Accountant vs Controller: What are the Differences?

An accountant, or practitioner of accounting, keeps and analyzes financial records. A controller, or comptroller, oversees the accounting operations of a firm, including managing staff. Because controllers’ duties and responsibilities expand beyond that of an accountant, they typically command larger salaries.

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What is an accountant?

An accountant assists a company or organization in managing its financial procedures, including compiling and balancing its financial records. Accountants have a variety of financial specializations to choose from, such as tax accounting, auditing, corporate accounting, and retirement planning. An accountant may perform many of the same duties as a bookkeeper depending on the organization; however, in larger organizations, many accountants are responsible for supervising other bookkeeping personnel. If you have a background in accounting, you can pursue additional training and certification to become a certified public accountant (CPA).

What is a controller?

A controller is a financial expert who is in charge of supervising their company’s accounting operations. They are in charge of the accounting staff and the accounting departments’ operations. Despite the fact that many controllers begin their careers as accountants, there are a number of differences between the two roles.

What’s the difference between a controller vs. accountant?

Even though there may be some overlap in the job responsibilities that both roles may perform, there are a number of differences between controllers and accountants. Here are several aspects that differ between accountants and controllers:

Education and certification

The majority of accountants hold four-year degrees in accounting, finance, or statistics, but the majority of employers frequently demand that accountants have a solid grasp of generally accepted accounting principles (GAAP). Furthermore, obtaining their CPA credentials is a requirement for many accountants who advance to senior-level accounting positions. The certified management accountant (CMA) and chartered financial analyst (CFA) credentials are additional advanced certifications for accountants who want to move up to higher-level roles.

Contrarily, controllers often hold a Master of Business Administration (MBA) or another graduate degree in finance despite not always majoring in accounting or finance for their four-year degrees. Similarly, because controllers typically concentrate on a wider range of processes than accounting practices, they do not necessarily need to have extensive direct accounting experience. Another significant distinction between controllers and accountants is that working as a controller does not require the certifications that accountants can obtain.

Job duties

An accountant’s responsibilities are solely focused on accounting practices and procedures, whereas a controller’s job is more concerned with the supervision of accounting activities. This is how the job functions of an accountant and a controller differ from one another. For instance, in larger businesses, a controller’s duties might include managing accounting staff, directing accounting processes, assigning tasks, setting expectations, and making sure accounting procedures adhere to financial policies and regulations.

Tax preparation and corporate accounting are two areas of finance where accountants can specialize. They must apply accounting principles to reconcile balance sheets, review monthly bookkeeping data to ensure the accuracy of financial documents, and assist their company in filing documents, among other tasks. The controller is the person in charge of overseeing these procedures and making sure accounting staff members finish jobs like these on time.

Specialization

Accountants specialize in their fields more than controllers do. A retirement accountant, for instance, focuses on helping seniors and workers who are about to retire with their financial and retirement planning. A tax accountant focuses on helping clients complete their yearly tax returns. For tax, auditing, and other senior-level accounting roles, it’s typical for accountants to hold the CPA certification, which attests to their accounting expertise.

However, in larger businesses, controllers have more generalized responsibilities where they oversee all aspects of the accounting process. Furthermore, since financial controllers’ work focuses on more general processes within a company’s finance department, they are not required to specialize in a financial field.

Salary

How does an accountant become a controller?

Although many opt to pursue senior-level accounting positions as they gain more experience, accountants can become controllers. To become a controller with an accounting background, follow these simple steps:

1. Gain the appropriate finance experience

Typically, when accountants first begin their careers in entry-level positions, they gain financial work experience before pursuing a controller position. However, many accountants can pursue a controller position with a CPA or CMA. For instance, a CMA working for a large company may advance due to their credentials and experience into a position as a controller.

2. Work as an assistant controller

You can submit applications for positions as an assistant controller as you acquire more accounting expertise and CPA or CMA certification. Starting in a controller entry-level position allows you to learn more about the duties of the position and how controllers lead and manage accounting teams.

3. Advance into a controller job role

Before becoming a controller, you might need to work as an assistant controller for a number of years, depending on your company. For instance, in large corporations, an assistant controller may have to serve in that capacity for one or two years before being promoted to controller Take advantage of on-the-job training, additional education, and keeping up with current financial policies and regulations as you advance in your career.

What skills do controllers and accountants need?

Despite the differences between the two career paths, controllers and accountants share a number of similar job-related skills. For success in either career, give the following skill sets some thought:

Analytical skills

In order to guarantee that financial documents (like income statements and balance sheets) are accurate and finished by due dates for assignments, accountants and controllers both rely on analytical thinking and attention to detail. Calculating financial formulas, evaluating business financial data, and managing accounting processes across an organization all require analytical abilities.

Financial knowledge

For accountants at any professional level, a thorough understanding of generally accepted accounting principles (GAAP) is essential. Although they are less focused on this aspect of a company’s financial procedures, controllers are still knowledgeable in accounting principles and can ensure that their teams are operating in accordance with company policies. For both roles to be successful, in-depth understanding of financial operations, such as tax filing and reporting, is also required.

Technical skills

On the job, many controllers and accountants rely on technology. For instance, many organizations frequently require accounting software, so both controllers and accountants may need to be tech savvy in order to perform their jobs effectively. These financial professionals frequently need basic computer skills as well, including the ability to perform data entry work, create spreadsheets, and communicate online.

Logical reasoning

Both controllers and accountants need to have a basic understanding of mathematics and financial formulas in order to do their jobs. These kinds of logical reasoning abilities are crucial for teamwork tasks like sharing information and evaluating employees’ performance.

Interpersonal skills

Controllers and accountants work with diverse colleagues, supervisors and clients. As a result, these professionals need interpersonal skills to establish connections, work together, exchange ideas, and maintain an open mind when interacting with others. Additionally, an essential component of interpersonal skills that these professionals exhibit at work is the capacity to convey and receive feedback regarding others’ feelings and emotions.

Problem-solving skills

In both roles, it’s crucial to be able to come up with solutions to problems at work. Both accountants and controllers must be able to think creatively and solve problems, as these professionals occasionally face difficulties at work. For instance, an accountant must use their problem-solving abilities to come up with solutions if they discover that the calculations in their company’s income statement are incorrect.

Communication skills

In the workplace, both controllers and accountants frequently share financial data with their teams and managers. For these professionals to disseminate financial and mathematical information and convey it in writing and other ways that help their colleagues understand the data, they need written communication skills.

FAQ

Is a controller higher than a senior accountant?

Accountant Vs. Controller. Accountants and controllers mostly fulfill the same roles and responsibilities. A controller, on the other hand, holds a more senior position and is in charge of overseeing the company’s accounting-related operations.

What is the difference between CPA and controller?

For tax, auditing, and other senior-level accounting roles, it’s typical for accountants to hold the CPA certification, which attests to their accounting expertise. However, in larger businesses, controllers have more generalized responsibilities where they oversee all aspects of the accounting process.

Does a controller need a CPA?

A Controller. Depending on the size of the organization, the CFO may serve as both the Controller and the CFO. Although some employers may insist on it, a CPA license is not a requirement for a controller.

Is a controller an accounting position?

The accounting, payroll, accounts payable, and accounts receivable departments are under the control of a controller who oversees daily accounting operations. The controller is crucial to a company’s financial stability because they assist in directing the company’s strategic financial decisions.

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