The difference between a CFO and a controller is in the eyes of the beholder. Oftentimes, a company avoids giving a controller a high raise by instead giving them a bigger title, such as CFO. But, mostly, these controllers don’t have the skills needed to fully perform the functions of a CFO, and often, when they attempt to market themselves to anyone who understands what a real CFO is, they realize that they don’t have the credentials to fulfil the role.

So how do we know the difference?
Generally speaking, companies don’t often know the difference unless executives worked in a company with both. To break it down, here are the basic definitions for each position.

Controller: A controller is the head of the accounting division. They are responsible for things like maintaining bank accounts, preparing financial reports, and consistently being on top of all accounting procedures occurring within the company.

CFO: A CFO, or Chief Financial Officer, is ranked above the Controller in the company hierarchy. While the Controller is in charge of the accounting division, the CFO is responsible for it, overseeing all the financials and making finance-related business decisions.

In a broader view, a Controller can’t understand all the things a CFO can. For example, the CEO will often ask “what should we be doing with regard to” type of questions and the CFO will have the data to answer that question, while the Controller wouldn’t. Having both in your company can be beneficial, but it’s important to understand what skills and knowledge your staff members possess before hiring them, or promoting them, into either title.