholders understand the company’s financial status and the implications of operational changes.

Lastly, proficiency in financial software is a must-have for tasks such as data entry, financial analysis, and report generation. This technical expertise enhances efficiency and accuracy, enabling assistant controllers to handle large volumes of financial data.

Assistant controller career path

Becoming an assistant controller begins with obtaining a bachelor’s degree in accounting, finance, or a related field. This foundational knowledge is crucial for understanding financial concepts, principles, and practices. Many individuals then seek certification as a CPA, which can enhance credibility and job prospects.

Early career stages often involve positions such as staff accountant or financial analyst, gaining practical experience in financial reporting, budgeting, and analysis tasks. These roles provide a crucial understanding of an organization’s finance department.

Transitioning to assistant controller generally requires several years of experience in accounting or finance, with demonstrable knowledge of accounting principles, financial analysis, and regulatory compliance. They work closely with controllers, assisting in financial management and oversight activities such as preparing financial statements, coordinating budget processes, and ensuring regulatory compliance.

With continued experience and proven leadership skills, they may advance to the controller position. This role includes increased responsibility for managing an organization’s financial activities, including strategic planning and decision-making.

Further advancement opportunities include a CFO, who handles executive-level responsibilities like strategic financial planning, stakeholder relations, and executive decision-making.

The demand for advanced technical skills has grown as financial systems become more sophisticated. Familiarity with various software and a strong understanding of data analysis is essential. 

As businesses navigate the changing economic landscape, there’s a heightened focus on financial stability and growth. Those able to contribute to strategic planning and cost management will likely be in high demand.

Employment projections for assistant controllers

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) includes assistant controllers in the category of “financial managers.” According to the BLS, employment is projected to grow 17% through 2031, much faster than the average for all occupations. Growth is driven by the focus on risk management and the emphasis on data-driven decisions in business. Those with strong technical skills, particularly in financial software, data analysis, and strategic planning, are expected to have good job prospects.

Assistant controller career tips

Understand the financial landscape of your industry

It’s crucial to understand the landscape of your employer’s industry, including financial regulations, market trends, and key performance indicators.

Develop a strong foundation in financial reporting

In this role, you’ll prepare financial reports. Understand the basics of reporting, and be comfortable with financial statement preparation, budgeting, and forecasting.

Master relevant software

Become familiar with financial software commonly used in your industry. Knowledge of programs like QuickBooks, SAP, and Oracle can be beneficial.

Build excellent communication skills

Assistant controllers frequently interact with other departments, external auditors, and stakeholders. Clearly and effectively communicating complex financial information is vital to success.

Maintain ethical standards

The role often involves access to sensitive financial information. Maintaining a high standard of ethics, including confidentiality and honesty, is crucial.

Pursue continuous learning

The financial world is ever-changing with new regulations, technologies, and best practices. Engage in continuous learning to stay updated. Some suggestions for ongoing education include: 

  • CPA courses
  • CMA courses
  • Training in financial software

Develop leadership skills

You may need to manage a team in this role. Develop leadership skills to motivate, guide, and effectively manage your team.

Build a professional network

Networking can provide opportunities for learning, mentorship, and job opportunities. Consider the following professional associations:

  • American Association of Finance and Accounting (AAFA)
  • Financial Executives International (FEI)
  • Association for Financial Professionals (AFP)

Stay updated with tax regulations

Tax regulations change frequently, so keep informed about current laws and regulations to ensure your company’s compliance.

Learn to analyze and interpret financial data

Analyzing and interpreting complex financial data is a critical skill. This understanding helps to make informed decisions and provide strategic recommendations.

Where the assistant controller jobs are

Top companies

  • Deloitte
  • PwC
  • EY
  • KPMG

Top states

  • California
  • New York
  • Texas
  • Illinois
  • Florida

Top job sites

  • zengig
  • Indeed
  • LinkedIn
  • CareerBuilder
  • Monster.com


What qualifications are needed to become an assistant controller?

The role typically requires a bachelor’s degree in accounting, finance, or a related field. A master’s degree in business administration or accounting can be beneficial. Many employers also prefer candidates with CPA or CMA certifications. Additionally, several years of experience in accounting or finance roles, with a track record of progressively increasing responsibility, may be necessary.

What kind of training does an assistant controller typically undergo?

Often gaining training in lower-level accounting or finance roles, they learn to prepare financial statements, manage budgets, conduct audits, and comply with laws and regulations. Formal education in accounting or finance provides foundational knowledge, while certifications like the CPA or CMA require additional study and exams. Continued professional development through workshops, seminars, and courses is widespread.

What are the essential skills of an assistant controller?

Analytical skills are needed to interpret complex financial data and identify trends. Proficiency in accounting software and related technologies ensures ongoing success. Other skills include attention to detail, problem-solving abilities, and strong communication. They often manage a team, so leadership and interpersonal skills are also necessary.

What does a typical day look like for an assistant controller?

A typical day might involve reviewing financial reports, overseeing the work of accounting staff, and ensuring compliance with policies and regulations. They might also analyze financial data, prepare forecasts, and work on budgeting. Communication with other departments, managers, and external auditors is routine.

What are the main responsibilities of an assistant controller?

Their responsibilities may include supervising accounting operations, preparing financial reports, and helping with budget preparation. They ensure compliance with accounting standards and regulatory requirements, oversee audits, and monitor internal controls. The role may also include helping to develop financial strategies, analyzing data, and making decisions.

What industries employ assistant controllers?

Most businesses and organizations need professionals to manage financial operations, including manufacturing, healthcare, technology, finance, retail, and nonprofit organizations. They may also work for government agencies or accounting firms that provide financial services to other companies.

What is the role of an assistant controller in financial planning?

An assistant controller prepares budgets, forecasts, and financial projections in financial planning. They analyze data to identify trends, assess performance, and provide insights to inform decision-making. Work may also include evaluating capital investments, identifying cost-saving opportunities, and developing strategies to improve profitability.

How does an assistant controller ensure compliance with accounting standards and regulations?

Compliance is obtained by staying current with accounting standards and regulations and implementing them in an organization’s financial operations. They oversee the preparation of financial reports, monitor internal controls to prevent inaccuracies, and coordinate with external auditors.

What challenges do assistant controllers often encounter?

Challenges include managing complex financial data, ensuring accurate financial reporting, and maintaining compliance with changing regulations. Managing teams, meeting deadlines, and communicating complex financial information to non-financial staff members may be demanding. 

How does an assistant controller stay updated with accounting methods and regulations?

They stay updated by engaging in continuous professional development through workshops, courses, and seminars. Professional organizations and industry publications also provide valuable insights. Webinars or industry events are good places to learn about the latest trends or changes in accounting standards and regulations.