At first glance, it may seem like all accounting professionals fit in the same box and offer the same skillset. In reality, it’s not that simple. So, how do you know who you should work with and what your company really needs? Let’s talk about four major roles and the differences between them. 


The role of the bookkeeper is the foundation for all the rest. Bookkeeping is the process of recording business activity in the books, including revenue, expenses, and any other transactions. The bookkeeper is responsible for making sure these entries are made into the correct accounts and that everything is accurate. 

Without timely, accurate bookkeeping, the accounting process can’t even begin. In fact, for smaller businesses bookkeeping is the majority of the process and the most important piece of the puzzle. 


The term “accountant” is a bit less clear. One doesn’t need to be a CPA to be an accountant. While many people use the title, the role of accountant involves taking the data prepared during the bookkeeping step, generating financial statements and reports, and analyzing that data.

The accounting role has both a compliance side and a proactive, advisory side. Compliance accounting ensures that your business is meeting standards by preparing statements that comply with GAAP principles and preparing income taxes. 

Accountants can also take a more proactive role in advising companies using that same financial data. Advisory accounting services guide you to better, data-driven decisions that make your business more profitable and more sustainable. Examples of this would be your accountant helping you create a budget, forecast cash flow, evaluate your most profitable products or services or performing job costing. 

While your business may start out needing only a bookkeeper (and an accountant at tax time) you’ll want to work with an accountant as you begin to grow. This is the best way to be sure your decisions are based on cold-hard numbers and that you’re making the most of your business at every opportunity. 


Most larger businesses and corporations have someone in the controller role. This is especially true of businesses with an accounting team who need to be all on the same page. The role of the controller varies a bit based on the size and complexity of the business. 

Controllers engage in budgeting and financial statement preparation, as they are a type of accountant. They also monitor deviations from the budget and report to management so action can be taken to stay on track. As more and more regulations arise for businesses, controllers also take on the task of creating and maintaining internal controls to minimize risk and keep up with government standards. 


While the CFO has traditionally been an accountant role, more and more CFOs are coming from outside of accounting. Since the position is “financial” rather than “accounting,” many corporate CFOs have a finance background or an MBA. 

The CFOs job is to oversee the overall financial situation for the company. They have a more strategic role and less day-to-day involvement. This is one reason many smaller businesses do well with a fractional CFO rather than hiring someone in-house. A fractional or outsourced CFO can provide strategic guidance as needed at a much more reasonable cost than a full-time staffer. 

When it comes time to strategize long-term financial plans, financing options like loans, or when you’re considering going public with your company, that’s when a CFO shines and truly becomes a necessity. If you obtain financing from a venture capital firm, they’re also likely to want the guidance of a CFO. 

If you’re a smaller company but want the strategic planning firepower of a bigger business, ask your day-to-day accounting firm if they offer outsourced CFO services to meet your needs. 


As you can see, there are many roles in the accounting and finance world, with some overlap but also a lot of differences. As your business grows, so do your needs for accounting professionals who can help guide you toward your goals. Thankfully, many firms offer several levels of service to grow along with you or can connect you with vetted professionals to fill in the gaps. 

Wondering what level of financial expertise would be best for your business? Reach out to the team at Pooley Accounting and let’s talk about your needs and how you can get where you want to be.