1 (801) 804-5800 info@preferredcfo.com
Facebooktwitterpinterestlinkedinmail

The terms “controller” and “comptroller,” as well as the positions they define, may seem strikingly similar. Indeed, the word “comptroller” is believed to stem from a 15th Century misspelling of “controller.” However, despite the similarity in titles and functions, there are some significant differences between the duties of a controller and a comptroller.

Some organizations use the terms Controller and Comptroller interchangeably or assign other titles to the roles. For the purposes of this article, we will use the titles in their traditional sense to describe the roles they generally encompass.

What Is the Difference Between a Controller and a Comptroller?

One of the biggest differences between comptrollers and controllers is the types of organizations where they work.  A controller generally works at a for-profit corporation, while a comptroller is usually found in a government agency or a nonprofit business. A controller typically reports to the CFO of a company, whereas a comptroller tends to have a more senior role as head of the financial department, possibly at a county, state, or national level. The comptroller often acts as both CFO and controller within a public body.

While a controller is answerable to company management and shareholders, a comptroller is answerable to government officials and taxpayers. As a member of the private sector, the controller is likely to have a higher salary than the comptroller. However, the comptroller often receives government benefits and perks that compensate for the difference in pay.

A controller’s primary concerns are cost controls and corporate profitability. A comptroller, on the other hand, is more concerned with budgeting and fund accounting.

What Controllers and Comptrollers Have in Common

Both controllers and comptrollers are senior-level officers of financial departments. Usually, they manage the accounting staff and have responsibility for all accounting transactions and financial records within the organization. They maintain the general ledger and chart of accounts. They assist auditors in performing external and internal financial examinations.

Controllers and comptrollers are financial professionals who generally hold degrees in accounting and have a strong understanding of the principles of business and industries in which they work. Many have CPA certifications, MBA degrees, and other certifications. They are directly involved at the highest level with the financial affairs of an organization. They ensure the accuracy of financial reports and provide data to top executives. They enforce accounting standards, company policies and internal controls, and legal requirements.

The Controller’s Role

A controller heads the financial organization within a company and is responsible to care for the overall financial picture of the enterprise. The controller typically manages accounting operations such as accounts receivable, accounts payable, billing, revenue recognition, cost accounting, risk assessment, inventory accounting, and tax filing.

The controller prepares, verifies, and publishes financial reports and assures compliance with federal, state, and local regulations. The controller’s primary concern is the company’s bottom line. Working with top management, the controller develops financial forecasts, budgets, policies, procedures, and internal controls. Simply put, the controller helps guide a company’s strategic financial decisions and is crucial in overseeing and reporting on the overall financial health of a company.

Controllers focus mainly on the company’s bottom line: the company’s net income after all expenses are taken into account.

The Comptroller’s Role

A comptroller is a senior executive who oversees an organization’s accounting and financial reporting processes. Typically, the comptroller is the head of the accounting department and is responsible to ensure the accuracy of financial reports such as income statements and balance sheets with the government equivalent statements are known as Statement of Activities and Statement of Net Assets respectively. Budgeting, fund accounting, and financial controls are big parts of the comptroller’s job.

Most comptrollers work in government agencies or nonprofit enterprises that are highly regulated by law. The comptroller, therefore, has a high degree of responsibility for legal compliance and public reporting. Comptrollers must also manage financial contributions such as donations and grants.

Comptrollers focus primarily on accomplishing the organization’s mission and keeping expenditures within budget, to satisfy the ever-present scrutiny of lawmakers and taxpayers.

Controller Versus Comptroller: A Side-by-Side Comparison

Controller

Comptroller

Reports to: Company CFO Reports to: Executive management
Also answerable to: Executives and shareholders Also answerable to: Taxpayers and government
Manages: All accounting operations Manages: Accounting department
Primary Responsibility: Corporate profitability and financial well-being Primary Responsibility: Budgets and financial controls

Other Duties:

  • Corporate accounting
  • Regulatory compliance
  • Budgeting and financial forecasting
  • Financial statements
  • Process development and supervision
  • Financial risk management
  • Reports and tax filing

Other Duties:

  • Financial reporting
  • Regulatory compliance
  • Fund accounting
  • Management of contributions
  • Expenditure monitoring
  • Process development and supervision
  • Accounting and auditing
Type of Organization: Private or public company Type of Organization: Government agency or nonprofit enterprise

Typical Qualifications:

  • College degree in accounting or finance
  • CPA, CMA, and/or MBA
  • Strong organizational skills
  • Deep understanding of business finance
  • Knowledge of regulatory requirements
  • Background in financial analysis, forecasting, and risk management

Typical Qualifications:

  • College degree in accounting or finance
  • CPA, CMA, and/or MBA
  • Strong organizational skills
  • Deep understanding of government or nonprofit finance
  • Knowledge of regulatory requirements
  • ·       Background in cost control and auditing

Final Thoughts

Controllers and comptrollers perform similar but not always identical functions in different organizations. A controller is typically found in a for-profit company and works to improve net revenue.  A comptroller usually works for the government or a nonprofit company and ensures that expenditures stay within allotted budgets. Understanding the differences can help determine your company’s financial focus.

