A comptroller is a senior management-level executive who is responsible for overseeing the accounting and financial reporting of a business, non-profit organization, or government entity. The comptroller of a corporation supervises and reviews important financial reports for publication, such as income statements, balance sheets, and cash flow statements.
The Work of a Comptroller
As a senior-level executive, a comptroller oversees accounting and finances. Typically, the comptroller is the head of accounting, since he/she is responsible for ensuring that all financial reports are accurate – especially those reports required of publicly-traded companies, such as the income statement and balance sheet. In that respect, he/she functions much like a chief auditing executive.
They may also be responsible for monitoring the budget and developing and implementing internal financial controls. They are often required to countersign on expenses and oversee budgeting expenditures and large capital investments.
In some businesses, the position may be under that of the company’s chief financial officer (CFO). In other – usually smaller – companies, the comptroller may also occupy the position of CFO, or the company’s CFO may effectively assume comptroller duties even without holding that specific job title.
Types of Comptrollers
In businesses – Oversees accounting and financial reporting
In non-profit organizations – Supervises the accounting for a non-profit entity, making sure that all donations and expenditures are properly recorded and tracked. He/she is also responsible for any required financial public reporting or reporting to a board of directors.
In government – The duties in a government position vary according to the exact nature of the position, although the basic role of financial oversight remains a constant. For example, in the US, the Comptroller General oversees the General Accountability Office (GAO).
Comptroller vs. Controller
The two designations are sometimes confused with each other. Basically, in terms of function, there is no difference. In fact, the origin of the word “comptroller,” although originally French in derivation, in modern usage comes from a misspelling of “controller.” The two terms are virtually interchangeable for all practical purposes.
The one current distinction is that in the US and Commonwealth countries, the title of “controller” is not applied to government positions. Only the title of “comptroller” is used in government settings. Therefore, the job title of “controller” is only seen in the private sector, although it may exist in either a for-profit business or a private non-profit organization.
Educational Requirements and Skills
Being a comptroller requires acquiring a broad and deep knowledge of accounting principles, financial modeling, and business practices. Because they are responsible for the accuracy of financial reporting, they occupy a position that carries a high level of accountability.
They typically hold a degree as a Certified Public Accountant or Certified Management Accountant. They may also possess advanced certification such as that of a Certified Internal Auditor or a Government Financial Manager.
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