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Bookkeepers vs. Controllers vs. CFOs: What Are The Differences And Why Should You Care

A business owner was telling me what his CFO does for him and when I asked how much he’s paying his CFO he said $60,000 a year.  This told me he has a bookkeeper, not a CFO.  But this kind of mislabeling of accounting staff is common and I want to clarify the differences between a bookkeeper, controller and CFO.

Below is a guide to titles, duties and estimated salary ranges of accounting staff. Salaries of the higher paid positions will be higher in mid-to-large cap companies.  The salaries below are for small businesses with revenues from $0 to $100M.  Of course salaries may vary from company to company.

Junior and senior bookkeepers share duties of booking transactions, from preparing AR invoices and posting AR receipts, to entering and paying AP bills and doing bank and credit card reconciliations.  Senior bookkeepers generally process payroll and close the books.  

Senior accountants are degreed accountants with none or limited public accounting firm experience.  They don’t process transactions but rather handle the more technical accounting aspects of closing the books and preparing reports and analyses.

Assistant controllers are likely degreed accountants who received training at a public accounting firm and are more technical in accounting than senior accountants.  They handle ever more technical financial reporting demands and more complex financial analyses.

Controllers are degreed accountants and many were CPA’s in public accounting.  They oversee the afore-mentioned accounting staff, making sure that transactions are processed and books are closed accurately.  They make sure that receivables are collected and payables are paid timely.  They establish financial controls company-wide and define processes for accounting staff to follow.  They issue financial statements and analysis to management.  And they’re generally the go-to person for accounting and other software, so they’re techy.

CFO’s are degreed accountants and many were CPA’s in public accounting.  They make sure all accounting and finance operations are well run and delivering the information and controls the company needs.  They also arrange financing, manage risk, manage HR and IT, gain deep industry knowledge and help the CEO design and execute strategies.  

At a minimum, I like small businesses to have their bookkeeper as well as portions of a controller and CFO.  If you need help structuring your accounting department for maximum efficiency and production, reach out to me.  I have definite thoughts about how to accomplish this.

This is Robert Band, your business finance expert.  Remember, one tip could be worth millions and profits today become fortunes tomorrow.

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