CPA Controller Accounting Careers

by KJ Henderson

Certified Public Accountants are accounting professionals who have passed the national CPA exam and are authorized to help organizations adhere to industry and regulatory standards. In some cases, CPAs advance to become controllers, who are senior financial managers in an organization. CPA controllers oversee a company’s accounting, audit and budget departments. They prepare and analyze reports such as balance sheets and income statements that document the business’ financial health, and then make recommendations on areas of improvement. In addition, CPA controllers might oversee tax planning and prepare reports that are filed with regulatory agencies such as the Securities & Exchange Commission.

Career Path

Because CPA controllers hold senior financial manager positions, the career path to becoming one requires a combination of formal education and extensive professional experience. Many future CPA controllers begin obtaining experience through internship programs while working on their bachelor’s degrees. After graduating, they take entry-level financial positions such as auditor, junior accountant and financial analyst. CPA controllers typically advance into the position following years of promotions and increased responsibility. The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that financial managers in the United States earned a median annual wage of $103,910 as of 2010.

Educational Requirements

A bachelor’s degree is the minimum educational requirement to obtain employment as a CPA controller. Typical fields of study include accounting, business administration, economics and finance. Due to the seniority of the position, employers often give preference to those who possess a master’s of business administration degree with a concentration in finance. In addition to formal education, some employers offer in-house management training programs aimed at grooming high-potential accounting employees for the position.

CPA License

The law requires accounting professionals who files reports with the SEC to be Certified Public Accountants. The CPA is a license that is awarded by each state’s Board of Accountancy. Although requirements vary by state, in 2012, 46 states and the District of Columbia required candidates for the credential to possess a bachelor’s degree and complete an additional 30 semester hours of college-level coursework, totaling 150 semester hours. Candidates must then pass the Uniform CPA Examination administered by the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants. The test consists of four parts. CPA controllers must also routinely participate in continuing education courses to maintain their licenses.


As a senior manager, it is not uncommon for CPA controllers to direct a large team of people. As such, it is important that they be strong leaders, able to clearly express the department's objectives and command the respect of those that report to them. CPA controllers must also be detail-oriented and highly organized, as inaccuracy in the reports they prepare can have an adverse financial impact on their business. Strong analytical math skills are important as well. CPA controllers must maintain a vast knowledge of complex financial documents, as well as the laws and other regulations that govern the business. To stay updated on new regulations and laws, they often take continuing education classes and attend industry seminars.

About the Author

KJ Henderson has more than a decade of HR and talent acquisition experience. He has held roles at a Fortune 100 investment bank, a media conglomerate and at one of NYC's largest executive staffing firms. He currently heads recruitment sourcing at a major movie studio. He read literature at Oxford.

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