The roles of accountants and bookkeepers often get confused. While they do overlap in some ways, there are a few key differences that you should be aware of.
Both roles deal with the accounting process, but they focus on different stages. Bookkeepers take care of the basics like recording and maintaining financial data, while accountants analyse that data to carry out compliance and legal tasks like processing tax returns and helping businesses apply for loans.
In this post, we’ll go into more detail on the role of accountants and bookkeepers and their similarities and differences. We’ll also outline their typical daily responsibilities to help you understand which services your business might need.
What is a bookkeeper?
Bookkeeping is a fundamental part of running a business. Some company owners do their own bookkeeping, and some hire a professional to help ease their workload.
Bookkeepers are responsible for the efficient recording of a company’s daily financial information. This includes cash flow (the money that goes in and out of the company), tracking your sales revenue, and managing and paying invoices.
To make sure that data is organised, updated, and maintained correctly, a bookkeeper should use suitable accounting software. Some of the best programmes for small businesses are QuickBooks, Xero, and FreshBooks.
The essential responsibility of a bookkeeper is to make sure that you, as the business owner, can clearly see what is going on with your company’s money.
Bookkeepers have a wide range of daily duties, such as:
- Processing business receipts and sales invoices
- Recording cash flow
- Calculating profits and losses
- Auditing accounts
- Estimating revenue
- Regular financial reporting
- Administrative support within the finance team
- Maintaining financial records
Depending on their skills and qualifications, some bookkeepers can also provide additional services like overseeing payroll and preparing VAT and tax returns. These additional duties are where bookkeepers start to overlap with accountants.
What qualifications should a bookkeeper have?
There are no strict qualifications that you need to become a bookkeeper. Most people start with maths A-Levels and go on to complete further education or gain work experience.
To find the right bookkeeper for your business, you should look for candidates with the right skills, knowledge, and experience. They should have one or some of the following:
1. AAT qualifications
The most widely recognised bookkeeping certifications are gained from the Association of Accounting Technicians (AAT) and The Institute of Certified Bookkeepers (ICB). These are not essential to becoming a bookkeeper, but if you come across and candidate that has these, you can be sure that they’ve had adequate training.
2. A degree
Many bookkeepers have a university degree in finance or accounting. However, this is not essential, and some obtain a diploma or certificate from a certified college. On top of this, some also take online courses to enhance their skills and knowledge.
3. Internship or work experience
As well as having the right qualifications, some bookkeepers gain valuable on-the-job experience through internships and training placements.
5. Key skills
In addition to the above, there are certain personal skills that your bookkeeper should have, such as:
- Good attention to detail
- Strong numerical skills
- Effective communication
- Quick learner
- Ability to adapt to new systems and processes
- Technology proficiency
What is an accountant?
Unlike a bookkeeper, an accountant doesn’t normally deal with the day-to-day financial reporting. Instead, they interpret the information provided by the bookkeeper to give compliance and financial advice, and make sure that your company follows the right tax and reporting obligations.
The main responsibilities of an accountant are:
- Preparing and submitting tax returns
- Giving financial planning advice
- Suggesting cost-cutting and tax-efficiency solutions
- Providing risk analysis and forecasting
- Ensuring compliance with tax laws and regulations
The involvement of an accountant in a business can vary depending on the needs of the company. For example, you may need them purely during tax season, in which case they’d work on your annual tax returns. If you need general financial planning advice, this could be a monthly or quarterly service to help you choose the best business structure; or if you’re considering applying for a business loan, you could simply need ad-hoc accounting to find the right interest rates and apply.
What qualifications should an accountant have?
Accountants are generally more versatile than bookkeepers, as they require a higher level of training. Unlike bookkeepers, accountants need to have certain qualifications to do the job professionally.
When looking for an accountant for your company, you should look for the following certifications:
To become a professional accountant, the minimum requirements are AAT qualifications. These comprise of a Level 2 Foundation Certificate, Level 3 Advanced Diploma, and Level 4 Professional Diploma.
If your accounting needs are more advanced, you should look for candidates with qualifications from the Association of Chartered Accountants (ACCA). This is the equivalent of a Master’s degree and means they are trained in everything from risk and ethics to advanced taxation.
Qualifications from the Certified Institute of Management Accountants (CIMA) let you know that a candidate is specifically trained in management accounting. This can be particularly useful if you’re looking for a finance analyst or finance director.
4. Key skills
As well as a certification, experience and training, an accountant should have the following skills:
- Excellent numeracy skills
- Strong written and verbal communication skills
- Organisational capability
- Attention to detail
- Analytical and problem-solving skills
- Excellent time management
- Critical thinking skills
Which one do I need?
Now that we’ve established the difference between bookkeepers and accountants, understanding which one is right for you depends on your business needs.
Generally, for basic financial management and payment processing, you can opt for a bookkeeper. This may also be a more suitable option if your hiring budgets are tight and you just need an extra hand in the finance department.
However, if your business is expanding and you need someone who’s more strategically focused, an accountant would be more suitable.
Here are a few different situations that might help you understand which is a better fit for your company:
Processing and managing financial documents
If you need someone to process invoices, record your company’s income, and track your business expenses, a bookkeeper would be a valuable addition to your team.
Filing tax returns
For help during tax season (or for basic tax advice), you should look for a qualified accountant. While some bookkeepers can help with this, they are not tax-trained, so an accountant may be the best option in this case.
Preparing annual accounts
A professional accountant should be handling your annual accounts (also known as ‘statutory accounts’, which are an annual summary of your company’s financial activities). They’ll be able to compile your business income, expenses, assets, liabilities, and equity, to complete a full annual account.
Tax is another area where an accountant would be more suitable. They are specifically trained in tax law and compliance, so they’ll be able to give you accurate and trustworthy guidance.
Bookkeepers and accountants offer similar services. However, their differences lie in the level of training. While bookkeepers can help your business with general financial management and data storage, accountants are specifically qualified in areas like tax, legal processes, and optimising financial strategies.
Depending on your business needs, you could benefit from adding a bookkeeper or accountant to your team.
We hope you found this guide helpful in understanding how these two roles work. If you have any comments, please share them with us below, or get in touch if you have any questions.