In the month of August, we will discuss vocations, beginning with today's post on Financial Vocations. I chose three positions with similarities:
Bookkeeper, Accountant, Comptroller
Many confuse bookkeepers with accountants. If you call an accountant a bookkeeper, you may want to duck. If you call a bookkeeper an accountant in the presence of an accountant, get your apology ready. Of course I’m only teasing, but there are clear differences between the two. A bookkeeper does not always need a degree. An accountant has a degree and is usually certified (I’ll get into that later).
The bookkeeper is “the keeper of the books,” which refers to the financial books. They may go by other titles, such as: accounting clerk, accounts receivable analyst, accounts payable analyst, accounting technician. Their job is to record and perform daily transactions. Sales and purchases are tracked via receipts and invoices. These tasks, once performed manually, are most often done through accounting systems.
If you are a historical writer, your clerks will handwrite entries in ledgers and journals, then total the columns on each page. It is their job to make sure these columns balance. The manual system of bookkeeping is less common today, but was used well into the twentieth century. These journals resemble your checkbook transaction register. Robert "Bob" Cratchit, fictional clerk for Mr. Ebenezer Scrooge of A Christmas Carol, by Charles Dickens, undoubtedly used the manual journaling system.
Per Webster’s Dictionary: Accounting is the system of recording and summarizing business and financial transactions and analyzing, verifying, and reporting the results; also: the principles and procedures of accounting.
Accountants are most often employed in the commerce industries, where their expertise is needed in making financial decisions. The accounting position requires a college degree and certification. The certificates vary, depending on their state of residence or the area of their expertise. The Certified Public Accountant or CPA, provides services to the public. If you have a Real Estate Investment Company and own multiple properties, you will probably need to have a CPA on retainer to audit your books and file your taxes.
In some states, the PA or Public Accountant is similar to the CPA, but they are not certified to do audits or reviews. The CMA (Certified Management Accountant) works directly for an employer. There is also CIA (Certified Internal Auditor) and ABA (Accredited Business Advisor). These are all degreed positions that require certification and updated education (recertification).
The main purpose of the accountant is to audit journal entries and business processes. They give oversight to the position of the bookkeeper and prepare and file annual reports and taxes.
The Comptroller (pronounced controller) or Financial Controller is a management-level position requiring a degree and ongoing certification. The comptroller supervises the quality of accounting and financial reporting of an organization, including government entities. The name comptroller evolved from fifteenth century French “Compte” (an account) and Middle English “Countreroller,” which is someone who checks a copy of a scroll. From the French “contreroule,”or “counter-roll” (copy of a scroll) “compteroller,” who specializes in checking financial ledgers. Comptroller is often mispronounced phonetically.
The comptroller is an accounting and audit expert charged with implementation and monitoring of internal controls and should not be confused with the Chief Accounting Officer (CAO) or Chief Financial Officer (CFO).
Research for this article includes the following: