Should bookkeepers be certified?

bookkeeper certificate

I know I have mentioned this at least 153 times…but I’m Canadian. And, as a Canadian, we bookkeepers don’t require any type of official certification in order to start working. Sadly, you probably don’t even need to know how to spell bookkeeper before you start charging people to do their books. Let’s not forget the fact that I was hired as a bookkeeping clerk before I was old enough to drive.

I suppose that’s true in a lot of professions. I don’t think most people ask for a list of academic achievements from their plumber while the broken pipe continues to fill their basement with water. They have a need, they find someone who seems to fit the bill, and the subsequent work (if done correctly) becomes their certification.

That doesn’t mean there aren’t ways to become certified as a bookkeeper in this oft frozen tundra I call home; or to receive other types of designations that can help prove your worth. I haven’t done exhaustive research, but I know of a couple different sites where I can sign up, take some tests, and become a “certified professional bookkeeper”.

IPBC (Institute of Professional Bookkeepers of Canada) - As of the date of this writing they've got a promotion on where you can become a member and pay for your certification test for $395.00. That covers your exam and the first year of membership. It appears that it's $295/year afterward to maintain your membership.

The certification process requires you to complete a 2-hour exam. You receive prep materials with your membership. In order to qualify for the membership and test you need a letter of recommendation from a client/employer showing you've been employed as a bookkeeper for at least 2 years. Once you've proved this, you take the exam at a local Academy of Learning (or similar). The test is online, and you need at least 75% to pass.

CIB (Canadian Institute of Bookkeeping) - The certification process is quite a bit different than with the IPBC. The yearly membership itself is based on how long you've been in the field. If you're new you'd be a Student Member ($156/yr). Associate Members ($192/yr) have been bookkeepers for at least 5 years but have not yet completed the certification courses. Finally Certified Bookkeepers ($240/yr) have at least 3 years of bookkeeping experience and have completed the required courses.

Unlike the IPBC's certification, this one requires the completion of 9 college-level classes. These can be taken online or at your local college...just depending on availability. Enrollment in the program is $50. Once you are enrolled you have 5 years to complete the classes. Registration for each class is $30 ($40 if you're not a member). If you sign up as an Associate Member (5+ years experience) you may be eligible for up to 4 course exemptions, so you might only need to take 5 courses if you've been working for a while. It seems like the registration fee is in addition to the actual cost of taking the course.

So, why bother?

This one's a bit tricky. In most professions getting a certificate or degree usually comes with more specific benefits. Become a journeyman electrician and you are safe in assuming your hourly rate just went up. On the other side, see how many hospitals hire you on as an ER doctor with "I've seen every episode of House" as your list of qualifications.

The immediate benefits of being a certified bookkeeper aren't as obvious.

Both sites have their list of benefits. They both offer discounts with businesses they have partnered with. They also indicate you should be able to increase your rate of pay because of your certification. That’s a very interesting idea, and on some levels I can definitely see it. I know if I was going to start paying up to $300/yr to be a member of one of these organizations, I’d want to be able to see a return on that investment.

I guess the part that I’m struggling with is how different both paths are…because they both get you to the same certification. I can spend $400, some time studying, and 2 hours taking a test to get my certification. Or...I can spend $200, then $50 to enrol, $30x9 for registration, then __x9 for whatever the college actually charges for each course, then spend however long it will take to complete 9 college courses, pass a test, and get the same certification. Am I missing something? Perhaps there's something my self-taught brain is too small to process that allows this to make sense. At the moment it feels the same as if doctor's were given the option to either spend the better part of a decade in school OR 6 months at night school to get the same PhD.

Conceptually I really like the idea. I have either taught myself or learned on the job about 99% of the skills I've obtained since I turned 19. I am a huge fan of learning sites like Lynda.com, and at least 75% of the written words I consume are instructional in nature. So, the idea of learning a bit more about my profession AND getting to add a proper certification to my resume is very enticing.

Other options

There are also smaller, more targeted types of certification. These are usually app specific, and sometimes have different levels of certification. Being a bookkeeper usually gives me access to an accountant/bookkeeper specific version of all of my bookkeeping software. Here are a couple of the ones I'm part of:

QuickBooks - If you're a bookkeeper and you use QuickBooks, you're most likely signed up with their ProAdvisor program. Being a ProAdvisor on its own requires nothing more than paying to join. It's either a monthly or yearly fee. It used to include a copy of the desktop software, which is why I signed up. Now, since QB is (at least based on their marketing) determined to get you away from their desktop software and onto QuickBooks Online, there are ProAdvisor memberships that are free but don't include any software.

In Canada, you can also become a Certified ProAdvisor. You take an exam and, if you pass, you become certified. The US ProAdvisor program has 6 different certifications. You can get certified in QB Online, Desktop, Enterprise Solutions, Point of Sale, and Advanced. These are all separate tests and give you different certificates. All of these tests are included in the cost of your membership.

