Controllers Versus Comptrollers: Understanding A Financial Manager’s Role

Controllers and comptrollers are two similar and important financial positions. Both the comptroller and the controller are the top accounting positions at most organizations.  Though the terms “controller” and “comptroller” may be used interchangeably by some, the jobs are not wholly identical.

Similar Titles, Different Workplaces 

Controllers and comptroller handle all the financial accounting for an employer.  Both controllers and comptrollers are generally responsible for managing entire accounting departments, their staff and their functions, such as payroll, collections, billings, and cash receipts. They also may be tasked with overseeing the procedures, paperwork and policies that support these functions. In addition, they may also be expected to maintain charts of accounts and general ledgers, which can be used to create financial statements.  They can be expected to assist in internal and external audits. Both controllers and comptrollers tend to answer to chief financial officers or other upper-level management or executive positions.

Controllers generally work for private businesses. The title controller is derived from the word “counteroller,” a Middle English term for someone who is responsible for maintaining ledger accounts. A controller’s responsibilities tend to focus on oversight of the accounting process. They can act as the key people responsible for managing an accounting team’s workflow, ensuring deadlines are met and guaranteeing information generated by accountants is accurate and useful. Nowadays, controllers are often called finance controllers, but their responsibilities are generally the same as the traditional controllers, managing the accounting operations of an organization.

The title comptroller tends to be used for top accounting positions at government and nonprofit organizations. Though their duties may be similar to controllers, comptrollers may be considered to hold higher rankings than controllers and have more responsibilities. For instance, a comptroller may be responsible for preparing publicly accessible reports on a governmental entity’s financial health. A controller and comptroller may also be tasked with different levels of cost-management responsibilities.  A controller may be responsible for the overall costs associated with a company’s services, but a controller is more concerned with the bottom line, specifically the costs of a company’s final product.

Although a comptroller may be considered to be of higher rank than a controller, that doesn’t mean a controller would report to a comptroller. The titles are usually mutually exclusive. An organization generally doesn’t have both a controller and a comptroller.

Comptrollers and controllers both generally have professional and educational backgrounds in accounting. Many hold at least bachelor’s degrees in accounting. They also tend to be Certified Public Accountants who are able to work on public audits. Controllers and comptrollers can earn a wide range of salaries depending on the size of their company and other factors, but they tend to be in the upper ranges of pay.

Controllers and comptrollers both play crucial roles in their organization’s financial health and conduct.  These financial management positions are often filled by professionals with strong communication abilities and an expert grasp of accounting principles.


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