Companies large and small rely on sound financial management to make strategic business decisions. Two of the most critical roles in this area are the Chief Financial Officer (CFO) and the Controller. While there may be some overlap in their responsibilities, they are distinct functions that require different skill sets, education, and experience. This blog post will provide an in-depth comparison of the roles of CFO versus Controller, and how they differ in their approach to financial management.

Responsibilities of the CFO:

A CFO is a senior executive who oversees the financial functions of an organization. This includes developing financial strategies, managing funding, budgeting, forecasting, and financial reporting. The CFO is also responsible for developing relationships with investors, banks, and other financial institutions that are crucial for the financial health of the company. Additionally, CFOs are responsible for mitigating financial risks associated with investments, business decisions, and regulatory compliance. They work closely with other executives and departments to ensure that the company’s financial goals align with its overall business objectives.

Differences in Education and Experience:

CFOs are typically required to have a minimum of a bachelor’s degree in finance, accounting, or a related field. In addition to education, CFOs often have years of experience working in financial management roles before taking on the top position. This can include positions such as Financial Analyst, Treasurer, or Controller.

Responsibilities of the Controller:

A Controller, on the other hand, is responsible for managing the day-to-day accounting operations of the company, such as bookkeeping, accounts payable and receivable, payroll, and tax filing. The Controller typically reports to the CFO and is responsible for generating financial statements and reports necessary for sound financial decision-making. Other responsibilities include managing internal controls and procedures, developing and implementing financial policies, and managing audits and compliance.

Skill Sets:

The skill sets and education required for CFO and Controller positions differ. CFOs typically have a degree in finance, accounting, or business administration along with an MBA. They also have extensive experience in financial management and analysis and a strong understanding of business operations and strategy. Controllers typically have an accounting degree along with experience in accounting, bookkeeping, or financial analysis. They also need to have excellent analytical and communication skills to effectively convey their financial reports to management and other stakeholders.


Although the roles of CFOs and Controllers differ, they do have commonalities. Both roles require an in-depth understanding of financial management, budgeting, and accounting functions. They must be able to use technology to manage financial data, work with cross-functional teams, and communicate financial results to management. Both roles also require a high level of integrity and attention to detail, as errors in financial reporting can be costly for the company.

When to Hire a CFO:

Small businesses may not have the resources to hire both a CFO and a Controller, so it’s important to understand when each role is necessary. A Controller may be suitable for smaller companies that have simpler financial operations and do not require extensive strategic planning. However, as a company grows and becomes more complex, the need for a CFO increases, one option is to outsource a fractional CFO.   While a full-time CFO may be the right choice for large businesses with complex financial operations that require constant oversight, a fractional CFO provides services on a part-time basis.  This is a better fit for small to medium-sized businesses that need expert financial guidance but cannot justify the cost of a full-time CFO. Ultimately, having this strong financial leadership is crucial for making sound business decisions and driving long-term success and this option offers flexibility and cost savings, as you pay for only what you need. Furthermore, a fractional CFO can bring a fresh perspective and broad experience from working with different industries and companies.


In conclusion, while the roles of CFO and Controller may seem interchangeable, there are distinct differences that make them both critical for a company’s financial success. CFOs are responsible for developing and executing financial strategies and managing relationships with external stakeholders, while Controllers handle day-to-day accounting operations and internal controls. Both roles require specific skill sets, education, and experience to ensure effective financial management. Ultimately, having both a strong CFO and Controller on your team can contribute significantly to making sound financial decisions that drive business growth.  So whether you’re a small start-up or a large corporation, understanding the difference between these two roles is crucial for your company’s long-term success.   If your business can’t support the cost of a full time CFO, outsourcing on a fractional basis is a great option to access this much needed expertise.