What is the Difference Between a Bookeeper and an Accountant?
Bookkeeping is a task oriented function that routinely and systematically records the organisation’s day-to-day financial transactions. Accounting is more results oriented than bookkeeping in that it is involved more with the interpretation and use of accounting information than with its actual preparation.
Definition of Accounting
Quite often the terms bookkeeper and accountant are used interchangeably. Now while they both play a role in the accounting process, they each perform quite different functions.
Revisiting the definition of accounting will help us understand these differences. Now accounting consists of two key elements. It is;
an informational process that identifies, classifies and summarizes the financial events that take place within an organisation
a reporting system that communicates relevant financial information to interested persons, which allows them to assess performance, make decisions and/or control the economic resources in the organisation
Now, as a rule, bookkeepers only do the first element while accountants, who could do both, generally do the second. This is because accountants are uniquely specialised professionals whose time would be poorly invested in tasks that a computer + accounting software + a competent bookkeeping person could easily perform.
Bookkeeping is generally the tedious, clerical and exacting role in the accounting system. These days bookkeepers use computer and accounting software like QuickBooks to do much of this work. Bookkeeping is a task oriented function that routinely and systematically records the organisation’s day-to-day financial transactions. The bookkeeper function is performed primarily by skilled clerical personnel who may or may not have had any formal accounting training. They will however, have a basic knowledge of the ‘double entry system’ which ensures that financial transactions are recorded correctly.
Bookkeepers are required to classify transactions into the correct ledger accounts as previously determined by the accountant and business owner. A final check in the bookkeeping process is called a ‘trial balance’. This summary makes sure that the financial transactions have been correctly recorded. At this point the bookkeeper usually hands the system over to the accountant who performs the second element of the accounting function – the analysis and reporting.
Accountants deal with the big picture. They set up the overall structure and design for both the financial information capture and the appropriate financial reporting functions. Accounting is more results oriented than bookkeeping in that it is involved more with the interpretation and use of accounting information than with its actual preparation.
Accountants are responsible for reporting to governments and statutory requirements. These reports include the preparation of the Statement of Financial Performance and the Statement of Financial Position. They also work to prepare reports and give advice that assists business managers in the development of their enterprises. Advice ranges from evaluating the efficiency of the business operations, resolving complex financial reporting issues, cash flow and profit forecasting, auditing to check the accuracy of the information, tax planning and lawful tax minimisation and redesigning the business accounting systems to ensure maximum efficiency. Generally accountants need to be highly qualified with a university degree plus membership of a peak accounting body that is maintained by the accountant’s continuous professional development.