Controllers vs Bookkeepers: What’s the Difference?

Pencil Posted by Richard Veltre on February 6, 2018

For most small businesses, a bookkeeper is enough to maintain accounting records and create basic quarterly and year-end financial statements. Business growth, however, may necessitate hiring a controller. But what’s the difference between a bookkeeper and a controller, and how do you decide which role is appropriate for your company’s needs?

Controllers vs bookkeepers:

What Does a Bookkeeper Do?bookkeepers vs controllers

A bookkeeper processes the day-to-day paperwork for a business. In a small company, they might manage accounts payable and accounts receivable; in larger companies, bookkeepers process all accounting paperwork, including accounts payable, accounts receivable, inventory, budgeting, and payroll as well as basic income statements and other financial statements.

Because financial health is critical to business success, bookkeeping requires extraordinary accuracy in maintaining records and a thorough understanding of basic accounting rules and procedures. The bookkeeper role can be maintained by a full-time, in-house employee or through the use of an outsourcing company that can tailor its functions and activities to a company’s needs.

A bookkeeper provides accurate records of financial activity. For more advanced business needs, such as determining tax strategies, structuring a financial department, or assisting with acquiring financing, someone with more of a business strategy background – like a controller – may be more appropriate.

What Does a Controller Do?

A controller is essentially the lead accountant. They manage other full-time accountants/bookkeepers as well as contractors. As the chief accountant, the controller is responsible for interpreting the meaning of a company’s financial statements and data as well as ensuring their accuracy. So while a bookkeeper isn’t required to have a degree, a controller should at least have a bachelor’s degree in finance, business administration, accounting, or related area to ensure a solid understanding of financial strategy.

A controller is a key financial advisor expected to give a business’s executive team or, in the case of a small business, the owner, advice about issues related to the company’s financial situation. Controllers also monitor compliance based on financial reporting regulations, such as managing expense and fraud controls and handling the company tax strategy. Finally, controllers are responsible for budgeting and monitoring key business performance indicators against the annual budget.

Critical Reporting Cheat Sheet

If you need accounting services but can’t afford a full-time employee – or just don’t want one – Harbour Rock offers an outsourced accounting team that assumes the role of part-time bookkeeper or controller. Contact us today to find out how we can help.


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About Harbour Rock
Our outsourced CFOs are experienced professionals who offer expertise to business managers, including detailed insight into financials that allow you to make better business decisions; we also guide you through financial issues so you can spend time on growth instead of administration and overhead. By taking a proactive approach, together we can identify risks, evaluate options, and implement solutions at a cost that is well below the benefit. Learn more by visiting our website.

Topics: Outsourced Accounting Services

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