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The role of a product controller

Product Control is one of the most popular roles for South African Chartered Accountants.

Here we take a look at how you can get into this exciting industry and what skills you need to progress your career as a Product Controller.

Product control is mainly concerned with compiling profit and loss accounts from products traded by the front office on a daily basis.

As a product controller, you will work in close contact with the front office and its traders, risk and valuation units, and have exposure to investment banking products (whether vanilla / flow products or more complex structured / exotic products), allowing you to understand why and how a bank trades on a daily basis.

Trades go into a profit and loss account which has to be assessed daily by the product controllers for abnormalities called 'breaks'. In addition, controllers analyse the figures on the P&L for risk and market trends as well as product performance - assessing how the trader is performing in accordance with the market.

The product control function is incredibly important at the moment as banks seek to scrutinize trading activity and mitigate risks. As a result, the number of roles in this area has increased recently and product controllers are highly sought-after. 

It is in both parties interest to ensure there is a good relationship between the controller and the trader. This ensures the trader is credited their correct earnings and ensures the controller provides the trader with value added information and analysis.

The product control function is incredibly important at the moment as banks seek to scrutinize trading activity and mitigate risks. As a result, the number of roles in this area has increased recently and product controllers are highly sought-after. 

Your key interactions are typically with the trading desk head and traders within the bank, the central product control team, and the middle office, operations and technology divisions. So, the role provides a real insight into how a bank operates on a day-to-day basis. These interactions include a whole range of daily, weekly and monthly reporting communications, various project work and specific ad hoc queries.

Product Controllers are up against strong competition for the best positions. Employers are still being very specific in their requirements and CA (SA)s will need to work hard to secure their preferred role. Banks will typically look for CA (SA)s with experience from the 'Big 4' auditing houses. 

Professionals who have worked internationally within the product control function are in high demand and even more so if the candidate has exposure to exotic trades. Most importantly, banks want employees who have made an effort to understand exactly what the product control function is and the qualities required to be successful in the position. With this in mind, doing your research prior to interview is absolutely crucial.

Banks also look for accountants who are confident, proactive, logical and have a keen eye for detail. You will need to be able to partner with the business in order to achieve buy-in, trust and the respect of very demanding stakeholders in the front office. This can be one of the main challenges of the role, as people working in this area typically want things done quickly and to a high standard.

You’ll also need to be flexible and able to cope with the ever-changing market conditions that banks are required to react to, amending your working methods accordingly.

For example, more recently a number of banks have outsourced their P&L production functions, often associated with product control, which has left product controllers getting actively involved with more value-add work of an analytical nature (ie explaining market moves to front office, getting involved with ad hoc project work associated with the product control function, and other risk / valuation work).

The product control role offers excellent career prospects for the future. The knowledge you build up in the job is extremely transferable within an investment banking environment, meaning there are various lines of work you can progress into afterwards. You’ll be in high demand within the sector if you manage to secure one of these roles.


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