Financial Hierarchy in an Organization
The level of financial hierarchy in an organization depends on its size and the breadth of its accounting and financial needs. A small business that operates with a self-employed owner and no employees may outsource all of its accounting management and bookkeeping to a sole proprietor bookkeeper. A larger business with $30 million in revenue that grows organically through its own direct sales efforts and through acquisitions has a distinctly different structure.
The chief financial offer presides over a company's entire financial operations. Typically referred to by the abbreviation CFO, a chief financial officer has ultimate oversight and responsibility for a company’s financial management and corporate finance activities. Large companies and small businesses that engage in numerous financial transactions employ CFOs who leverage financial strategy and financing activities to help the firms' ownership and management team achieve its operational and financial goals. Many small firms do not have CFOs; they stop at the controller function.
A company's controller oversees the accounting function. The accounting function includes the preparation and maintenance of the budget and generation of financial reports. Controllers are typically individuals with strong accounting backgrounds -- many are certified public accountants -- who handle the compilation of the accounting and financial data. Controllers ensure that the company adheres to generally accepted accounting principles.
Companies that grow through acquisitions, raise capital from investors, or pursue nontraditional sources of debt financing employ individuals with strong finance backgrounds. The finance director or vice president of finance reports directly to the CFO -- as does the controller -- and oversees the financial functions of the organization.
An organization may employ one or more senior accountants to handle the actual creation of financial reports. These individuals confer with the accountants and administrative staff on their teams to ensure that accounting software and systems gather the appropriate data. Senior accountants analyze trends in their areas of responsibility and provide input to the controllers regarding their observations. Accountants gather the operating and accounting data used to produce accounting reports. Accountants typically handle any items that fall outside usual activities.
Financial managers, senior financial analysts or financial analysts typically report to the finance director, vice president of finance or directly to the CFO. They develop financial projections and build financial models to value companies or to predict what could happen under various operating or financing scenarios.
Clerical staff includes bookkeepers, data entry personnel and administrative personnel who input information required to generate invoices, pay bills and order supplies and inventory. The work may involve a customer service component, as these individuals typically speak with vendors or customers regarding payment. Although members of the clerical staff typically do not have accounting or finance degrees, they may have accrued substantial knowledge through years of experience.