The Language of Accounting: Disconnect between Accountants and Bookkeepers

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.

Make Sense?

J

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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.

 

Cloud Computing and Online Accounting for All? Some Markets Are Still Waiting for Broadband

Cloud Computing and Online Accounting for All? Some Markets Are Still Waiting on Broadband

As the information technology industry espouses the benefits of the “paradigm shift” in computing and the move to cloud computing platforms and models, there are folks out there in the world who just aren’t seeing it happen like that.  Not everybody’s working online. For many, the Internet and online working models simply haven’t intruded into their lives and businesses as it has for others.  While this may be partially rooted in conservative mentalities and beliefs which are resistant to change, the more likely reality is that options for high-quality and affordable broadband service is simply not available to them.  Without choices for affordable and useful connectivity to the Internet, online just doesn’t have the attraction it does for those who are “connected”.

When businesses look at cloud solutions and the Internet dependency that comes along with them, having more than one connection to the outside world becomes the imperative rather than a luxury.  Unfortunately, some markets are still waiting for broadband (or have very limited options for service), rendering the cloud nearly unreachable.

It may come as a surprise to some, particularly to those in East and West coastal regions, that high speed broadband just isn’t as available in other zones.  In fact, the *National Broadband Map clearly reveals limited availability and choice in numerous regions of the US.  Broadband Internet access is a necessity to support the IT industry’s shift from localized IT to “cloud” IT.  But the shift is only evident to those who are involved in it or who have that option.  For those who the industry is beginning to refer to as the technology “have-nots”, this lack of available and affordable access will ultimately create more than simply an inability to participate in broadband-reliant IT solutions.  The fast pace of innovation and evolution in IT almost guarantees that the technology have-nots will fall even further behind, possibly to the point of not being able to catch up.

 “A Growing Gap Between IT Haves, Have-Nots. There will be a growing gap between the IT haves and have-nots in 2013. The latter will fall behind the former on a wide range of business technology fronts such as mobile, cloud, social, virtualization, and analytics…” 7 SMB Technology Predictions for 2013 | InformationWeek.com

As business (and personal) technology models continue to evolve, and as new solutions and services begin to displace the old, those who remain disconnected will begin to directly experience much more impact.

Consider something as simple as using QuickBooks desktop software for small business bookkeeping.  As Intuit continues to remove elements from the installed software product, turning them into web services instead, customers with limited or no broadband access will find themselves without the features and functionality they need in the software.  And the only possibly comparable alternatives to QuickBooks desktop accounting products are Internet-based alternatives, making them not really alternative options at all.

It is also likely that lack of sufficient broadband is one of the factors motivating many solution providers to seek clients in other markets – outside of the United States, and in regions where broadband availability is more prevalent and service speed and quality is higher.  Yes, it’s true.  The United States is not the leader in broadband availability, or even in quality.

“For many people, their broadband connections are their lifelines. So what is the state of broadband in the U.S.? Well, when it comes to speed and price and adoption, we’re certainly not a leader — “middling” is a better way to describe our position.

Currently 119 million people that live in the U.S. don’t have broadband connections (for many reasons, including not wanting it or not being able to afford it) while 19 million don’t even have the option to get it. Our rate of broadband adoption (62 percent) lags behind countries such as South Korea, the U.K.,and Germany, according this year’s Federal Communication Commission report. (We’re closer to the penetration rates to Japan, Finland, and Canada.) These numbers are not likely to change soon, given that broadband growth is slowing and providers are moving away from wireline infrastructure. “ GIGAOM:The state of broadband in the U.S. [infographic]

Accountants and other professional service providers serving clients in regions lacking sufficient choices for access must recognize that their approaches to doing business will not necessarily match their peers in more fully connected areas.  Certainly, accounting and legal professionals are dealing with this reality as practice coaches and industry leaders push for IT- and cloud-enabled models for improving practice performance and creating differentiation, even as their proven applications and business solutions morph into or are replaced with SaaS applications and online service.

The take away from this is that there are still large numbers of businesses and individuals doing things with legacy tools, managing spreadsheets on standalone PCs, or writing with pens and using paper – even in areas where broadband access is plentiful.  Regardless of how forward moving the rest of the world may be there remains a need to provide service and support these IT have-nots.  Perhaps this becomes a means for differentiation, finding ways to work with businesses who are connected and those who are not, and leveraging the firm’s access and capability to deliver what the client cannot obtain directly.

Make Sense?

J

*The National Broadband Map is a tool to search, analyze and map broadband availability across the United States