What is a Comptroller?

comptrollerIn the world of accounting and financial management, what does a comptroller do? The term “comptroller” conjures up different ideas to different people due to the distinction between government positions and private roles. There are government comptrollers who enjoy elected positions throughout the country, but the focus of this article is on the private sector. Comptrollers help businesses manage their finances at the executive level and may perform other tasks specific to the industry in which they work. Whether you’re interested in a career as a comptroller or curious about the role of this accounting executive, read on to learn more about the job requirements and expectations of a professional comptroller.

Primary Responsibilities

On a daily business, comptrollers perform a variety of essential tasks. They might create financial statements based on data that they’ve analyzed, compile reports on a company’s projected accounting, supervise the accounting staff and advise a company’s executive team how to proceed financially. Executives such as chief financial officers or CFOs look to comptrollers for insight into the way their company performs; as a result, comptrollers hold a powerful position within major corporations.

Technological advancements have pushed many financial executives to take on a more analytical role than they had in previous decades. Faster and more accurate software exists to save time on a financial manager’s manual functions. Instead of physically compiling financial reports, some comptrollers now spend more time analyzing trends and making sure that their companies operate on a sound financial basis.

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Training and Education

How do people become comptrollers? You might assume that comptrollers start out as accountants. This is true to some extent, but other business professionals can become comptrollers with the right combination of experience and education. Usually, comptrollers earn a bachelor’s degree in a business-related field such as accounting, economics or finance. From there, many go on to earn graduate degrees due to the steep competition inherent in the financial industry. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, professional certification is not required, but some financial managers still get it to demonstrate a level of competence. Comptrollers spend many years pursuing higher education because the profession demands in-depth knowledge of technical information. Most financial managers also have at least five years of experience in their field before becoming high-level executives.

Controller vs. Comptroller

Comptrollers may also be called controllers. In fact, the term controller is more common in for-profit businesses. Like comptrollers, controllers take charge of and responsibility for the accounting operations of a company. They may supervise teams of accountants or full departments, compile financial reports, oversee a company’s large-scale budget and report their findings to executive management personnel. The term comptroller applies most frequently to government positions and jobs in the non-profit sector. Some organizations do not distinguish between the two titles because the two terms essentially refer to the same position.

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In addition to the technical training and advanced education outlined above, comptrollers need to work well with people. Strong communication skills, attention to detail and the ability to delegate also help financial managers pursue successful careers. Like most executive business positions, comptrollers enjoy a lucrative salary and solid job growth due to their expertise in a particularly complex field. Several nationally ranked universities offer programs that enable students to become a comptroller by completing specialty MBAs and graduate-level programs in accounting.