What’s the difference between a bookeeper and a controller?

On each new engagement one of the first things I try and get a real firm grasp on is the make-up and design of an accounting/finance department. To do this I need to know the role and duties of each position. As I move from one project to another I’ve noticed that there isn’t a uniform understanding or what each position within an accounting team does. Here is my “cheat sheet” feel free to copy.

From the ground up there are many positions in an accounting team. The number and variety will depend on the complexity of the business.

Accounting Clerk: This position is primarily a data-entry position. A Clerk will process transactions using source documents. Some Clerk positions are niche, such as A/R or A/P. Good clean data is very important, so while you may be tempted to get a minimum hourly rate person to fill this position – don’t, bad data will render all the information in your accounting system unreliable.

Bookkeeper: This position is usually a seasoned accounting clerk that has a good grasp of accounting basics. A Bookkeeper will do reconciliations, complex or critical data entry, and work on higher-end projects under the direction of a Senior Accountant or Controller.

Staff Accountant: A Staff Accountant is usually an entry level degreed position. Staff Accountant should be able to handle most reconciliations, work with Clerks and Bookkeepers and take limited direction from Senior Accountants. Staff Accountants typically are “green” to begin with but a good one will make your life much easier.

Senior Accountant: Need someone who can work independently with limited direction? You need a Senior Accountant. A Senior Accountant has several years experience, can work without a lot of handholding and can even help direct other staff on simple projects. Senior Accountants can specialize as Cost Accountants or Financial Accountants – even analysts in some cases

Controller: A good controller may be the most critical person on your accounting team. A Controller is responsible for all the accounting functions in the organization. The Controller position must completely grasp each position under them and know how they inter-relate and affect one another. A good Controller is the “right-hand” of the CFO.

Chief Financial Officer: The CFO is a member of the organization’s senior management and as such will be involved in most aspects of strategy and vision. While the grunt work of a budget and forecast project may be done by others, it’s the CFO that will lead that effort. If no Treasurer is present the CFO can commonly be responsible for managing cash flow, capital needs, and banking relationships.

How about your accounting team? Do you have the right mix of skill sets? If not where do you have the greatest need? Perhaps there is someone on your team that is ready to take their knowledge to the next level.


We’ve worked with a wide variety of clients on a broad range of projects and are happy to discuss solutions that can best fit your needs.

Get in Touch