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What is the difference between a Bookkeeper, Financial Controller and CFO?

A common question that is raised when discussing the potential advantages that a part-time CFO can add to an organisation is centred around the differences between a bookkeeper, financial controller and CFO. Mainly it’s based on the fact that an organisation will have a bookkeeper in place, and so will just use them as their CFO – they know all the numbers, so they are in a good place to help make those decisions.

It helps to understand the general duties, skillset and expertise that each role can provide to a business.


  • Keep accurate financial records in accounting systems
  • Perform A/P duties
  • Perform A/R duties
  • Basic payroll
  • Produce standard reports

Although the tasks are predominately basic and transactional in nature, attention to detail is key.

Financial Controller

  • Ability to perform the duties of a bookkeeper, or provide the supervision of the employees that perform those duties
  • More advanced understanding of accounting systems and reporting
  • Customisation of reports
  • Responsibility for a certain level of cash flow decision making
  • Part qualified or member of a professional accounting organisation

Chief Financial Officer

  • Supervision of all finance staff, including controllers
  • Ability to see the story behind the numbers and review the financial performance of a business
  • Ability to provide projections for future performance and evaluate strategy
  • Overseeing the financial structure of business and financing options available
  • Relationship builder with key internal and external stakeholders
  • Experience and understanding of roles within a company and finance team
  • Long-running membership of professional organisations

Experience is the main factor in deciding if a CFO is required for your business. A role can be performed for many years, but that knowledge is of that role. It’s important that the person you are looking to provide the support for your business has experience of the areas you require that support in.

Cost is also a factor. You may already utilise a bookkeeper and/or financial controller, so why add additional cost to your organisation? The fact that the services of a CFO are now available through part-time arrangements means they are more structured and flexible around the business’s requirements.

The provision of part-time and virtual CFO services is a growing area. This means that there will be more organisations offering this service. It’s important that you know what to look for to ensure you engage with those who have the knowledge, experience and expertise to allow for you to gain maximum benefit from this investment.

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