What’s the difference between a CFO, Controller and a CPA?

I often hear from Business owners or CEO’s “my CPA does that” or “I have a good controller”. In today’s specialized world would you want a CPA who has been preparing tax returns for 25 years developing your strategic plan or projecting your cash flow or analyzing a new business line or potential acquisition?

But what’s the difference between a CFO, Controller and a CPA?

How successful will the controller be in customer profitability analysis and implementing internal controls if their primary responsibilities and experience is accounts receivable and payables, monthly closing entries and payroll? In my experience, if the controller or book keeper is good at detailed repetitive activities like reconciliations, monthly closings and payroll they have minimal experience and aptitude towards strategic analysis and forecasts.

In my opinion a top accounting and financial department should include all three – CFO, Controller/book keeper and CPA resources. Using a B2B CFO® on an as needed basis, an internal Controller or Book keeper and a third party tax expert will provide even the smallest of companies’ diversified expertise and financial advice in addition to enhancing the business owner’s protection from fraud and theft.

Below I have outlined some of the key responsibilities the CFO, Controller/Book Keeper and CPA should be providing.



Controller / Book keeper

CPA Firm

Summary financial reporting to Management, Board & Investors Maintain books and records of the company Federal and State tax returns
Cash Flow improvement and bank financing Prepare monthly customer billings Tax planning
Annual strategic operating budgets & business plans Record cash and credit card transactions State Sales and Use tax filings
Product line & Customer profitability analysis Prepare monthly detailed financial statements Annual audits, reviews and compilation reports
Product launches, license negotiation and acquisition & divestiture analysis Prepare monthly bank reconciliations Book keeping assistance
Develop, implement and oversee internal controls and accounting procedures Perform payroll and benefits and make quarterly filings

These main differences between a CFO, Controller and a CPA show the importance of each!

photo credit: Question Mark Caution via photopin (license)

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