A cost controller monitors the financial progress of a project, computes operating fixed and variable costs and compares such costs to budgets. Comparing budget amounts to actual expenses is an accounting function that helps senior management adjust project costs while work is still in progress. This procedure is also called variance analysis. A cost controller typically reports periodic financial statements to a company's finance chief and ensures that accounting procedures and systems are adequate and functional.
A cost controller typically holds a four-year college in accounting, business or tax. A controller also may hold a master's degree in a business field. Postgraduate cost accounting (also called managerial accounting) degrees are common among cost controllers. A cost controller also may hold a certified public accountant (CPA), a certified management accountant (CMA) or a certified financial manager (CFM) designation. A state accounting board issues a CPA license; the Institute of Management Accountants (IMA) administers the CMA and CFM designations.
Salary levels for cost controllers depend on industry, company size, seniority and educational credentials. The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that median wages of cost accountants were $63,550 in 2012, with the bottom 10 percent earning less than $38,930 and the top 10 percent earning more than $111,510. For experienced cost controllers, compensation is higher. The same report shows that median wages, excluding bonuses and stock options, of financial managers were $109,970 in 2012.
Career growth opportunities for a cost controller depend on business staffing needs, employee expertise, professional qualifications and academic training. An experienced and competent cost controller may move to a senior role, such as finance director, chief financial officer or group controller, after five years. A controller also may seek a professional certification, such as a CPA or CMA designation, to boost chances of promotion.
A cost controller typically works more than 40 hours on weekdays and may be at the office on weekends. Seasonal business needs may require this employee to work longer hours. For example, a cost controller working for a company that builds bridges and roads under the U.S. Financial Stability Plan (or "bailout plan") may work at night to evaluate construction activities, cost trends or working conditions and ensures that such costs do not exceed budget limits.