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Wondering if there is a difference between a comptroller and a controller? Even though some people do use the two terms interchangeably, there are distinct differences. However, these differences mainly tie back to the specific type of organization.

Let’s discuss what a comptroller and controller are and then break down the key differences between comptroller and controller.

What is a comptroller?

The term “comptroller” is rooted in the governmental sector and has been used for hundreds of years to define a financial professional that is responsible for the accounting and financial reporting of a government or nonprofit entity.

A comptroller is typically the head of these departments and is considered the most senior financial employee in the organization. If a comptroller is employed by a governmental entity, they are the head of the financial department for that city, county, state, or national level entity.

A comptroller is responsible for the accounting department and the accuracy of all financial controls and procedures, budget development and tracking, fund accounting, and reports that are conducted and created by the department. This includes the Statement of Activities (the government equivalent of an income statement) and the Statement of Net Assets (the government equivalent of a balance sheet).

A comptroller serves and is answerable to government officials and the public. As a governmental employee, a comptroller typically doesn’t earn as high of a salary as corporate controllers, but government benefits (including generous paid holidays) can be a balancing factor for individuals seeking a comptroller role.

What is a controller?

A controller is a financial professional that works for a for-profit corporation and has responsibilities similar to those of a comptroller.

Like a comptroller, a controller also manages the accounting department (i.e. accounts receivable, accounts payable, revenue, inventory, etc.) and has the responsibility of ensuring all accounting standards (i.e. GAAP), legal requirements, company policies, and internal controls are followed.

The controller oversees the creation of the business forecasts, budgets, and financial statements, and they present them to senior management at least monthly (along with any variances and explanations).

In smaller companies, the controller may be the highest-ranking financial position. In larger companies, the controller (who mostly reports on the past) will report to a Chief Financial Officer (CFO) who will use the information supplied by the controller to create strategic, forward-looking financial forecasts, plans, and suggestions for innovations related to operational efficiency.

What is the difference between a controller and a comptroller?

  • Employer Organization Type: A controller works for a for-profit company whereas a comptroller works for a governmental or non-profit organization.
  • Who They Report To: A controller reports to a CFO in a larger company and potentially the president of a small or medium-sized business. A comptroller reports to the non-profit senior executive and/or governmental body executive in charge.
  • Focus: A comptroller’s focus is more on the budget process and ensuring financial controls are in place and monitored. A controller’s focus is on the financial stability of the business and profitability.
  • Responsibilities: Both roles have the responsibility to manage the accounting department, creation of financial statements, regulatory compliance, budget creation and monitoring, process development and continuous improvement, and reporting. There are nuances given the organization type such as a controller will have to manage tax filings whereas a comptroller of a non-profit that is tax-exempt will not have to deal with this task. Another difference is that a non-profit comptroller will be recording donations, while a controller will be recording sales revenue.

Related Content: 13-week cash flow template

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