Differences between the controller and CFO positions
In this article, we examine the details of the differences in the roles of a Controller and a Chief Financial Officer (CFO), their areas of responsibilities and their involvement in various aspects of the organization.
For example, when external auditors review the company’s accounting records, the CFO is most likely to maintain relations with the audit partner, and deal with any reportable audit issues uncovered. The controller, however, is more likely to be directly involved with the auditors in presenting the accounting books, explaining the reasons for specific accounting transactions, and providing labour for more menial tasks that the auditors would otherwise have to perform themselves.
The same issue arises in other accounting areas, such as the issuance of management reports, financial statements, or Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) reports. The controller creates the reports, but the CFO must review them prior to their release, since the CFO is the one who must explain their contents to readers.
The CFO also needs the information in order to see how the presented information fits into any other analyses being created; for example, if the CFO is building a case for an increased emphasis on product quality, a management report on material scrap trends would fit directly into this analysis.
The CFO and controller also have different roles in the budgeting process. The controller usually manages the nuts and bolts of obtaining information from other departments andincorporates it into a master budget. Meanwhile, the CFO is examining the data presented by the various departments to see how it has changed from the past year, how revenues and expenses reflect any changes in the company’s strategic direction, and the reasons for capital expenditure requests.
A primary part of the CFO’s job is to conduct financial analyses on various topics anywhere in the company, as well as to drive operational improvements, at least partially based on the results of the financial analyses. The CFO decides on which analyses to create and which improvements to push, while also presenting this information and proselytizing in favour of operational improvements with other department man-agers. Conversely, the controller is more likely to create the analyses mandated by the CFO and to implement improvements within the accounting function.
Thus, there is a dual role for the CFO and controller in these areas, but on different levels. Control systems also attract the attention of both positions. The CFO is extremely interested in controls.