Who runs the business – the client or the bookkeeper?

This is not intended to be a criticism of bookkeepers – there are some very good ones around, highly skilled and knowledgeable. However, as with accountants and indeed any other trade or profession out there, some are “better” than others.

Yet again, a discussion with a client regarding his accounting records and methods of bookkeeping met with the response – “talk to the bookkeeper – she has done it for 20/30/40 years”.   

And yet again, the bookkeeper’s responses are the standard ones we have heard time after time…”I’ve always done it that way”, or “it does not take very long”. When they are paid a salary for however number of days per week or per month, they simply do not have any incentive to save 30% or 40% or 50% of their time or perhaps learn something “new”. After all, what would they do then? (Their words, not mine).

It is this automation of tasks and processes, with the time reductions,  together with a query over the accuracy that are, in the main, the biggest causes of concern. After all, the bookkeepers are always 100% accurate, and the automated data extraction tools are not (apparently). Nobody has ever transposed figures, entered a wrong date, or manually entered an invoice twice, or incorrectly coded something to the wrong nominal (apparently).

The proprietor does not want to upset the bookkeeper – “she only has 5 years until she retires” – so the business carries on with the desktop software, manual keying in of all the bank transactions and all the purchase invoices, printing statements  and posting them to customers at a month end…..the list goes on.  “It’s not worth the hassle trying to change it now”…!

Even the external accountant’s adjustments often come under intense scrutiny – why was that entry recoded, moved or amended? Why has that entry been made?  

An accounting practice I visited recently on a consultancy assignment had the exact same issue – and they were counting down the years, months, days and hours until their internal bookkeeper retired, and they were able to “practice what they preached”!

We offered a full bookkeeping, payroll and accounting and reporting service to a client – but he said he did not need it as he already had a “bookkeeper”. When it was pointed out he had paid her nearly £1,500 in the last 12 months, but the bank account was not reconciled, the cash account was not balanced, sales for 6 months were missing, there were lots of debit balances on the purchase ledger, lots of “old” purchase invoices that had not apparently been paid…..(the list goes on)….he eventually did get the message that perhaps it was not money well spent.

A downside to the business owners is that they are often totally reliant on the bookkeeper. Data for some I know is on desktop software on a PC at the bookkeeper’s house. They don’t even have access to their own records to see how much they owe or are owed, if customers have paid as promised etc. Getting the backup to prepare accounts two weeks before the company filing deadline does not lend itself to being able to offer pro-active business advice or timely management information!

Any suggestions as to how to overcome this “people problem” gratefully appreciated!

Anonymous