What is the Difference Between a Comptroller and a Controller?

Comptroller vs ControllerThey may be pronounced the same, but there is a difference between a comptroller and controller. If you are studying to become an accountant or a finance executive, knowing the difference between the roles of each professional and where they work is extremely important. Comptrollers and controllers may be similar titles, but they have difference responsibilities in very different career settings. Find out where the similarities lie and where the differences exist by reading on.

Where Do Comptrollers Work?

According to Accounting Tools, a comptroller is the person who is in charge of all of the accounting operations in a public or non-profit setting. Comptroller is derived from the English word countreroller, which is defined as the person who specializes in checking ledgers. It actually became ‘comptroller’ after it was misspelled in Britain in the 1800’s. When you hold this title, which is a management level position, you are the financial officer or Auditing General who will supervise the quality of accounting and the accuracy of financial reporting within a government agency or a non-profit organization. You may be in charge of the operations of an entire non-profit organization, a city or even an entire state if you are elected as a public official.

Where Do Controllers Work?

While some use the terms interchangeably, a controller works in a different setting than a comptroller. Instead of being the financial officer or Auditing General in a public setting, the controller is the highest ranking accounting professional in a private organization. As the head of the financial division of a company, the controller holds a significant amount of responsibility and must be able to interpret and translate financial information to executive team members to make future strategic decisions.

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The Roles of the Comptroller vs. the Controller

If you ask some individuals who teach accounting or who have years of experience in the discipline, they may say that there is no difference between the duties of each title. While this may be the case in the United States, where the terms have been consolidated, there is a larger difference in Europe. In Europe, a comptroller will oversee overall costs that goes into the production of products or delivering services. A controller in this sector is concerned with just the bottom line.

In the United States, there still are differences in the nature of the work that the professional does. Because a comptroller works in a public setting, they work with tax dollars. They also work with the government contracts to look for more affordable options so that tax dollars are spent wisely. A controller, because they work in a private setting, is more focused on profits and the bottom line. They will audit financial reports internally, and verify that the company is in compliance while they come up with new financial strategies.

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While the two titles are very similar, they can also be very different. Both professionals are management level personnel who will manage accounting staff, maintain system of controls, manage processing of accounting transactions, set policies, and assist in auditing. Both will require you to have a degree and several years of experience in accounting before you are eligible to apply. Keep all of the similarities and the difference between a comptroller and controller roles in mind, and make a decision on which title is best for you.