When examining the roles of both a professional accountant and a bookkeeper, one can often confuse the skills and responsibilities that are involved in each of these roles. Essentially it can be said that all professional accountants need to be able to understand the concept of bookkeeping. However, a bookkeeper-or an accounts clerk as it is known otherwise-does not necessarily have to have the knowledge of an accountant. In order to compare and contrast these roles there is a number of key points that have to be taken in to consideration. These include the tasks and skills involved in the job, the entry requirements needed, associations with specific professional bodies and the need for professionalism and ethics.
Firstly, lets consider the dictionary definition of each of the roles. The Oxford Dictionary of Accounting states that accounting is “The process of identifying, measuring, recording and communicating economic transactions.” (1999,P5)Whereas the definition for bookkeeping is “The keeping of the books of account of a business.”(1999,P55) Books of account meaning “The books in which a business records its transactions using ledgers, journals and other accounting records.”(1999,P55) From summarising these definitions it can be said that the role of the bookkeeper is solely to record transactions and it is the role of the accountant to analyse these records. However, the Royal Charter by the Society of Accountants of Edinburgh in 1854 stated: “Accountants [in specific capacities] have duties to perform, not only of the highest responsibility… but which require, in those who undertake them, great experience of business, very considerable knowledge of law and other qualifications that can only be obtained by a liberal education.”(cited by Molyneaux,2008,P7) One can assume then that not just anyone can be a professional accountant and that there is a great deal more to achieving this title than just typically having the ability to number crunch.
So what are the differences between the bookkeeper and the professional accountant? From the definitions we have already examined, it is clear that bookkeepers simply ‘record’ transactions within a business. Also in the Oxford Dictionary of Accounting under the act of ‘bookkeeping’ it is said that “The records kept enable a profit and loss account and the balance sheet to be compiled.”(1999,P55) So it can be assumed then that the role of the bookkeeper prepares information for the accountant to analyse and in theory the job of the bookkeeper terminates at the trial balance. This idea is continued in the definition of ‘accounting’ in the same text, “Measurement is normally made in monetary terms and the accountant will prepare records in the form of financial statements, such as a profit and loss account and balance sheet.”(1999,P5) We have assumed then that the role of a bookkeeper terminates at the trial balance. However, is it a fair representation to say that the role of an accountant ends at the financial statements? This then gives rise to the question, who can actually become a professional accountant? From the definition provided by the Royal Charter by the Society of Accountants of Edinburgh it seems only those with ‘experience’ and ‘knowledge’ have the ability to take B00230935on the role which ‘can only be obtained by a liberal education.’ This then suggests that there is a great deal of professionalism and ethics to the title that one might be unaware of at first glance.
One can consider the individual skills of a professional accountant by examining one of the sectors involved for example Management Accounting. According to the website http://www.fssc.org.uk/highstreet2.html, the typical day-to-day tasks involved in management accounting include “monitoring your company’s financial performance, including business spending, costs and budgets by extracting and analysing coded information.” It also includes “Preparing profit forecasts and drafting future budgets.“ Also “Making and influencing strategic business decisions” and “Managing a team of accounting technicians and finance clerks.” Another task involved would be “Overseeing the company’s payroll, credit control, and bookkeeping systems.”
These are just a few of the daily tasks involved in being a management account. It can be observed that this can be a challenging job as not only do they have to make difficult decisions, they have to give reasons as to why they have made this decision. Also, management accounts are often required to make accurate predictions. These predictions often include foreseeing the future which can be difficult in times like these when faced with an economic recession and a market that is forever changing. While making decisions and predictions the management accountant must also make sure that things are running smoothly with the bookkeeping side of the business. This is where the professional accountant differs from the bookkeeper.
So the question remains, who can become a professional accountant? Professional accountants are expected to act in a certain way. This is clear from the CIMA Fundamentals of Ethics, Corporate Governance and Business Law “Professional behaviour means, in essence, not doing anything that might discredit the profession and to comply with all relevant laws and regulations.”(2010,P400) So then it can be assumed that professional accountants build themselves a reputation that they take great pride in. According to CIMA Fundamentals of Ethics, Corporate Governance and Business Law they are expected to demonstrate a number of personal qualities. They are expected to be reliable where “An accountant’s clients and colleagues trust them to be dependable. When taking on work, they must ensure it is consistently delivered on time and is what was asked for.”(2010,P401) Secondly they must be responsible and “should take ‘ownership’ of their work and be accountable for their actions and decisions.” (2010,P401)
They also must have a certain timeliness where they are able to work within a ‘specified time frame.’(2010,P402) They should be courteous with ‘general good manners’ and ‘consideration’ so that they leave a ‘good impression’.(2010,P402) Most importantly they should be respectful by ‘developing constructive relationships and recognising their values and rights’. (2010,P402) Of course, as the title explains there are a great deal of professional qualities too. Firstly, the ideal accountant has to be independent. “This means putting all considerations not relevant to the task in hand to one side- enabling the completion of work free from bias or prejudice.”(2010,P402) By doing so allows one to act with ‘integrity’ ‘objectivity’ and ‘professional scepticism’. An incident where ones independence would falter for example would be auditing a client that in your personal life has been a life long friend.
‘Professional Scepticism’ also plays a major role in the professional qualities an accountant should have. Continuing from the CIMA Fundamentals of Ethics, Corporate Governance and Business Law book, “accountants should question information given to them.”(2010,P402) This is effective in lowering the risk of misinterpretation. Ironically accountants must be held ‘accountable’ for their own actions. This is monitored by employers through disciplinary procedures and is not taken lightly when someone – to put it plainly- tries to pass the blame on to someone else. The final professional quality defined by the CIMA is ‘Social responsibility’. It is said that “Accountants have a public (social) duty as well as a duty to their employer or clients.” (2010,P402) Also CIMA requires its associates to “follow the socially responsible principles of integrity, respect, courtesy and due care.”(2010,P402) Although CIMA has been used as an example it is not the only professional body that exists.
