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What’s the Difference Between CFO and a Controller - and What Do I Need?

Although these two important roles are sometimes viewed as interchangeable there are important differences between them.

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Our team has the expertise needed to navigate deposits, refunds, chargebacks, and processing fees to maximize efficiency.

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Why does industry expertise matter?

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Why Plumb Works With These Industries

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Sage Software

Innovative software to manage your accounting, people, payroll, payments, and more.

Sage Intacct

Automate the critical processes, reduce the spreadsheet headaches, and get greater visibility into real-time business performance.

Sage 300 CRE

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Sage 100 Contractor

The all-in-one construction software that goes beyond basic accounting to put you in total command of your projects.

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Build bids quickly and precisely, plus integrate with other Sage software solutions to streamline operations.

Sage Paperless

Easily store, retrieve, and route documents for accounting and operations.

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What's the Difference Between a CFO and a Controller - and What Do I Need?

Posted on January 23, 2023 at 8:00 PM
Written by Justin Atneyel

Running a new or growing business without the right financial team in place can feel a bit like trying to reach your phone, in the dark, on your nightside table – you know it’s there, you know how to get to it, but every time you try to grab it, it’s just out of reach.

Managing accounting and finances can be the trickiest part of managing a company, especially when trying to grow.

This is where outsourcing accounting and financial expertise comes in, but the options – CFO vs. Controller – can be confusing. That’s why we’ve taken the time to dissect the differences, unveil the costs, and help you figure out exactly what you need – and why – for your own business to thrive.

A Chief Financial Officer, commonly referred to as a CFO, is a senior-level executive who oversees the finances within a company or organization. They're the big-picture architect, crafting financial strategies, analyzing trends, and advising on investments and growth. Think fundraising, mergers and acquisitions, and navigating complex financial waters.

Cost: Expect a larger investment. A seasoned CFO, with their wealth of experience and strategic know-how, commands a premium, typically costing more than a controller.

CFO Scope of Work includes:

  • Strategic financial planning and analysis.
  • Capital raising and investment guidance.
  • Risk management and financial modeling.
  • Performance dashboards and reporting.
  • Interfacing with investors and board members.

A Controller, or a Financial Controller, and also known as a Comptroller in certain industries, is the lead accountant of a company. Think of the controller as the skilled mechanic, keeping your financial engine running smoothly. They oversee the day-to-day operations, ensuring accuracy and compliance. Bookkeeping, payroll, account reconciliation, and reporting are their domain. They ensure the numbers tie, and the books are closed accurately and on time.

Cost: Controllers typically cost less than CFOs, as their focus lies on operational tasks rather than high-level strategy.

Controller Scope of Work includes:

  • Bookkeeping and financial recordkeeping.
  • Payroll management and tax preparation.
  • Accounts payable/receivable management.
  • Financial reporting and compliance.
  • Internal controls and risk management.

So, what’s the right role for your business? And how do you know if you should outsource these services? Here's a quick quiz to help you assess your needs.

  1. Is your business experiencing rapid growth or planning a major financial move?

    - If yes, a CFO's strategic expertise might be invaluable.
  1. Do you have a solid financial foundation but need help streamlining operations and ensuring accuracy?

    - If yes, a controller could be your perfect fit.

  2. Is budget a major factor?

    - If you need a person with forecasting, budgeting, and big-picture strategic acumen but don’t have the CFO-level budget, outsourcing a CFO is right for you.

    - If you need an experienced, efficient accountant who understands GAAP compliance, but you don’t have the time or resources to bring one on staff full-time, outsourcing a Controller is right for you.
  1. Is your accounting team not being utilized properly – either because they are doing tasks above or below their paygrade?

    - If you have a CFO on staff who is sidetracked doing day-to-day accounting tasks instead of focusing on your growth and planning for your future, outsourcing a Controller is right for you.

    - If you have a Controller on staff who is trying to advise you on large-scale, strategic plans and changes, outsourcing a CFO is right for you.

Hiring an outsourced CFO or an outsourced Controller is a smart way to help your business run as smoothly as possible without drowning in overhead. Outsourced accounting services can provide cost-effective and scalable solutions for your business. Whether you need a strategic leader with vision or a meticulous and process-oriented accountant, outsourcing the right financial expertise can free you to focus on what you do best – building your business.

Ready to lose the accounting headaches and focus on growth? Plumb offers expert outsourced accounting solutions backed by decades of experience. We'll guide you through the process, answer your questions, and provide the support you need to take your business to the next level. Schedule a free consultation today – we’re here to help!


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