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A Day in the Life of a Bookkeeper

Bookkeepers track all cash flows, billing, and lines of credit that affect their companies. They must be detail-oriented and tenacious; they have to track down and rectify any discrepancies, however small, in the company accounts. Most bookkeepers work as internal accountants for small firms that do not have an accountant on staff. They have a large amount of responsibility to the company, and sometimes (particularly at the end of the year and around tax-preparation time) have to work long hours in order to do their job properly. The majority of bookkeepers work for smaller firms. Many become involved in financial tangles mid-stream-they find themselves deciphering records from up to a year before they were hired. Bookkeepers must be flexible and able to adjust to unusual circumstances. Many bookkeepers we talked with mentioned that the most difficult part of their jobs was not maintenance of financial records, which accounted for a good 50 percent of their time, but communication with the other members of the same company. “You have to keep track of everyone’s activities, and nobody thinks it is important to keep the bookkeeper apprised every day of what they’re doing.” This lack of smooth transfer of information has led many companies to buy bookkeeping software so that each employee can keep track of her daily activities and a bookkeeper can then assemble all the information and verify its accuracy. Computer skills are growing in importance in the industry, and even those who are already familiar with the double-entry system of bookkeeping mentioned that knowing how to use this software is considered a strong point by employers. Many small firms aren’t used to being run as businesses and many find keeping track of all interaction difficult at first. Bookkeepers must communicate their needs clearly and follow up with consistent requests for similar information. Those who enter the field with an open mind find that being a good bookkeeper “makes all the difference in the world when the boss looks at what direction he wants to take the company.” The statistics and data bookkeepers compile are “snapshots” of the daily activities of the company that make up its history.

Paying Your Dues

Bookkeepers are financial recordkeepers, much like accountants, but they are not required to be accredited by any organization or institution. As a positive, they have less of a fiduciary obligation than an accountant and therefore less liability; however, they are paid commensurably less. They usually maintain the records of a single company rather than having many companies as clients. No specific educational requirement is required to become a bookkeeper, but prospective employers favor applicants with finance, record-keeping, or business majors. Basic coursework in accounting is very helpful for those entering the field, but on-the-job training is neither unusual nor discouraged. With the increasing simplicity of accounting software in the workplace, less and less formal accounting training is required for these positions. The work requires attention to detail and a good method of keeping track of constantly fluctuating items, which leads most bookkeepers to adopt the double-entry method of accounting. Much of a bookkeeper’s work involves not only the entering of information, but the review of information and the reconciling of accounts. While some people remain career bookkeepers at one company, most rotate between companies or leave the field altogether for supervisory or managerial positions.

Present and Future

About 3,000 B.C., the Egyptians employed an inventory system to keep track of grain shipments and warehouse storage; this system formed the basis of modern day bookkeeping. From one of the most active trading centers in the modern world, Venice, came the Italian Luca Pacioli, who developed double-entry bookkeeping. Over the years, this became the worldwide standard method of keeping track of income and outlay, profits and losses. As technology has developed, many bookkeeping systems have become computerized. Bookkeepers face a strong demand for services over the next decade, but must be aware of the trend of computerization in the industry, as that will grow faster than job opportunities. Those who study accounting and current accounting software packages should be in a good position for entry-level opportunities. More positions are expected to become available in the Southeast and Southwest, and in urban centers more than rural sectors.

Quality of Life

PRESENT AND FUTURE

A two-year bookkeeper designs or implements systems of inventory and accounting control, and works with each department of a company and with accountants on year-end financial statements. Daily responsibilities include entering account activity and reviewing revenue and expenditure streams. Bookkeepers also cut all checks the company issues. Salaries are reasonable and hours are long because new bookkeeepers are still learning. Satisfaction is average, but those who have more input into the bookkeeping systems used seem happier than others.

FIVE YEARS OUT

Five-year veterans offer significant input to bookkeeping systems and methodologies adopted by companies. Bookkeepers work closely with accountants and management to plan expenditures and revenue streams over the course of a year. Many people move from job to job during these middle years, looking for a position that fits their ideal match in terms of size, challenge, and manageability. Hours become more regular; satisfaction is average.

TEN YEARS OUT

Ten-year veterans head up bookkeeping departments. Many have significant influence on accounting procedures and internal financial controls. Salaries rise, hours remain average, and satisfaction increases.