When you’re planning out your accounting career, it’s important to understand what is required to earn the executive role that you are interested in. Your accounting experience and skills will increase over time. However, you want to ensure that you develop the appropriate skills and earn the education needed if you would like to be considered for upper management. 

Two common upper management careers in accounting are a controller and comptroller. In this guide, we’ll explore the differences between the two roles.

What Is a Controller?

A controller manages the accounting functions for a public or private company. They oversee financial reporting, general ledger functions, accounts payable and receivable, treasury, and payroll. 

In some companies, the controller may also be responsible for the finance department or human resources. Their job is to ensure the accuracy of all aspects of the company’s financial processes and recorded transactions. 

If they work for a public company, the controller is responsible for ensuring that transactions are recorded in compliance with the generally accepted accounting principles (GAAP) and reported on time. 

Education and Certifications to Become a Controller

An aspiring controller should have a bachelor’s degree in accounting, finance, economics, or statistics. They should also earn either a master of business administration (MBA) or master of accountancy (MAcc) degree. 

Generally, controllers will also earn a Certified Public Accountant (CPA) license. Other licenses are also helpful, such as the Certified Management Accountant (CMA) or Chartered Financial Analyst (CFA) certifications.

Experience Required to Become a Controller

Controllers often have a minimum of ten years of experience in varying accounting roles. Larger public companies tend to hire controllers with a few years of experience working for Big 4 auditing firms. 

This is due to the nature of public company financial reporting responsibilities – during a public company audit or review, it is helpful to have a manager with experience in both audit and corporate accounting. That way, they can understand the typical audit procedures that a company will undergo.

Salaries of Controllers

A controller earns roughly $160,000 to $300,000 per year. Salaries will vary based on the experience level of the controller, the size and location of the company they are working for, and the industry that they serve.

Where Can Controller Roles Be Found?

Controller roles can be found throughout the world. In the United States, controller positions tend to be concentrated in larger cities, such as New York, Washington, D.C., Atlanta, Chicago, and San Francisco. This is due to the high concentration of public companies that operate from these locations.

What Is a Comptroller?

While a comptroller is similar to a controller, they differ in terms of the companies that they work for. A comptroller will oversee financial reporting, accounts receivable and payable, general ledger transactions, treasury functions, and payroll for a government or non-profit agency. 

If a comptroller is employed by the government, they must also oversee the funding for specific activities or projects within a government agency’s purview. Their responsibility is not so much ensuring profitability, but to make sure that resources are available throughout the life of a project. Comptrollers may also be elected officials.

Education and Certifications to Become a Comptroller

Similar to a controller, comptrollers should begin with a bachelor’s degree in accounting, finance, economics, or statistics. Typically, they will also earn a master degree in Business Administration (MBA) or master degree in Accountancy (MAcc). 

A Certified Public Accounting (CPA) license is usually required. Other potential certifications that can be helpful include the Chartered Financial Analyst (CFA) and Certified Management Accountant (CMA) certifications. 

Experience Required to Become a Comptroller

Typically, a comptroller will have a minimum of 10 years of accounting experience. Some of this experience may come from roles in auditing firms. 

In addition, their operational accounting experience generally comes from roles within government agencies. This is due to the difference between corporate accounting and governmental or nonprofit accounting. 

Corporate accounting is focused on profitability, while government and nonprofit accounting are more related to finding adequate resources to support an array of projects.

Salaries of Comptrollers

A comptroller earns between $48,000 and $120,000 per year. Differences in salaries occur based on the agency or organization that a comptroller works for, the experience level of the comptroller, and the location of the role. 

Where Can Comptroller Roles Be Found?

Comptroller roles can be found around the globe. In the United States, comptroller roles are most commonly found in Texas, New York, California, Florida, and Washington, D.C.

Developing Your Accounting Career

If you aspire to attain a controller or comptroller position, it’s important to start early and work as much as possible on earning an advanced degree and relevant certifications. 

You should also ensure that you take on roles that are relevant to controller or comptroller positions. Working on leadership, networking, and presentation skills can also greatly assist you in meeting your goals.

Learn More about Different Career Options in Our Community

Looking to learn more about different career options? Controllers Council is a national community and platform of Controllers, Accounting and Finance professionals focused on accounting best practices, information and resources, recognition and networking. Membership has many features and benefits to propel your career and expertise, and to be an active participant in our exciting community. The Controllers Council Forum allows members to pose questions about career options and other topics. Become a member today.

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