Comptroller: Definition, Functions, Degrees, Career Outlook

What Is a Comptroller?

A comptroller, in the United States, is a high-level executive that oversees the accounting tasks and financial reporting procedures of organizations. The comptroller oversees all accounting including accounts receivable, payroll, and loan transactions. The comptroller also supervises the chart of accounts and the general ledger, which form the basis for the financial statements.

Key Takeaways

  • A comptroller oversees the accounting and financial reporting procedures of an organization.
  • The is comptroller is senior to controllers and reports to the chief financial officer, the president, or the chief executive officer.
  • The comptroller maintains a system of internal controls to ensure the appropriate securing and use of funds, including assisting internal and external auditors.
  • The comptroller manages all accounting transactions, budgets, and loan activity.

Understanding the Role of a Comptroller

Comptrollers are the equivalent of the chief financial officers in nonprofit organizations, government bodies, and businesses. The comptroller performs a similar role to controllers, although comptrollers are considered to be slightly senior to controllers. In businesses that have comptrollers, the position might report to the chief financial officer or, in smaller organizations, the president or chief executive officer.

A controller is more frequently found in for-profit businesses while a comptroller is more common in nonprofit organizations and governments. Because comptrollers are common in non-profit and government organizations, comptrollers may be tasked with a significant amount of fund accounting.

Comptroller Responsibilities

Comptrollers manage the accounting staff and maintain a system of internal controls to ensure that funds are used appropriately. They manage the processing of all accounting transactions and countersign expenditures and receipts, including billings, accounts payable and receivable, payroll, collections, and cash receipts. The comptroller also manages budgets and secures loans.

Comptrollers shoulder much of the financial responsibility in an organization because they must ensure that funds are spent and accounted for appropriately.

Comptrollers maintain the general ledger and ensure that the financial statements are accurate and comply with the proper format and standards. The comptroller is also effectively the chief audit executive, overseeing internal audits, and assisting with external audits.

Comptroller Degrees and Certifications

Like controllers, comptrollers typically have a minimum of a bachelor’s degree in accounting. Many comptrollers are Certified Public Accountants or possess a certification as a Chartered Financial Analyst or Certified Management Accountant. Advanced certification options for comptrollers include Certified Internal Auditor and Certified Government Financial Manager.

Comptroller Career Outlook

The average pay for a financial manager, which is the closest comparator for a comptroller in the data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, was around $134,180 per year in 2020. This career is expected to grow at a rate of 15% through 2029, which is better than most professions.

Fast Fact

Financial managers and comptrollers perform similar functions. However, a finance manager may be more concerned with the management of a company's finances while the comptroller manages the financial accounting and reporting.

Comptroller Professional Organizations

The professional organizations a comptroller might belong to are the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants, the American Accounting Association, or the Institute of Management Accountants.

Article Sources
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  1. U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. "Financial Managers - Quick Facts." Accessed June 26, 2021.

  2. U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. "Financial Managers." Accessed June 26, 2021.