What Is a Comptroller?

When people see the word comptroller, many think of elected government officials who keep their eyes on the financial bottom line of the areas they serve. In reality, comptrollers work in both the public and private sectors in concerns ranging from non-profit establishments to small companies to mega-corporations as well as in the political arena.

Duties of the Comptroller

Comptrollers, who sometimes wear the titles of financial controller or financial control officers in private-sector businesses and publicly traded companies, are responsible for overseeing the accounting activities of their concerns. Unlike chief financial officers who look to the future and plan their institution’s financial growth years down the road, financial control officers maintain day-to-day, week-to-week, and month-to-month operations and sound accounting practices. Whether elected to their positions or hired by corporations, duties of these financial professionals include:

  • Regularly reporting on their concerns’ accounting practices
  • Keeping track of cash flow, debt and credit, and accounts receivable and payable
  • Ensuring that financial activities are above-board
  • Choosing and maintaining accounting software and programs
  • Providing reports for superiors and the public
  • Supervising payroll and employee benefits
  • Developing and monitoring the organization’s policies and practices
  • Overseeing internal audits and implementing changes when financial errors or possible fraud are detected
  • Supervising a staff of accountants and support personnel

The recent economic recession and its repercussions have brought to light the important role comptrollers play. As corporations and those who head them fall under more intense scrutiny as the result of corruption and less-than-honorable business practices, financial watchdogs play a greater role in ensuring corporate and governmental integrity.

Requirements for Becoming a Comptroller

A bachelor’s degree in accounting is usually essential. In addition, passing the Uniform Certified Public Accountant Examination, working for a year of work in the field, and applying for a state’s CPA license, are required by many corporations. Some firms also prefer their comptrollers to become certified management accountants, professionals who, after two years of accounting experience, pass an examination administered by the Institute of Management Accountants. CMAs, in contrast to CPAs, are not licensed and their credential is not regulated by licensing agencies.

In addition to these basic certifications, comptrollers who wish to specialize in one area have several choices.

  • Certified internal auditors may find themselves in demand in light of the above-mentioned scandals. In addition to the standard degree and work experiences, candidates must pass the Institute of Internal Auditors’ examination and provide personal references.
  • Public-sector financial control officers often concentrate on the special situations encountered by governmental accounting by obtaining certification as Certified Government Financial Managers. In addition to the usual requirements, practitioners must declare to abide by the Association of Government Accountants’ code of ethics.
  • Chartered financial analysts are accountants who work in institutions specializing in investments. A degree in a financial field, experience in investments, and a formal statement of willingness to abide by the Association for Investment Management and Research’s code of ethics are musts for those who are interested in this field.

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Accountants who are dedicated to ethical practices and ensuring a profitable and responsible bottom line for their organizations or government bodies can fulfill their goals by becoming comptrollers. The rewards in terms of job security and knowing they are making a positive difference in their communities, nations, and the world at large are enormous.