Controller vs CFO: Which Does My Business Need?

chief accounting officer vs.controller

A good financial controller will develop efficient and effective strategies to increase profit margins, increase employee productivity, and find cost savings through cash management. Bottom line, financial controllers and CFOs enjoy a symbiotic relationship. The two jobs have many similarities, and in small companies these roles are often combined. However, differences in focus, execution and duties are apparent when the positions are distinct. Understanding the differences can be helpful when evaluating which professional best meets the needs of a company, or whether both might be necessary.

  • So, being a successful CPA (BTW, a great prerequisite for a Controller) and/or Controller can lead one to an overconfidence that may not serve that person well if they move into a CFO role.
  • Usually, the candidate must hold a bachelor’s degree in accounting, finance, or business administration whereas a master’s degree is sometimes preferred as per the company needs.
  • Finance Director/VP of Finance is essentially the same role, however if you have a VP of Fin, but need a strategic person at the same level (or a little higher) then you have the CFO.
  • Controllers in very low-margin businesses like commodity contract or product manufacturers are involved in managing the razor-thin margins to ensure the sustainability of the organization.
  • One of a CAO’s main responsibilities is to help the board to sleep at night.

Controllers in very low-margin businesses like commodity contract or product manufacturers are involved in managing the razor-thin margins to ensure the sustainability of the organization. There are many reasons small business owners consider beefing up their finance team. Whatever your reasons, we’re glad you’re thinking about it, because, from our experience, most owners wait too long to get help.


Controllers and CFOs have related but different skill sets that support their individual roles. When both are present within an organization, controllers and CFOs are interdependent, leveraging their talents to work together and help the entire financial organization achieve its objectives. Most accountants work standard 40- to 45-hour weeks and enjoy plenty of paid leave, holidays, vacation time, and even a modest amount of schedule flexibility. Despite its boring reputation, accounting consistently ranks among the most satisfying careers. To prepare for a management position as a controller or CAO, it can also be helpful to get an education, certifications, leadership and management skills, and professional development.

  • Controller and comptroller are the same positions, so the comptroller definition works for controllers.
  • At some companies, financial controllers are involved in evaluating and selecting technology for use within the finance department or other related departments within the organization.
  • Controllers typically report directly to the CFO (except in cases where there is a COA) and usually lead a team of accountants, bookkeepers, and accounts receivable/payable clerks.
  • Both controllers and CAOs are accomplished leaders and experts in finance and accounting, but there are subtle contrasts that make these two roles complementary to one another.
  • Becoming a Certified Public Accountant is a major asset to a comptroller career.

The comptroller title may be considered to represent a slightly more senior-level management position than the controller title. However, this does not mean that there would be a controller position that reports to a comptroller. Both the controller and comptroller positions report to the chief financial officer (CFO) position, if such a position exists. If there is no CFO (as may be the case in a smaller organization), then these positions report instead to the president or chief executive officer. Controllers’ functionalities vary from company to company depending on the size and complexity of the business. Typically, A comptroller is the most senior designation in the company that is commonly found in government or nonprofit organizations.

How to protect your small business in a recession

A controller is a person who is responsible for all accounting processes, including high-level accounting and managerial accounting within a company. Now, this financial controller usually reports to the chief financial officer (CFO). The controller’s primary duty is preparing the operating budgets, administering financial reporting, and performing payroll related duties. The most common are business controllers and corporate controllers, who handle entire accounting systems for their employers.

chief accounting officer vs.controller

The federal government predicts steady growth in the financial management sector, which includes CFOs and controllers. The estimate is that this employment sector will grow 19 percent by 2026. The controller vs. comptroller difference is much smaller Running Law Firm Bookkeeping: Consider the Industry Specifics in the Detailed Guide than comptroller vs. vice president. Controller and comptroller are the same positions, so the comptroller definition works for controllers. “Controller” is the name preferred in business, “comptroller” in government or non-profit work.

What is the role of a company’s controller?

There is often crossover between the two since both are engaged in the same area. In small companies, the roles of the CFO may be performed by the Controller or may be split with the owner, CEO, or COO. The controller may take on additional roles such as human resources, IT, and even office management. We provide outsourced accounting services to clients in the western region and beyond. The CFO is traditionally ranked just below the CEO in terms of hierarchy. The controller reports to the CFO, sometimes alongside the treasurer and tax manager.

NetSuite has packaged the experience gained from tens of thousands of worldwide deployments over two decades into a set of leading practices that pave a clear path to success and are proven to deliver rapid business value. With NetSuite, you go live in a predictable timeframe — smart, stepped implementations begin with sales and span the entire customer lifecycle, so there’s continuity from sales to services to support. Most important, because CFOs are the only other corporate executive with a companywide focus, they are primary advisers to their CEOs. Understanding the two roles can help you determine which direction is best for your company — and when it might be time to embrace both.

A chief accounting officer (CAO) oversees all of the accounting departments within their company, while a controller oversees the day-to-day financial operations. While a controller focuses on reviewing financial data and individual employee performance, a chief accounting officer reviews the performance of their accounting departments as a whole. A comptroller is a person in the business who oversees accounting and the implementation and monitoring of internal controls, independently from the chief financial officer in some countries.

  • Not only that, but the CFO may be working overtime to get all the information they need to make accurate decisions.
  • If you want to ensure that financial information is correct and honest and have a good eye for details, you might be better off as a CAO.
  • I view “Finance Director” as more suggestive of a strategic bent and workings with external parties (customers, banks, investors).
  • Controllers take the credibility and help you work with investors or run meetings with the board of directors.
  • In a business, the chief financial officer (CFO) and controller work closely together.

The CFO and CEO collaborate to make a case, based on the CEO’s vision and the CFO’s data, to get company-wide buy-in for changes in direction and new ideas. For financial controllers, median annual salaries range from $90,000 to $110,000, according to several studies. As with CFOs, bonuses, stock options and other non-cash incentives are variable and increase overall compensation. As a general rule of thumb, most companies hire their first financial controller when annual revenue exceeds $5 million.

The CAO of the future

At Fully Accountable, our full-service outsourced accounting firm is here to fill all your financial needs. Controllers do not need to fulfill as many forecasting responsibilities as CFOs. CFOs can also call on them to offer their perspective on investments, creditor relationships, or corporate governance. According to, the average cash compensation for a CFO providing CFO services for startups such as in a private company with less than $20MM in annual revenue is $194,354. CFOs for private companies with $21-$99MM in annual revenue make an average of $237,983 in base salary. (Private company CFOs make 45% less than those at public companies.) Tack on benefits and bonus and you can expect to pay $225,000 to $275,000 depending on business size.

chief accounting officer vs.controller

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