Comptroller vs. Controller: What Is the Difference?

It’s common to see people use the terms comptroller vs. controller interchangeably when referring to someone who runs a business’s financial operations. While both roles may technically mean the same, they differ slightly in specific duties and industries.

What is a Comptroller?

In the United States, a comptroller is a senior-level executive in charge of an organization’s accounting operations in the public sector.

You can find comptrollers in the state or local government organizations. Statistics from Zippia reveal over 4153 employed comptrollers in the United States alone, as of 2019. They all play vital roles in the financial industry, overseeing revenue estimation, accounting, tax collection, treasury, etc.

For instance, the Texas state comptroller, popularly referred to as the Texas Comptroller of Public Accounts, serves as “Texas’ chief financial officer — tax collector, chief accountant, chief revenue estimator, and chief treasurer for all of state government, as well as administrator for according to several other programs”.

Comptrollers report to the Chief Financial Officer (CFO). In some states, the state comptrollers can also work with the governor or state treasurer. Comptrollers are ranked higher than controllers because they carry out more responsibilities.

What is a Controller?

A Financial Controller is a high-level executive that performs most of the responsibilities as the Comptroller but in the private sector.

According to Zippia, the “career expert,” over 203,174 Finance Controllers are in the United States. These controllers can also take part in other duties like hiring and training staff in the financial department and calculating the bottom line.

Financial controllers report to the CFO of their organizations. They can also report to the comptroller in rare case where an organization has a comptroller and controller.

What Does A Comptroller Do?

Both comptrollers and controllers perform similar roles in different organizations. They both manage the accounting operations of public and private organizations, respectively. Some of their general responsibilities are highlighted below.

Financial reports and records

By keeping accurate records of financial transactions with a general ledger, comptrollers and controllers can monitor cash flow and manage finances effectively.

They are also responsible for giving accurate annual, quarterly, or monthly reports of all transactions, financial statements, and the organization’s cash flow.

Chart of Accounts

A chart of accounts is an index in a company’s general ledger that gives you a simple breakdown of all transactions carried out within a specific time. Comptrollers and controllers are in charge of managing these charts to efficiently account for all debit and credit transactions of an organization, including the account payable to vendors, employees, or civil servants.

Developing internal financial control

Since one of the primary goals of these designations is to maintain the financial health of an organization, they are also required to create strategies and internal financial control measures that will curb reckless spending to avoid bankruptcy.


This role is associated mainly with Comptrollers. They are responsible for budgeting resources and making financial decisions according to the approved budget and funds available.

What is the difference between a comptroller and a controller?

The table below highlights the main differences between a controller vs. comptroller.

Controllers Comptrollers
1. A controller works in the private sector. A comptroller works in the public sector.
2. Financial controllers are answerable to the management and shareholders of the companies they work for. Comptrollers answer to lawmakers and taxpayers.
3. They are more concerned with the bottom line and profitability of a company. They oversee budgeting and expenses to ensure proper resource management of state funds.
4. Though they may take part in determining a company’s financial health, they do not make financial decisions like higher executives. They are higher-level executives, playing a more prominent role than controllers.

Regulations Guiding the Duties of Corporate Controllers and Comptrollers

Some financial regulatory agencies and laws regulate the activities of CFOs, Comptrollers, and Controllers to ensure good conduct. Some examples of such regulations include:

Truth in Lending Act (1968)

According to the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency (OCC), the Truth in Lending Act (TILA) is a federal law that “protects against inaccurate and unfair credit billing credit card practices”.  It mandates consumer lenders to provide their APR of loans to borrowers and also give them all loan cost information.

This law also gives consumers the right to a 3-day window, where they can reconsider and pull out of a loan process, to protect against high-pressure tactics that most fraudulent lenders use.

It is the duty of the comptroller or controller to supervise and ensure compliance with this regulation within an organization, with regard to either lending or borrowing funds.

Dodd-Frank Act (2010)

Fully known as the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act, this law ensures stability in the U.S. financial system by enhancing transparency and accountability. This Act protects consumers from financial services malpractices and protects the American taxpayer by ending bailouts.

The Office of the Comptroller of the Currency (OCC) monitors, supervises and regulates banks chartered under the National Bank Act and federal savings associations chartered under the Home Owners Loan Act of 1993.

Comptroller and Controller vs. CFO

A CFO is a higher-level executive that oversees the duties of both Controllers and Comptrollers. It means that the CFO manages an organization’s financial decisions and actions. Both the Controllers and Comptrollers report to the CFO.

Because most small businesses cannot afford the services of a CFO, they often combine their duties with that of a Comptroller or Controller. Sometimes, they outsource these CFO services to third-party financial organizations.

To learn more about CFOs for small businesses, check out the blogs below

Overseeing your financial operations with the Michigan CFO

Keeping track of all accounting operations and financial statements while running other business operations can sometimes be overwhelming for small business owners. Small business statistics from FinancesOnline reveal that accounting tasks and services are among the most outsourced (37%) for small businesses.

If you are a small business owner and want to outsource your CFO services for better financial results or need expert financial guidance and support, Michigan CFO is your best bet.

Michigan CFO is a Fractional CFO service that has served over 200 clients to make better financial decisions by providing part-time onsite or virtual CFOs that work as part of their team.

We have been doing this for more than 16 years by offering:

  • Fixed fee engagements
  • No long-term contracts
  • Flexible pricing models
  • Multiple CFOs on staff with check & balance oversight
  • Tenured CFOs in our CFO team
  • Deep experience in the manufacturing industry

You can connect with our experienced outsourced CFOs by requesting a consultation on our website now.

Photo credit: Pexels.


Todd Rammler

Todd Rammler is the President and founder of Michigan CFO Associates.  Todd is a Certified Management Accountant (CMA), and holds an MS in Accounting from Walsh College (cum laude), and a BBA in Finance from Western Michigan University.

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