About the Author

Jill Tavey CFO at Preferred CFO

Jill Tavey

CFO

Jill Tavey is an experienced outsourced CFO with over a decade of high-level financial expertise and experience. Her ability to negotiate, make and maintain key relationships, and shape strategic direction has helped propel multiple companies through significant growth.

You may also be interested in...

3 Things to Know Before Choosing a Supplier

3 Things to Know Before Choosing a Supplier

Choosing the right supplier for your business can be complicated, especially if a large portion of your product comes from a single company. For many companies, supplies are secondary only to labor in their expenses. But choosing the right supplier has even more...

How Does a CFO Influence Strategic Decisions?

How Does a CFO Influence Strategic Decisions?

In every company, there are important decisions to be made on a daily basis. Some decisions are mundane and have only short-term consequences. Others are strategic and can affect the company’s performance and profits for years. Too often, these critical decisions are...

CFO Hiring Guide: Analyze Your Needs & Maximize Value

CFO Hiring Guide: Analyze Your Needs & Maximize Value

Whether your business is a startup or an established enterprise, you need a strong, agile financial team with a highly competent leader. Some companies think they can get by without a Chief Financial Officer (CFO) until they start preparing to go public. Other...

Financial Expert Roles & Responsibilities

Financial Expert Roles & Responsibilities

It’s not uncommon to have difficulty differentiating between the main financial professionals. Not only are the names similar, but they are also often unintentionally used interchangeably. However, despite how the titles may be used colloquially, there are distinct...

Choosing the Right Vendors for Your Business

Choosing the Right Vendors for Your Business

Nearly every business requires supplies and services. To keep your company moving forward smoothly and to ensure optimum profitability, you need to find vendors who are trustworthy, consistent, and correctly priced. An ideal vendor is more than just a supplier; they...

How Much Does a Virtual CFO Cost

How Much Does a Virtual CFO Cost

A virtual CFO, also called a VCFO or fractional CFO, is a consultant or company that provides CFO services to one or more businesses on a part-time or ad-hoc basis. In the past, a true CFO was usually a highly paid, full-time employee that only large corporations...

What Is Gross Profit and Why Does It Matter?

What Is Gross Profit and Why Does It Matter?

Gross profit is one of several key profitability metrics that help companies evaluate their financial health. It is necessary to determine gross profit before you can calculate other important figures such as net profit, EBITDA, and the company’s bottom line. Gross...

20+ Mistakes to Avoid when Selling Your Business

20+ Mistakes to Avoid when Selling Your Business

Selling a business, especially in the current economic climate, can be a complicated process. You want to get the best price from the right buyer and smoothly transition the business to the new owner. The process takes a significant amount of planning, negotiation,...

Elements of Financial Forecasting

Elements of Financial Forecasting

An essential factor in business management is the ability to discern where the company is headed and what course to chart for maximum profitability. Intuition and guesswork are not sufficient to create a rational roadmap for the future. For that, the process of...

How to Improve Business Cash Management

How to Improve Business Cash Management

Cash management is the lifeblood of any business. It can make or break any company regardless of how great the product or service is. In fact, cash-flow related challenges are the reason 82% of small businesses fail. Cash flow is a metric that every company should...

Is Your Business in Athletic Position?

Is Your Business in Athletic Position?

In sports there is a stance known as the “Universal Athletic Position,” or “ready position.” Feet apart, knees bent, hips back, chest forward, arms extended-with minor variations, this stance is favored by athletes as a starting position for many different sports....

6 Reasons SaaS Companies are Choosing Outsourced CFO Services

6 Reasons SaaS Companies are Choosing Outsourced CFO Services

It’s becoming increasingly common to see companies turning to an outsourced CFO instead of a traditional in-house CFO. This is especially true for the dynamic, high-growth SaaS industry. SaaS companies are finding that outsourced CFOs specializing in SaaS are often...

Facebooktwitterpinterestlinkedinmail