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How To Become A Comptroller: Degree & Career Guide

Overseeing the financials of an organization is one thing but managing the financials of a government organization or a non-profit organization is an entirely different ball game. From the allocation of funds to the way funds come into the organization, all these transactions need to be closely monitored.

Within government institutes and non-profit organizations, those who serve the role of a financial controller are known as comptrollers.

To become a comptroller, you would need to first obtain your bachelor's degree, you would need to become a CPA, you would need to gain experience, and then you would need to seek and find a possible role for you to fulfill as a comptroller.

Let us take a closer look at this career path and let us look at the steps you would need to follow to become a comptroller.

What Is A Comptroller?

Considered a senior level or a management level position, a comptroller is someone who oversees all the financial operations, tasks, and accounting procedures, particularly in a non-profit or governmental organization.

Fulfilling the role of a financial controller, a comptroller operates in a very specific division.

Comptrollers usually work in upper management that is directly beneath c-suite executives. They evaluate internal financial reports, devise budgetary plans, they execute accounting and bookkeeping processes, and they sometimes conduct internal audits to make sure that every aspect of the organization is running according to plan.

When you work as a comptroller in government spheres, you may be responsible for the management of finances and distribution of funds to different divisions within your sphere of government. You are also liable to report and discuss any shortcomings with the management level above yours.

What Does A Comptroller Do?

As a comptroller, you are responsible for meticulously compiling and analyzing the financial records of an organization. Granted, you are not required to complete these duties by yourself, but you will work with and manage a team of accountants and bookkeepers that are responsible for internal financial functions in an organization.

You will be in charge of managing the drafting of reports, as well as interpreting, understanding, and relaying the information to upper management.

You will be responsible for drafting budgets and adjusting budgets according to the financial success of an organization.

Owing to the fact that you work as part of a government institute or a non-profit organization, the way funds are used needs to be done according to specific statutory requirements. You would need to ensure adherence to these requirements and also make sure that no fraudulent transactions are taking place to the detriment of the organization.

As a comptroller, the organization for which you work will have specific financial goals and aims in mind, and it will be a part of your duty to make sure that these goals are met. You will need to make decisions based on the financial data presented to you by your subordinates on what adjustments need to be made to ensure the financial success of an organization.

You will also be responsible for working with other management-level financial employees in drafting financial policies for the organization in which you work. The importance of these policies is paramount as their effects are felt throughout the organization and trickle down to lower-level employees as well.

Not only are you responsible for internal financial operations as a comptroller, but also managing vendor and stakeholder relations, and other external financial relations that may occur.

One of the unique roles you would have would be making sure that financial projections meet certain goals and that all financial transactions are up to standard. This means that you will be performing both forward-facing operations while keeping track of past and present transactions.

Steps To Become A Comptroller

Step One: Obtain Your Degree

The starting point for this career is obtaining your bachelor's degree in accounting, finance, or any related field, preparing you for the financial management role that you would fulfill. While obtaining your bachelor's degree is the first step, it is here that you will learn the majority of the skills and academic components that are needed to effectively execute your duties.

Step Two: Obtain A Graduate Degree

Considering that being a comptroller is a senior-level position, it may be worth your while to pursue a master's degree. Many may consider obtaining a master's degree in accounting or a related field, and others may consider pursuing a master's in business administration.

This will fast-track you on the road to a comptroller position, given the qualifications you will hold.

Step Three: Obtain Your Certification

In many cases, comptrollers are required to be certified public accountants or certified management accountants, or certified auditors. The process of obtaining your certification is quite rigorous therefore once you have adequately prepared, you can then take the exam.

Once you pass the examination and you obtain your certification, you can then apply for your license to pursue the role of a comptroller.

Gaining direct industry experience is important for you to accurately apply your skills and knowledge into practice. You can gain industry experience by searching for entry-level roles or pursuing internships. This will allow you to be exposed to senior level comptrollers who will impart extensive knowledge to you.

Step Five: Begin Your Job Hunt

With your knowledge, skills, and experience in hand, you are now ready to begin the search for your permanent role as Comptroller.

How Much Does A Comptroller Earn?

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), comptrollers, who fall under the role of financial managers, earn a median annual salary of $131,710.

What Skills Do You Need To Be A Comptroller?

You would need to have strong leadership skills, and the ability to effectively manage others, you would need to be good with numbers, have critical thinking skills, be extremely analytical, and you would need to have an understanding of bookkeeping and accounting principles.


What Is The Job Outlook For Comptrollers?

The BLS states that financial managers can expect to see a projected growth of 17% in the field over the next decade.

Is Being A Comptroller A Good Job?

Considering that this role expects to see significant projected growth, that the earning potential is good, and that you would have job security being a senior-level role, it would be a good career path to follow.


Having the option of working in government spheres and private spheres provides you with a choice of the kind of experience you are hoping to gain. If you enjoy working in government or non-profit organizations, and if you are good with numbers, perhaps the role of a comptroller is the one for you.

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