The bookkeeper vs accountant argument is ongoing. Businesses looking for someone to help them with their finances are often unsure about who to hire. Should they hire a bookkeeper or an accountant? Should they hire a team consisting of both?
Here we will go in-depth on the definition, roles and responsibilities, scope, similarities, and differences, as well as the educational requirements of each, so that you can make an informed decision based on business needs.
Bookkeeper Vs Accountant: How They Differ
A bookkeeper handles all the financial information of an individual or business. They are responsible for organizing and maintaining an accurate and consistent financial record composed of transactions like sales, expenses, payments, and basically all the money going in or out.
An accountant’s role is to collect and store financial information, ensure that records are accurate, complete, and comply with the laws and regulations of the area, prepare financial reports based on bookkeeping records, and provide professional insights to assist business decision-making.
To put it simply, bookkeeping is generally about recording data while accounting is about turning that data into information.
What does a Bookkeeper Do? Roles and Functions
Bookkeepers perform several duties involved in the upkeep of financial records. We mentioned these briefly above, and they also include tasks such as:
- documenting transactions
- listing all debits and credits
- tracking payroll
- issuing invoices
- checking accounting data
- maintaining a ledger
Balancing and maintaining a ledger is one of the main responsibilities of a bookkeeper. A ledger is a “book” that records account transactions like debits and credits.
Debit refers to money that flows in and credit refers to money going out. Ledgers can be physical records or digital through the use of bookkeeping/accounting software. The software streamlines the process of tracking these debits and credits. Some of the most popular include QuickBooks Online and Xero for smaller businesses and QuickBooks Enterprise and Netsuite ERP & Netsuite SRP for larger enterprises.
Note: Some laws require documentation for certain transactions. You can visit the IRS (or your country’s equivalent) website for more information on this.
Bookkeepers usually work under accountants. The minimum requirement to be a bookkeeper is a high school diploma or an equivalent. Some businesses may be willing to hire those without much bookkeeping experience and provide on-the-job training (OJT).
However, those who already possess financial knowledge and capabilities are definitely more desirable candidates. Bookkeepers can also obtain certifications to show their competence and expertise.
When Should I Use a Bookkeeper?
Use a bookkeeper when you need someone to keep your financial records complete, accurate, and up to date. This focuses on all money coming into and going out of the business. This means limited tasks like recording daily transactions. A consistent record makes it easier for an accountant to do their job later.
What does an Accountant Do? Roles and Functions
Some accounting duties include:
- examining financial data
- creating and presenting various kinds of financial reports
- preparing necessary financial statements (e.g. tax returns)
- ensuring on-time tax filing
- conducting audits
- providing professional insights
- coming up with ways to improve financial operations
- informing business owners on the latest trends in finance
- assisting in the overall efficient running of the business
An accountant is also qualified to perform the duties associated with bookkeeping. A good rule of thumb is that accountants can be bookkeepers, but not all bookkeepers can be accountants. This is because there is a level of formal training required to become a professional accountant.
When Should I Use an Accountant?
In short, if you need more than a bookkeeper, you should hire an accountant. A bookkeeper is someone who records financial data. An accountant is someone who examines the data, interprets it, and presents it to the manager or owner of the business while providing professional opinions and valuable advice.
Accountants also create reports that provide crucial financial information that shows how a business is performing. Businesses rely on these reports in conjunction with the valuable expertise and guidance of the accountant to advise them on the next financial steps to take moving forward. If that sounds like the level of services you need, then use an accountant.
Bookkeeper Vs Accounting: Credentials
As mentioned, bookkeepers do not need to have a license to practice. However, those who wish to show that they are competent in their knowledge and skills, understand industry standards, and commit to continuing learning can opt to obtain certification. The American Institute of Professional Bookkeepers (AIPB) and the National Association of Certified Public Bookkeepers (NACPB) are institutions that both offer such licensing.
Accountants are typically required to obtain a bachelor’s degree in finance or accounting before they can practice. Of course, this must be from an accredited school. Additional certifications are also available, like the CPA, CFA, and CIA. These certifications are typically obtained so that accountants can improve their abilities. They also function to help an accountant gain a position with a bigger company.
CPA (Certified Public Accountant)
A certified public accountant has comprehensive knowledge of tax law and codes. With this, they are able to give expert financial advice. A good CPA can present financial information in a way that is easy to understand. They also study to become well-versed in accounting software. During the hiring process for a CPA, you should consider candidates that know the industry you’re in. This makes it more likely that they are going to be able to meet the specialized needs of your business. If ever you are audited, CPAs can also represent you.
To acquire the professional designation of CPA, one must pass all the necessary local requirements and the Uniform CPA Exam. Continued education is also required to keep their accreditation status. The specialization areas for CPAs are personal finance planning, taxation, valuation, information management and technology assurance, and forensic accounting.
CFA (Chartered Financial Analyst)
The CFA certification is obtained through the CFA Program. This is a globally recognized credential that is highly esteemed in the accounting world. The program consists of three levels. The topics include portfolio management and analysis, ethical and professional standards, financial reporting and analysis, wealth planning, and others.
Investment professionals interested in completing the program must have at least 4 years of work experience in a relevant field. They must also pass the three-part exam. The CFA exam had a Level 1 passing rate of 36% in May 2022. Passers or charterholders bring a higher level of accounting expertise to the table.
CIA (Certified Internal Auditor)
CIA is a certification that accountants who conduct internal audits can obtain. This is an internationally accepted accreditation. An accountant must pass the required exam to maintain the license. They must also have a minimum of two years of experience working in a field related to internal auditing. Additionally, they need to have 40 hours annually of continued learning.
CPAs and CIAs can perform a lot of the same duties. The only differences are that CPAs are national. CIAs are globally recognized and do more specialized work.
Note: Businesses also have the option to hire full charge bookkeepers. These professionals take on the duties and responsibilities of a bookkeeper. They also take care of the accounting needs of a business. Full charge bookkeepers can create reports, present them, and even prepare financial statements and tax returns. Certified accountants can then review these documents. This is something of the in-between option if your business needs more than a regular bookkeeper but does not necessarily need the full services of an accountant.
Cost for a Bookkeeper vs Accountant
The cost of hiring and maintaining a bookkeeper varies based on the needs of the business, the bookkeeper’s level of expertise, and the location of your business.
The wages for a bookkeeper also vary depending on the location of your business. Some states have higher wages, for instance. In the US, the salary for a bookkeeper ranges between $37,427 and $46,820 or an hourly rate of $18 to $23.
An accountant’s salary is about $59,900 per year or $30 per hour. However, just like with bookkeeping, expertise and accreditation affect those numbers as well as how in-depth and specialized your accounting needs are. Some accountants request a fixed price depending on the service while some charge hourly.
The difference between a bookkeeper and an accountant is that bookkeepers record financial data and accountants interpret them, produce personalized financial reports, present this data to business owners, and provide helpful professional insights from those records.
All accountants may be bookkeepers, but only bookkeepers who have obtained the appropriate education and accreditation may be called accountants.
Now that we’ve given you the distinction, what do you believe is the right choice for your business and its financial management needs?
EcomBalance is a monthly bookkeeping service for eCommerce companies. EcomBalance handles your bookkeeping and sends you a Profit and Loss Statement, Balance Sheet, and Cash Flow Statement by the 15th of each month. EcomBalance also has a sister company, AccountsBalance, that caters to agencies, software companies, coaches, and other online companies.