What Is a Controller?

A financial controller oversees an organization’s accounting activities and financial records and ensures ledgers accurately reflect the money flowing into and out of the organization. The role may involve managing financial accounts and delegating responsibility regarding taxes and internal spending policies.

A controller is usually the head of an accounting or finance department when a chief financial officer (CFO) is absent. Alternatively, the financial controller role may be combined with the CFO role for smaller companies.

What Does a Controller Do?

While the day-to-day responsibilities of a financial controller depend on the organization’s size and industry, the following six tasks are common among most controllers:

  1. Account management: Managing account-related tasks, such as billing, accounts payable, revenue recognition, and more
  2. Financial forecasting: Planning future financials and anticipating various scenarios
  3. Internal controls management: Developing and documenting policies and workflows for financial processes
  4. Auditing oversight: Working with external auditors to ensure the auditing goes smoothly
  5. Cash flow management: Providing detailed reports and analyses to produce a more streamlined approach to money management 
  6. Team leadership: Offering counsel and leadership to other financial professionals and organizational leaders through training programs and frequent oversight

What Is the Difference between an Accounting Manager and a Controller?

Account managers are ‌mid-level managers who oversee an organization’s accounting department. Some larger companies have multiple account managers, so each may only manage a portion of the department. Their tasks largely entail maintaining, updating, and organizing financial data and following compliance regulations.

Controllers establish those regulations and review the financial reports that account managers help create. 

When assessing the roles of accounting managers vs controllers, it’s helpful to know that both are supervisory, but controllers are involved with more tasks that relate to the big picture of an organization, including its financial success in the future.

What Is the Difference between a Controller and a CFO?

CFOs vs controllers have two different scopes of focus: Controllers look at the details of a company’s financial plans while CFOs work as strategic partners alongside the rest of the executive team. 

CFOs are also usually in charge of every financial employee in an organization. Controllers typically focus on smaller teams that are involved in creating and managing financial reports. However, in the absence of a CFO, a controller may take on more leadership responsibilities.

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