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Demystifying the Roles of Accounting: From Bookkeeper and Controller to Tax CPA and CFO | Acuity

By June 16, 2023 No Comments

Inevitably, there will be moments in your business’s lifecycle when you’ll outgrow your current accounting support. Maybe your business transactions are getting more complex, and you’re having difficulty managing them all. Or maybe you’re looking to expand into new markets, but you lack the forecasting needed to move forward.

No matter your growth challenges, you’ll need to understand the different roles of accounting so you can engage the right professionals at the right time.

Four major players make up the accounting dream team: the bookkeeper, the controller, the tax CPA, and the CFO. From the foundational support of the bookkeeper, to the strategic insight of the CFO, each of these financial superheroes can help you unlock your business’s full potential.

But you won’t necessarily need all of their support, all of the time. Based on your specific business needs and goals, you may need to enlist the help of one professional – or all four. It’s time to demystify exactly what these accounting specialists do, and when you’ll want to call on them. So tighten your cape and come along for the ride!

Schedule a free consultation with our team to level up your accounting function. You’ll come away with personalized, scalable solutions for your business.

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The Bookkeeper: Your Day-to-Day Accounting Team Member

The success of every business starts with a diligent bookkeeper. It’s their responsibility to accurately record all financial transactions and keep your financial records up-to-date.

They handle the day-to-day details of your company’s finances, giving you a clear picture of your business’s financial health, profitability, and cash position. By passing your bookkeeping off to a professional, you save time to focus on more important aspects of your business.

Bookkeepers help with a wide range of typical duties, including:

  • Managing daily transactions in an accounting software
  • Issuing and processing invoices
  • Generating financial statements, like the income statement, balance sheet, cash flow statement, etc.
  • Executing payroll
  • Cash reconciliation

If your business finances are ready to pass a financial health check with flying colors, it’s thanks to the consistent work of your bookkeeper.

Outsource your bookkeeping and get more of your time back.

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The Controller: Your Strategic Senior Accountant

A controller, also more generally referred to by our team as an accountant, plays a key role in the machinery of a growing business. They can help you identify trends, evaluate performance, and make data-driven decisions to improve your business’s profitability.

As your business scales and your financials become more complex, a controller can help you with a variety of jobs, like:

  • Tracking key performance indicators (KPIs) to improve your business performance
  • Monitoring financial transactions and budgeting to better your financial position
  • Adhering to accounting principles, like Generally Accepted Accounting Principles (GAAP)
  • Complying with financial regulations, whether it’s business regulations, tax laws, or financial reporting
  • Conducting internal audits to assess risk and optimize your accounting process
  • Managing your company’s cash flow, and making cash flow projections to improve your business decisions and financial outcomes

Looking for an accountant? Learn more about what to look for in an accountant.

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Learn more about what a controller can do for your business below.

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The Tax CPA: Your Trusted Tax Manager

Tax CPAs, or Certified Public Accountants, are accounting pros who’ve passed rigorous exams and fulfilled state licensing requirements, making them especially equipped to handle intricate tax activities.

They play a vital role in helping business owners navigate through the complex world of taxes and business compliance. Tax CPAs can also help you maximize tax-saving opportunities.

Here’s some insight into what they offer:

  • Review your financial reporting with a close eye for detail, ensuring accuracy and compliance with any business regulations.
  • Specialize in tax matters, efficiently preparing and filing your income tax returns, and saving you time and potential errors.
  • Give strategic financial planning advice, using their expert knowledge to come up with strategies to enhance your long-term tax position.
  • Serve as your business’s representative, authorized to negotiate with tax authorities on your behalf.

Have you scheduled your mid-year financial review yet?

If not, here’s why you need to:

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The Fractional CFO: Your Financial Leader

A Chief Financial Officer, or CFO for short, is instrumental in guiding your business’s strategic financial direction. At Acuity, we offer a fractional CFO service for businesses that need the guidance of an experienced financial professional without committing to (or paying for) a full-time role.

A fractional CFO has the technical skills to help you with the following:

  • Interpret your financial data, aiding in crucial decision-making and managing your overall financial plan
  • Prepare future projections to align with your business goals and manage growth
  • Shift your business goals based on your business’s evolving needs
  • Guide your company through mergers, acquisitions, public offerings, and expansions
  • Be the expert eyes on financial markets, legislation, and trends
  • Manage relationships with lenders, investors, and shareholders

Learn more about how a fractional CFO can help you grow your business.

Do you have dreams of scaling to new heights?

Here’s how a fractional CFO can make those dreams a reality.

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Choosing the Right Accounting Professionals for Your Business

After exploring the realm of accounting superheroes, you may be wondering which one(s) your business needs right now. Let’s help you decide.

Identifying your business needs.

The type of accounting staff you need depends on your unique business. Are you a new startup with simple day-to-day transactions? Or perhaps you’re a growing business with more complex financial matters?

