Bookkeeper or Accountant?

By: Srdjan Timotic, BSc, MBA, CCA

In the accounting profession, it is evident that difference is made between bookkeepers and accountants. Whether you work in a small business or large corporation, it will again make a difference. Are you an accountant or a bookkeeper? Is the consideration of the bookkeeping role appropriate?

We will discuss here both roles that have evolved over time, and their principal differentiation, depending on roles within small businesses or large corporations.

Accounting positions in large corporations often consist of day-to-day recordkeeping. Junior Accountant, Expense Accountant, Revenue Accountant, Accounts Payable Specialist, General Ledger Accountant, and much more titles invented to attract clerical personnel whose work is primarily performed with well-developed systems, detailed procedures and professionally designed training programs. Within just weeks, large corporations can benefit of highly educated individuals in record keepers' positions that will do the clerical side of accounting.

On the other side, a "bookkeeper" working in a family ran business, will be involved in resolving important tax matters, evaluating the efficiency of operations and managing the broad range of complex accounting transactions.

I, like most of my peers, think that the segregation of duties within large corporations does not help the individuals in their personal development. For those individuals working in large corporations who are frustrated by the low pace, impatient to learn more, and bored of doing routine tasks, the enthusiasm for learning more fades away. Either they go out and look for different jobs, or they lose self-confidence for doing anything else.

Lack of controls, almost inexistent in family ran businesses, will however stimulate the individuals to make great sacrifices to achieve success.

Whether we discuss the information issued by an accountant or a bookkeeper, the information is used for a decision making process. A means to an end!

"In a broad sense, accounting is the process of identifying, measuring, and communicating the economic information about an organization for the purpose of making decisions and informed judgments" (2003, Marshall, What the Numbers Mean). What this statement does not say is who will be making decisions and informed judgments? How does an accountant identify, measure and communicate the information? Who is interpreting the accounting information?

Bookkeeping consists of various mechanisms used to identify and accumulate the information, in order to measure and provide financial results. A proficient bookkeeper will have sufficient expertise to provide analysis of value to the audience. So, is there a difference with accountants?

I would associate most of the "accounting" positions is large corporations to what a "bookkeeper" in a small business is. Large numbers of accountants today has no accounting education and are solicited to provide the expertise in fields such as accounts payable, accounts receivable, revenue recognition, etc. This is dangerous.

Primarily, I expect accountants to be organization's goalkeepers, deal with internal and external requirements so to reflect what is happening in the organization and outside and help the individuals who are not able to understand the results of operating activities make the informed judgments.

Both, bookkeeping and accounting involve preparing and understanding of organizations' activities.

The criteria that guides decisions made to hire a bookkeeper versus accountant will be the level of education. Wrong! Working experience and the use of computer systems, ethics, and behavior, will prevail in my decision making process for engaging a "record keeper"! Be proud to be a bookkeeper. Not the bookkeepers are only to perform their day-to-day, timely, and accurate, transactional system entries but they are to keep their education at a level adequate to perform all accounting paperwork. The increasing demand on accountants makes the daily work ever challenging and interesting for all involved professionals. Bookkeepers shall be more then welcome to join large corporations since the need for stable and efficient working environment is apparent. To choose between the qualified "presenteeism", in other words, highly educated individuals bored with daily recordkeeping work, and involved and productive recordkeeping professionals, the choice has no alternative.

Accounting
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