Controller vs. Comptroller

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Students interested in earning an accounting degree online may or may not have a potential career path in mind. A strong grasp of possible future positions is therefore a valuable process than can have a positive impact in the future. As students select elective courses and graduates enter the world of accounting, a greater understanding of senior positions they can work toward is especially valuable. Let’s look at two closely related senior roles, financial controller and comptroller, and determine the similarities and differences.

A group of executives holding an informal conversation.

Financial controller job description

A financial controller is a high-level position that is generally responsible for the accounting activities of a business and often prepares budgets and ensures financial reporting is accurate, Investopedia explains. In many cases, the financial controller reports to the chief financial officer, who is the ultimate financial and accounting authority in a single business. However, in some smaller companies, the controller position is incorporated into the CFO role. The specific role of financial controller is almost always found in the world of for-profit business. In contrast, the comptroller position is often tied to government and nonprofit organizations.

One of the most important tasks for a financial controller is managing others. Controllers need a strong understanding of the basic elements of accounting and the ability to apply them in a variety of situations. However, it’s more important that they can oversee the accounting work of others, ensuring it’s accurate, focused, and productive. This leadership aspect is often developed during work as an accountant and lower-level manager. Professionals build the skills necessary to direct others while still maintaining a keen eye for various technical and sometimes in-depth accounting needs in such leadership roles.

It’s important to note that the transition from accountant to CFO isn’t quite as straightforward as the progression from accountant or financial manager to controller. CFOs need strong leadership skills and financial and accounting knowledge, but they also must have expertise in general business operations and how the specific company they work for functions.

What is a comptroller?

A comptroller is like the controller position in the sense that both have similar duties that combine oversight of other accountants and direct involvement with the highest-level accounting and financial needs of an organization. There are two key areas where the comptroller differs from a financial controller. A comptroller is generally present only in the public sector, both in government and nonprofits, and it is often the head of the financial department or team, as opposed to reporting to the equivalent of a CFO.

The transition from comptroller to CFO requires overall awareness of other areas of the organization and is essentially an executive, although many nonprofits and government agencies don’t use that exact language to define their top leaders. In some ways, this could make the transition from public to private sector and from a comptroller to CFO role more manageable. While there are other important considerations to address stemming from the many differences between the public and private sector, the similar scopes of the roles could help a comptroller move to a CFO role.

Financial controller and comptroller salary considerations

Despite the similarities between the roles and the more senior position of a comptroller, a financial controller can expect to earn more in average salary. A financial controller’s salary averages $80,857, according to PayScale. A comptroller’s salary is $67,492. The difference can be attributed at least in part to the broader pay discrepancy between the public and private sectors. Private sector jobs tend to pay more than public sector roles, which may offer more attractive retirement options in certain cases, combined with the satisfaction that some enjoy from doing work focused on the public good.

The importance of a strong educational foundation for an accounting career

The comptroller and financial controller roles have some differences, but are generally similar in terms of the experience, skills and education they require. While securing such a role immediately following graduation is extremely unlikely, the right educational foundation can go a long way toward giving students the abilities, knowledge, and context they need to pursue today’s accounting roles. The University of Alabama at Birmingham is proud to offer a flexible accounting degree online that allows learners to effectively balance personal, professional, and educational responsibilities. Students progress through the program at their own pace, aided by knowledgeable faculty and effective technical support for online learning. To learn more, get in touch with an academic advisor today.

Recommended Reading:

Careers you can pursue with a Bachelor of Science in Accounting

What you can learn about cost accounting


PayScale: Average Comptroller Salary

PayScale: Average Financial Controller Salary

Investopedia: Comptroller

Investopedia: Controller

Business Insider: The Difference Between a CFO and a Controller

UAB Collat School of Business: Bachelor of Science in Accounting

UAB Collat School of Business: Course Descriptions BACC