These questions can guide you to the accounting heroes you need!

Key considerations for hiring a bookkeeper:

  • Do you find it challenging to keep up with your business’s daily financial transactions?
  • Are you having trouble tracking and categorizing your business expenses?
  • Do you struggle to generate financial statements for your business?

Key considerations for hiring a controller:

  • Do you need help complying with financial regulations and reporting requirements?
  • Are you tracking key performance indicators (KPIs) for your business?
  • Could you benefit from regular internal audits to assess risk and optimize your accounting processes?

Key considerations for hiring a tax CPA:

  • Are you comfortable preparing and filing your income tax returns?
  • Could your business benefit from strategic tax planning to enhance your long-term tax position?
  • Would having a representative to negotiate with tax authorities on your behalf be valuable to you?

Key considerations for hiring a fractional CFO:

  • Are you making major business decisions without detailed financial insights?
  • Do you have clear financial projections aligned with your business goals?
  • Are you planning a merger, acquisition, or public offering?
  • Could your business benefit from expert insights on financial markets, legislation, and trends?

In essence, a bookkeeper might be enough for a small business, handling daily transactions and generating financial documents. As your business grows, a controller could step in to take care of a variety of jobs, including compliance with financial regulations and GAAP accounting.

For complicated tax tasks – like tax deductions or new tax regulations – a tax CPA is your hero. And when your business needs strategic financial planning, a CFO will come to the rescue.

Considering your budget.

Cost is an important part of any business decision, and the different roles of accounting come with different price tags.

It’s important to choose a solution that matches your budget, but also your needs! There’s no reason you should be paying for a service you don’t need. That’s why at Acuity, we have customizable solutions, ensuring that you only pay for what you need.

Here’s a basic breakdown of how our services are priced:

At Acuity, we’re all about finding the right balance between your business needs and your budget.

Choosing your accounting superheroes is about matching their powers – or in this case, their analytical skills, knowledge of accounting functions, and business knowledge – to your business.

And remember, as your business evolves, so will your needs. The team you need today might look different tomorrow.

Still not sure where to start? We’re here to help.

We offer a free consultation to talk about your business and figure out which accounting services you need. From basic bookkeeping to CFO services, we’re ready to help your business soar!

Where do your accounting records stand?

Try our free financial health score today for a quick check up on your books.

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Build Your Custom Accounting Team with Acuity

Every business is different, and that means your financial needs are unique, too. Are you a budding startup, an established business, or somewhere in between?

Learn more about choosing the right accounting model for your business on our blog. From there, we always recommend consulting an accounting professional or business advisors to determine the best accounting solution for your business.

And as always, Acuity has got you covered.

We start by offering essential bookkeeping services to keep your finances in order. As your business grows, we can offer personalized solutions and services to build a custom accounting team for you.

Whether that’s hourly controller services, a CPA for tax help, or a fractional CFO on an as-needed basis, we’re here to help.

But, we’ve been in the accounting field long enough to know that it can be hard to decide what financial help you need! That’s why we offer a free consultation with our team. We’ll learn about your business and help you figure out what services will help you thrive.

Frequently Asked Questions

Controller vs Accountant – what's the difference?

At Acuity, we use these roles synonymously.

Generally, all controllers are accountants, but not vice versa. Controllers take on a higher position, mixing management and strategic duties with regular accounting tasks.

Bookkeeper vs Accountant – what's the difference?

Bookkeepers take care of your financial data recording and reconciliation. They’ll log everything, from bills to receipts, ensuring your finances are up-to-date.

At Acuity, our dedicated bookkeepers manage daily transactions, financial statements, and invoice processing. Essentially, they ensure your financials are accurate and deliver insightful reports.

Accountants (or controllers, as we like to call them) do what bookkeepers do and more. They provide advice to help your business grow.

In addition, Acuity’s accountants help with establishing best business practices, creating budgets, and offer advisory services to help your business scale.

Controller vs CFO – what's the difference?

The distinction depends on the individual controller! Their education and experience can vary significantly.

Some controllers can review overall financial health and provide broader financial advice like CFOs, with their roles overlapping in some businesses.

However, in larger firms with distinct roles, CFOs help determine the company’s financial direction, make significant financial decisions, and work on funding. Meanwhile, controllers usually focus on regular accounting duties and report to the CFO.

CFO vs CPA – what's the difference?

CPAs and accountants record past financial activities, while CFOs are future-oriented. Accountants can prepare and file your tax returns, with CPAs going a step further—they can represent you during audits and provide high-level tax advice.

CFOs play a pivotal role if business growth is your goal, particularly if you plan on raising funds. Investors require more than tidy books – they need a promising financial forecast and growth strategy.

Experienced CFOs know what attracts investors, conveying that your business means serious growth.

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