The difference between a controller and a comptroller

The controller and comptroller titles refer to the same position, which is the person responsible for all accounting operations of a business. The controller title is more frequently found in for-profit businesses, while the comptroller title is more commonly found in governmental and non-profit organizations. Given the non-profit and governmental locations in which the comptroller title is more commonly found, there is a greater tendency for the comptroller job position to require a greater emphasis on fund accounting.

The comptroller title may be considered to represent a slightly more senior-level management position than the controller title. However, this does not mean that there would be a controller position that reports to a comptroller. In essence, the titles are mutually exclusive within an organization. Both the controller and comptroller positions report to the chief financial officer (CFO) position, if such a position exists. If there is no CFO (as may be the case in a smaller organization), then these positions report instead to the president or chief executive officer.

Both positions share the following responsibilities:

  • Manages the entire accounting staff, sometimes using assistant controllers as intermediaries.

  • Maintains a system of controls to ensure that assets are used appropriately.

  • Manages the processing of all accounting transactions, which is supported by a detailed set of policies, procedures, and forms. Accounting transactions typically include billings, accounts payable, payroll, collections, and cash receipts.

  • Maintains a chart of accounts and general ledger, from which are compiled a set of financial statements.

  • Assists both internal and external auditors with their examinations of the company's financial reports and controls.

  • If an organization is publicly held, these positions are also expected to produce a number of additional public filings with the Securities and Exchange Commission.

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