In Pursuit of Profit
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We work with companies every day that are hiring mid-to-management level accounting and finance positions and one question we hear a lot is, “How much do controllers make?”
Companies asking us about controller salaries are usually trying to do accounting salary benchmarking to determine what to offer for the role. In some cases, the controller role is a new position for their organization. In other cases, they are looking to replace a long-term employee, which means they have not listed a controller opening in many years and they need timely advice on what to offer these days.
So, what is an accounting controller’s average salary? Get ready to dive into the numbers!
According to Salary.com the average controller salary across the US is $196,816 to $280,791, with a median salary of $236,589. Those are pretty specific numbers, so let’s just round them to about $200K-$280K. Now, what is important to keep in mind is that these numbers represent the salaries of controllers across the entire nation regardless of factors like company size, company type (public or private), geographic location, and industry. And while many controllers are also CPAs, these numbers do not differentiate between controllers that have CPA licenses and those that do not.
It is also important to note that while this salary range represents all controller roles across the nation, there can be significant variations in what is included in this kind of position depending on the size of the company. For instance, a small to mid-sized business (SMB) listing a controller role may be looking for something more in line with what a large company would classify as a Senior Accounting Manager role. As such, the salary will be significantly lower. In fact, most SMBs list their controller roles in the $110K-$220K range to reflect this difference in definition.
So, let’s break down these wide ranges of controller salary averages even further.
Cost of living differences between geographic regions can account for really significant variations in controller salaries. This same data shows that major metropolitan areas like San Francisco and New York report a +25% and +20% premium on a controller’s salary respectively, while controller salaries in other metropolitan areas like Miami and Dallas actually lag behind the national average by 3% and 1% respectively. In our regions, the median controller salary in Washington is around $253K, compared to around that national average of $236K in Oregon and Colorado.
Titles & Credentials
Variations in the role can also have a big impact on the salary. For instance, assistant controllers reportedly make 35% less than controllers, while business unit controllers make 46% less than controllers. These are more than just differences in titles though, they are noteworthy differences in job responsibilities as well.
Education and licensure differences may play into the salary levels as well. For instance, on average CPAs make 10-15% more than their non-CPA counterparts. This is not to say that accountants with CPA licenses will necessarily make more in the role, but their added credentials may give them more leverage in salary negotiations. Similarly, a candidate’s salary history will likely play a role in their bargaining position when negotiating an offer. Current and former controllers or CFOs will likely demand a premium over senior accountants and other adjacent roles because accepting the offer for them is a continuation of their existing professional level, not a step up in their career. To put it another way, they will not be learning on the job – they will be bringing real-world experience from similar roles to add value to yours.
Company Size & Type
A company’s size and type can affect compensation for all employees, especially the further up the organizational chart you go. Typically, larger companies will pay more than smaller companies, which is easy enough to understand. But what might surprise you is that private companies typically actually pay more than publicly traded companies. As Career Trend explains when discussing salary trends,
Most privately owned companies pay better than their publicly owned counterparts. One reason for this is that, with many exceptions, private companies aren't as well known, so they need to offer better incentives to attract the best employees. Private companies also tend to offer more incentive-based pay packages.
And while this may be true, every company is different, which means that the salary an organization pays their controller will need to fit within their existing compensation bands to keep things fair for their current employees.
An important fact to note is that while the national average salary for a controller is approximately $237K, the average total compensation package is much higher: $285,390. This overall compensation package may include things like performance incentives, retention bonuses, equity, stock options, company-provided 401K contributions, and other types of financial compensation.
In addition to these ongoing earnings, a controller’s compensation package may include one-time payments that are offered at the time of hiring. For instance, you may want to offer relocation assistance to cover the costs of moving or a signing bonus to cover the cost of technology upgrades/home office improvements for remote employees.
Not included in the salary numbers are other benefits like paid time off, wellness offerings, and in-office perks, which should be considered when hiring a controller as well. While these will not make it into the number that a candidate sees in their offer letter, they should be included in detail to help round out the picture of what employees can expect when coming to work for your company.
If you need help hiring a controller, please reach out to us. We would be happy to help you conduct your search. Our experienced accounting recruiting team places mid-to-management level accounting and finance professionals at companies across Washington, Oregon, and Colorado. Contact our recruiting team today to find out more.
If you are an accounting professional looking for open controller jobs, please review our current openings and reach out to us if you would like to apply for any of the positions you see listed.