Wed May 6, 2020 | | CFO Services, Financial Controller Services

CFO and Controller: Assessing Your Company Needs

cfo and controller difference

Chief Financial Officer (CFO)

Chief Financial Officer (CFO) is a strategic partner to the CEO and Senior Management, charged with financial responsibility for the whole company.

Key CFO Responsibilities:

  • Total fiscal oversight
  • Financial analysis and forecasting
  • Cash flow forecasting
  • Strategic planning
  • Risk Management, including insurance coverage
  • Develops tax strategies
  • Manages relationships with banks and auditors
  • Develops company performance measures
  • Capital management

Financial Controller

The financial controller is charged with managing the accounting operations of a company.

Key Controller Responsibilities:

Are the Same Skills and Personality Characteristics Required for Both Roles?

An effective CFO often spends the earlier part of their career as a Controller. However, a Controller is not automatically the best candidate to become a CFO. Both positions require accounting and financial reporting knowledge, but the optimal skills and personality characteristics can vary.


Key Skills Required:

Technical knowledge of accounting principles Technical knowledge of accounting principles
Skilled in the use of computer technology Understanding of the business operations
Knowledge of effective processes within the Accounting Department Knowledge of effective methods required for the overall success of the business
Knowledge of payroll and human resources Ability to identify, hire, and mentor key employees, including the Controller.


Important Personality Traits:

Reactionary: Adept at attending to tasks that meet current needs Strategic thinker; Always looking forward
Prefers hands-on accounting over interacting with others Understands people; able to elicit ideas from others; a team player
Task and detail-oriented Focuses on the big picture
Adheres to rules; compliance focused Understands fiscal nuances
Logical; Everything has to make sense. Ability to think outside the box


While all companies can benefit from having someone in the role of Controller and CFO, that is not always feasible.

Key Considerations:

Essential for all companies Essential for growing and large companies
Hiring a Controller with the potential to step into the CFO role is optimal Understands the role of the Controller and can effectively hire for this function.
Budgeting for this position is critical to ensure sound financial operating practices are in place and accurate financial reporting is provided on a timely basis The goal of expanding revenue to provide the financial resources to fill this role is essential.
Can function as the Bookkeeper and Staff Accountant in a new or small company
Optimally, it can also function as the Controller if needed.

A small company often does not have the financial resources to hire either a Controller or a CFO. In this case, consideration could be given to a part-time Controller with the skill set that allows them to also serve as a part-time CFO. The part-time Controller can oversee the bookkeeping function, generate financial reports, and manage day-to-day accounting functions. The CFO can partner with the CEO on strategic efforts, e.g., banking, business expansion, and assessment of company performance.