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The bookkeeping and accounting professions and how they work together are changing. But what does the future hold? Lielette Calleja and Kane Munro explore the differences and similarities between accountants and bookkeepers, and how technology plays a part in their relationship.
In 2013, two researchers from Oxford University published an infamous study claiming that bookkeeping has a 97.6 per cent chance of being automated in the near future, while accounting has a 95.3 per cent of meeting the same fate. Again, in a 2015 report by PricewaterhouseCoopers, accountants were called out as one of the professions at greatest risk of computerisation and technology.
Despite the doom and gloom we strongly believe this is not the case. We’re seeing an industry that is committed to working through this time of rapid change. What used to be a turf war between bookkeepers and accountants over their “ownership” of a client and the value they can provide is slowly starting to shift as we move into the modern age of financial services.
We now have an opportunity to collaborate using cloud accounting software to provide a better overall service for clients, instead of seeing technology as a threat to our future careers. At the same time, to effectively collaborate, it’s important to understand that every single professional is unique and has a different level of knowledge and skill set that they can bring to a client.
What sets accountants and bookkeepers apart?
Bookkeepers and accountants have fundamentally different skill sets. A bookkeeper has a view of every single transaction that the client makes; a crucial element which allows the bookkeeper to see the lifeblood of the company. Proactive bookkeepers can also help a business choose the right tools and systems to meet their goals.
The accountant becomes a strategic adviser, using business insights gained from assessing key financials to help business leaders make informed decisions that will move the business forward.
The future lies in strategic alliances
The future for our industry looks positive. As we move into 2019, we can expect the continued development of strategic alliances between accountants and bookkeepers using cloud accounting software, such as QuickBooks, to service clients.
A number of larger accounting firms are trying to utilise technology to bring bookkeeping in-house, however this model fails to acknowledge the different skill sets that each profession can provide to achieve the best outcome for clients.
The right technology plays a key part, complementing a good bookkeeper/accountant relationship. As an accounting firm we consistently engage good bookkeepers we trust to deliver an integrated online business system (including app integration) for clients. Why? Because it provides us with the quality information we need to give accurate and timely advice, interpretation and analysis for the client.
In fact, we have even turned clients who do their own bookkeeping down for this reason. That’s how much we value the relationship between bookkeeper and accountant and what it can deliver to a client.
Of course, it’s not without its problems.
The key to making these strategic alliances work is honest communication between accountants and bookkeepers. Anyone who has attempted to bring a bookkeeping service into their accounting practice is in for a nasty shock. Setting clear and defined boundaries and scoping out the engagement clearly also helps to ensure a harmonious relationship. If not, petty squabbles can break out when the skill set of the accountant and bookkeeper overlap.
Ultimately the client receives the most value from a bookkeeper and accountant when they work together, rather than in competition with each other, or duplicating the work done for the client.
With the pressure on for accounting firm partners to increase revenue, it's time to ditch the ‘us versus them’ mentality that has kept bookkeepers and accountants apart for so long. As a team we can move beyond the era of infrequent and competitive consultation and compliance towards connected advisory. Together we can bring a richer experience and offering to the market and delight our clients.
Lielette Calleja, director, All that Counts, and Kane Munro, director, Active Outsourcing