Cannabis CFO vs. Controller: Which one is right for your cannabis business?

Every growing business requires a management team to ensure business processes go according to plan and make necessary course corrections along the way. Cannabis companies are no different.


One of the most frequently asked questions about expanding a cannabis company’s management team is: What skills do we need to grow?


The answer depends on several factors including where you are now, where you want to go, key responsibilities, past experiences, and other business drivers.


The Chief Financial Officer (CFO) and Controller are two very different concepts within cannabis industry management teams. Each role requires similar competencies and skills while having distinct responsibilities.


When forming a management team for your company you have to decide whether you need a CFO or a Controller to coordinate your workforce and production process. Before actually deciding which one fits your expectations, let’s find out the main differences between those two roles.


CFO vs. Controller – Main Differences

When comparing a CFO to a Controller position, you should focus on the key competencies associated with these two roles. The first one, CFO, is generally a forward-thinking person that can determine your company’s goals and the most effective way of getting there. This position requires excellent organizational skills as most of the cannabis business planning process will rely on this person’s indications. What’s more, a CFO must be able to forecast the eventual outcomes of your business and preempt any potential threats to its success.


On the other hand, the Controller position requires a person with great critical thinking and assessing capabilities, and its knowledge must be well-developed in the financial and accounting field. Essentially, a Controller must be able to look back, assess the previous situation, and determine whether the goal was reached or not. What is more, this person is supposed to maintain and increase the financial transparency level by keeping track of the financial records.

How to Choose between a CFO and a Controller?

When it comes to deciding whether you need a cannabis CFO or a Controller in your management team, there are a set of issues that cannabis companies should carefully address. To clarify each, we have prepared some key responsibilities for each role to determine which fits your cannabis company’s gaps.


A CFO usually has strategic responsibilities, including:
  • Reviewing the financial statements;
  • Assessing past performance;
  • Developing and implementing future strategies.


On the other hand, a Controller generally takes care of tactical-level responsibilities, such as:
  • Performing basic accounting tasks;
  • Keeping track of expenses and revenues;
  • Filling the sales tax reports.


In other words, if a cannabis company needs someone to determine a new strategy and implement a new business approach while also getting guidance on how to invest appropriately in both internal and external activities, then a CFO is what you need.


However, for well-timed financial reports that offer an accurate perspective on a cannabis company’s financial historical information, then a Controller fits the bill.


Assessing Past Performance vs. Overseeing Future Goals

Essentially, a CFO is a person who can oversee your company’s future performance and find profitable paths for the business to take.


  • What are our financial expectations within the next 12 months?
  • What changes should we make to maximize profits?
  • Are our investments profitable?


If these are the questions you seek answers to, then you need a CFO.


A Controller is more of a historian that can assess your past performance and keep track of your financial records.


  • Do we produce accurate financial information?
  • What financial performance did we get during the last quarter?
  • How much cash flow did our company get during the last 12 months?


If these are the questions you seek answers to, look for a Controller.


A seasoned CFO brings all the capabilities of a controller while offering future-oriented perspectives thanks to their capital understanding capabilities and master of numbers, being able to make the necessary connections between past expenses, actual revenue, and your company’s goal. Most cannabis startups lack the right set of skills for every role and struggle to maintain a fully functional management team, at least initially. Limited budgets and business experience are often to blame, which is why many growing cannabis companies rely on an experienced CFO.


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