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What is a Comptroller? Everything You Need To Know

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Last editedApr 20212 min read

As your business grows, it will become increasingly important to get a clear overview of your company’s finances. Ironically, however, the more your business grows, the more complicated its finances become. Financial reporting becomes more complex and in-depth, and it becomes harder to make business decisions in an agile and informed way. 

That’s where a comptroller comes in. 

The comptroller is an important figure in senior management. When it comes to financial reporting and accounting, the buck stops with them. But what exactly is a comptroller? And why does your business need one? Let’s take a closer look...

What is a comptroller?

A comptroller is responsible for overseeing all of a company’s accounting and reporting. They review and supervise key financial reports for publication. These might include cash flow statements, income statements and balance sheets. 

In a nutshell, the comptroller’s job is to ensure that key decision-makers have a clear understanding of their company’s financial wellbeing. Senior executives can then make informed decisions about capital investments, while also ensuring they have the liquidity to facilitate agile decision-making. 

The comptroller helps ensure that the company has the financial capability to implement decisions made at senior-management level. 

Comptrollers aren’t just found in the business realm. They are also integral to non-profit organisations, and even governments.

What are a comptroller's duties and responsibilities?

A comptroller is, among other things, usually the head of the accounting department, as it’s up to them to ensure that financial reporting is accurate, particularly the income statement (which accurately gauges revenue) and the balance sheet (which is crucial to understanding liquidity and cash flow). When it comes to internal auditing, the buck stops with the comptroller.

A comptroller will usually also be responsible for budgetary monitoring, as well as developing and implementing financial controls. For instance, they will usually be a counter-signatory on expenses and large capital investments will require their approval.

Although a comptroller is a senior managerial figure, they are usually subordinate to the  chief financial officer (CFO). However, it’s not uncommon (especially in smaller companies) for the comptroller of an organisation to also be its CFO. Sometimes, a company may not have a comptroller, but the CFO may nonetheless have the same duties and responsibilities.

Whatever the job title, your business needs someone to assume these positions to ensure that you and your senior management team can make decisions from a position of financial strength and insight.

Comptroller vs controller: What’s the difference?

Your business may not have a comptroller, but it may have a financial controller. So, what’s the difference in real terms? 

In many cases, the two terms are used interchangeably, and in the US and commonwealth countries, there are no controllers, only comptrollers. Many UK and European entities, however, have both. And there is a fine line of demarcation between the two.

The responsibilities of both controller and comptroller are very similar. Both oversee financial reporting and accounting. However, the emphasis is slightly different for a financial controller, whose responsibilities start and end at the bottom line. They are responsible for designing and implementing controls to mitigate expenditure and ensure that every penny the company spends is accounted for. 

They are usually less senior than a comptroller, who has a more holistic set of responsibilities and answers only to the CFO. 

We can help

If you’re interested in finding out more about the role of a comptroller, financial reporting, or any other aspect of your business and its finances, then get in touch with our financial experts. Find out how GoCardless can help you with Ad hoc payments or recurring payments.

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