The Difference Between a Bookkeeper, Controller and CFO

what is the differenceI get asked this question often and understandably so, since these titles are often used interchangeably in the business world.  Many times a business owner or CEO, recognizing that he or she needs financial help, will start searching for a “bookkeeper”, when what’s really needed is a Controller or CFO.

These roles can be differentiated by the responsibilities each entails:

  • Bookkeeper: A good bookkeeper is proficient in posting day to day financial transactions (e.g., customer billings, entering and coding vendor invoices), reconciling cash and other accounts, recording payroll activity and performing other routine financial and administrative functions. - Bookkeeping Services

  • Controller: A controller has primary responsibility for ensuring that the organization operates with good internal controls so that transactions are being captured and properly recorded in the accounting records and that assets are safeguarded from loss. In smaller companies, the controller is often directly involved in other non-accounting functions such as human resources and facilities management. - Controller Services

  • Chief Financial Officer (CFO): In addition to overseeing the company’s accounting, reporting and treasury functions, a CFO takes on a broader role in planning for the current and future financial needs of the business. CFOs also have a deep understanding of how the company makes money and generates cash, ensuring that the company remains solvent; which translates to holding a position to pay liabilities as they become due. - CFO Services

Of course, every organization is different, and the lines between these financial positions often blur.  In addition there are other, often-used titles within the accounting and financial world: staff accountants, senior accountants, accounting mangers, VPs of finance, assistant controllers and a variety of others. At the end of the day, it’s the job description and not the title that’s most important in assessing whether a company is getting what it needs in its accounting and financial advisor role.