A small business doesn't require many layers of management between the owner and line employees. As a company grows and adds employees, it becomes difficult for an owner to oversee all the departments. Supervisors, managers and directors are added to assume responsibility for individual departments. Eventually, with continued growth, a company has a hierarchy in place which includes senior vice presidents and a CFO -- chief financial officer.
C-level executives are called that because their title includes the word "chief." They report directly to the chief executive officer -- CEO. In a small business, the CEO is the owner. The chief financial officer is responsible for the financial management of the company and financial systems. Other C-level executives include chief marketing officer, chief IT officer and chief operations officer -- all reporting to the CEO.
Senior Vice President
Senior vice presidents are responsible for one department within a function. For example, the senior vice president of planning and analysis oversees the annual business planning process, strategic planning and feasibility analyses. They may have a vice president of business planning, vice president of strategic planning and vice president of feasibility analysis reporting to them. Other senior vice president positions include senior vice president of accounting and senior vice president of mergers and acquisitions.
The senior vice president of finance may report to an executive vice president who reports to the CFO. In companies that are less complicated, there may be no CFO and the senior vice president of finance reports directly to the CEO or the business owner.
Titles Can Be Misleading
The responsibilities of a senior vice president in one company can be the same as the CFO in another company. Sometimes, when a company doesn't have the funds to award significant pay raises, the titles will be awarded instead. The senior vice president of finance becomes the CFO. The duties don't change but the CFO title is more prestigious.
The CFO has experience in all facets of finance while the senior vice president has more limited experience. Both jobs usually require a college degree in business, finance or accounting. The job requirements may include a graduate degree as well as the candidate being a Certified Public Accountant -- CPA -- but not always.