Following on from the website http://www.fssc.org.uk/highstreet2.html: “there are in total, six main accountancy professional bodies. These professional accountancy bodies are recognised internationally and include the Association of Chartered Certified Accountants(ACCA), Chartered Accountants Ireland, Chartered Institute of Management Accountants(CIMA), Chartered Institute of Public Finance & Accountancy(CIPFA), Institute of Chartered Accountants in England and Wales(ICAEW) and the Institute of Chartered Accountants of Scotland(ICAS).” To achieve one of the above professional accountancy qualifications, a certain level of training has to be attained. This includes relevant work experience and two different stages of examinations. This may take between three and five years depending on wither you study full time, part time or on day release. The graduate opportunities website says that these bodies “further the interests of the particular professional group or industry by serving as a central ‘voice’ or advocate that communicates with government, other sectors and the public at large on behalf of members.” Along with this they provide ‘research’ and ‘strategic development’ that the industry benefits from as a whole. One can assume then that these bodies prove significant in the further development in a career in accounting and that not just anyone can hold the title of a professional accountant. There are also other accounting associations for example The Association of Accounting Technicians (AAT). Such associations are ideal for bookkeepers or ‘accounting technicians’ as they are otherwise known as and provide a ‘solid foundation’ in the accounting sector.
In accountancy, it is generally assumed that everything is exact. However, this is proven not to be the case. One set of rules and obligations do not necessarily fit all situations. There is “A framework approach to ethics to provide a set of principles to help individuals arrive at the correct decision. It attempts to instil the idea of the ‘correct’ thing to do. Its main advantage is that it can be applied more easily to new developments B00230935in business practice or to unique cases. However, its disadvantage is that it is left to the member to decide how best to deal with an ethical question within the framework laid down. It is also much more difficult to monitor compliance than with a rules-based approach.”(2006,P3) With that being said, it makes it easier to understand why an association such as the CIMA issues ‘Fundamental principles’ rather than a list of rules. These principles include ‘Integrity’ where the accountant should be ‘honest’ and ‘straightforward’, ‘Objectivity’ where the accountants decision should not be influenced by a third party, ‘Professional competence and due care’ where the accountant should act ‘carefully, thoroughly and on a timely basis’, ‘Confidentiality’ where the accountant should ‘respect’ the personal information of the client and not share with others unless there is ‘legal or professional right or duty to disclose’ and ‘Professional behaviour’ where the accountant should avoid lessening the profession by unnecessary actions which include ‘exaggerated claims for the services they are able to offer’(taken from CIMA Bitesize Fundamentals of Ethics, Corporate Governance and Business Law,2006,P3). “‘Ethical courage’ is recognised in IEPS 1 (IAESB, 2007).
Para 48 states: ‘Professional accountants and students develop ethical courage as they observe the decisions of others made in accordance with the fundamental principles of the Code of Ethics. IFAC member bodies can work with employers, mentors and other to highlight examples of ethical courage, and bring this to the attention of students and professional accountants during pre- and post-qualification accounting programs’.”(ICAS,2008,P204) The observation can then be made that ethics holds great importance in the role of a professional accountant. Essentially the principal of ethics shapes how professional accountants will act in the future and so the procedures put in place now are critical in the development of the profession.
At first it could be argued that the difference between a professional accountant and a bookkeeper was that the job of the bookkeeper terminated at the trial balance and the accountant practically picked up where the bookkeeper left off. Although this is -in a way- true, it has been established that there is a great deal more behind the title of a professional accountant than one may consider. It has been identified that firstly, the roles in each job description differ greatly. Although the accountant uses the same information as the bookkeeper, he or she takes this information and predicts profits for the foreseeable future.
The accountant then advises the business on these decisions that they have made. Secondly, the process of achieving professional status is enduring. A professional accountant has passed exams in accountancy and so has a proven level of knowledge. There is a constant pressure to better the qualifications that the accountant already has whereas a bookkeeper is limited in the sense that there is only so much they can achieve before they begin to study professional accounting. Finally, the importance of professionalism and ethics in the role of the professional accountant is far superior than that of a bookkeeper. If a professional accountant is a member of a professional body, they have to adhere to that bodies Code of Ethics. Although there are certain regulations the bookkeeper has to commit to, from what has been examined, there are a lot less than that of an accountant. The way an accountant conducts there lifestyle and the morals that they believe in are under scrutiny at all times. It can be concluded then that the professional accountant is not just a job title but rather a way of life.
CIMA Study Text, 2010, Certificate C5, Fundamentals of Ethics, Corporate Governance and Business Law, Third Edition, London, BPP Learning Media P400-402
CIMA Bitesize,2006, Certificate Level, Fundamentals of Ethics, Corporate Governance and Business Law, First Edition, Berkshire, Kaplan Publishing Foulks Lynch P3-4
Molyneaux, David, 2008, The Institute of Chartered Accountants of Scotland, What do you do now? Ethical Issues Encountered by Chartered Accountants, Research Committee of The Institute of Chartered Accountants of Scotland, P7,204
Oxford Dictionary of Accounting,1999 Second edition, Oxford University Press, Oxford P5,55
Professional Associations http://www.graduateopportunities.com/header/professional_associations, Accessed 31/08/2011
ACCA,2008, Paper F1 Accountant In Business, Berkshire, Kaplan Publishing UK,