The Language of Accounting: Disconnect between Accountants and Bookkeepers
There are a tremendous number of bookkeeper training programs developed over the years which propose to deliver the essential bookkeeping knowledge (e.g., double entry accounting) required in order to properly service business bookkeeping requirements. Particularly as the CPA profession stepped away from traditional bookkeeping in favor of performing “higher level” and more profitable work, there was and continues to be a great need for skilled and experienced bookkeepers. While it seems that accountants and bookkeepers would be a natural fit for partnering to serve small business client needs, there is often a disconnect between the two which causes the working relationship to not always prove as beneficial as it could. What is the cause of this disconnect? In many cases, it is due to the fact that the bookkeeper training educated the operator on the use of a software product, and not on the fundamentals of accounting and bookkeeping.
Over the past few years, I have had the opportunity to look through a lot of bookkeeper training programs, and the thing that stands out is that many of these programs aren’t really training bookkeepers on accounting principles. More frequently, the training is focused on teaching users how to use software (usually QuickBooks). With the number of users of the QuickBooks product, it is obvious that there is a need to educate users on the solution because people need to know how to use their software properly. But it happened at some point in time that a majority of the industry came to believe that learning QuickBooks (or Xero or Freshbooks or Kashoo or whatever) was somehow synonymous with learning bookkeeping.
When I first started working with my father in his accounting practice, I had to use a manual general ledger, check register, etc. It was all manual – computers didn’t come along for a while (yes, I am that old). It was time-consuming, but it taught me the fundamentals. I know what a subledger is. In consumer-friendly software like QuickBooks, you don’t work in the AR subledger; you push the button that says “customers” or maybe “invoices”. QuickBooks, in many ways, doesn’t speak accounting. It speaks record keeping. And this is where the disconnect begins.
An old school accountant will recall the green eye shade days and working with book ledgers and 13-column pads, but even “new” school accounting professionals know that the fundamentals of accounting aren’t available for re-invention. A debit is still a debit and a credit is a credit. Yes, there are intimacies involved which speak to specific treatment of items for reporting and tax purposes, etc., but the essentials of double entry and other basic accounting principles are consistent and unchanging.
The “language of accounting” includes certain precise terms with specific meaning, and this precision in the use of terms simply doesn’t exist in many bookkeeper training programs. Rather than focusing on the fundamental accounting training bookkeepers truly need in order to be of maximum value to the business, these programs focus on helping users become experts in using the software product, or even to become experts at teaching others how to use the solution. While this software expertise may be beneficial in terms of helping accountants work with their clients who use the software, it doesn’t add enough value to the relationship to warrant partnering. What accounting professionals need are bookkeepers who understand bookkeeping and who can apply basic accounting principles to the task. Which software they operate is secondary to that purpose.
Professional bookkeepers, accountants, and the business client are all in a position to benefit tremendously when the service providers team up to provide comprehensive service. The key to making these connections lies with the professional bookkeeper who must not only understand basic accounting principles, but must also be able to speak to the accounting professional in their native language.
Opinion: I think that every QuickBooks training program should include taking the sample data file in QuickBooks, and translating that to a manual accounting system of book ledgers and reports. Then, have the student process a years’ worth of transactions manually and from paper-based source materials (and also make them create and use a manual paper filing system for all that information, and come up with a means to travel to obtain all the documents necessary which aren’t mailed via USPS). The requirement would include generating the bank reconciliations from printed bank statements and cancelled check copies, creating a trial balance from the general ledger and then creating the P&L and Balance Sheet. I’ll bet you end up with a group of bookkeepers who better understand the fundamentals of the accounting process. The other benefit is that these folks will have a much better understanding of the problems in the outsourced accounting model which can be directly addressed and solved by today’s cloud and connected solutions.