FreshBooks - With FreshBooks, I am part of their FreshBooks Accountant Network. This actually means I get to show off my FreshBooks Certified Accountant badge. Unfortunately just because FreshBooks calls me an accountant doesn't let me charge accountant rates. If only, right? They recently added a really nice Accountant Center that lets me get reports for all my FreshBooks-using clients in one central hub.

How about you?

First off, I'd love to hear from other bookkeepers here. Are you certified? Do you plan to? Let me know why you've decided to join (or not join) a professional group like the ones I listed.

For the rest of you, tell me about your experiences. Does your industry offer similar certifications? If so, what made you decide to get (or not get) certified?

I look forward to hearing your opinions.

How to Be a Better Bookkeeper

As bookkeepers, we have a certain responsibility. Let’s look at it like this. If the numbers are the lifeblood of a business then it is safe to say that we are the vein that carries that blood. If you don’t like that analogy then consider us the highway that moves the numbers around. No good either? Then I guess what I am trying to say is that we play an important role in the success of our clients. Without proper bookkeeping, there are few ways to go.

The superordinate or perhaps superficial goal of a bookkeeper is to organize, manage and report on the numbers, but I don’t see it as being so black and white. In our relationships with our clients, we have many subordinate goals that are equally important and by striving to achieve these goals, we ultimately become better bookkeepers.

Save the client time

This one is a big one. We have all heard the old saying that time is money. Well guess what, it’s true. This is a big reason why many of our clients outsource to us. Business owners never have enough time in the day and when they outsource the books, they have more time to keep focused on running and growing their business. With each and every client, it is crucial that the bookkeeper assess the unique needs of the business. As bookkeepers, we can easily identify the bookkeeping weak points of a business and focus our efforts designing procedures and systems that make the jobs of the business owner easier and more painless. Hence why it is important that the bookkeeping system used is one that reflects each business that you are helping. When you have a system in place that does more than what the business actually needs, all that you are left with is more questions than answers. The key is to keep it simple and on point so that when the business owner needs to see the numbers or needs to make a business decision, they can find what they need quickly. This credo is not only limited to bookkeeping systems either. It should extend to everything we do for our clients. Keep it simple.

Save the client money

This may seem like an oxymoron. How do you save someone money who is outsourcing a job they can do themselves. There are ways. This is achieved by doing the above (saving time) and also through being organized, consistent, accurate and knowledgeable. More or less, this means being efficient. If you are an outsourced bookkeeper, then think about the reasons why a client has sought your services to begin with. It can almost always be chalked up to lack of time or lack of expertise. By being organized, consistent, accurate and knowledgeable, we not only provide the expertise needed but also give time back to the client. When you think about how costly accounting errors can be, it is easy to see where money can be saved. This is more or less saving the clients from themselves. Essentially, you want to give them value. Which leads to my final point.

Give them value

To finally tie this whole thing together, saving time and saving money adds to increased value. If that wasn’t enough then let’s take this one step further. In my own bookkeeping practice, I often encourage my clients to learn the bookkeeping system inside and out whenever they can. Encourage your clients to do the same. For a lot of people, bookkeeping may be scary because they have never done it before but this is no reason to be scared. If this is the case though, give your clients small tasks such as inputting their gross sales and watch as you help to instill confidence in them. They will notice and trust me, they will be appreciative. As a bookkeeper, my job is not just to manage the books; it is to act as a point of contact for the business owner. They are not just paying for my hands, they are paying for my brain and as long as they are paying, they should have access to all of its wealth. As cheesy as that sounds, your clients will be ecstatic to know that they are not buying a bookkeeper, they are buying a relationship. At the end of the day, the more successful your client is, the more successful you are.

Robyn Bolt is the owner and operator of Sum Bookkeeper, a small business bookkeeping company in Oakville, Ontario. Robyn specializes in a number of areas such as tax preparation, data management systems and reporting. In her spare time, she like to spent time with her growing family.

Paperwork Nostalgia

bookkeeper-inbox.jpg

Today’s post is going out directly to my fellow bookkeepers and accountants. The topic...paper. 

I have been noticing a difference in my attitude toward finished work. As of late, I haven’t had that same sense of accomplishment when a project was complete. There’s usually a very distinct sense of closure or relief when I’ve closed off the books. I couldn’t figure out what had changed. 

I had an epiphany this weekend. It’s all about the paper. 

I know, laugh it up. Only a bookkeeper would write about something as boring as paper. But I’m sure what I’m going to say probably rings true to many of you. 

My client base has slowly become predominantly remote. Although I have a handful of clients who send me actual paperwork to complete, most of the work I receive is in digital form. It’s this lack of paper that has changed the way I view a project, and feel about its completion. 

In the past, I would sit down at my desk and stare at a large stack of paperwork. Invoices, receipts, bank statements...you name it. It was all piled up, waiting for me to go through each piece. At the end, when I was all done, there was a large stack of paperwork. Depending on the job, it was then either filed away in my file cabinet, or boxed up and sent back to the client. Either way, there was a physical representation of the work I had completed for the day. I could sit back and see hundreds of sheets of paper that I had personally entered and filed. And, with that, there was a real tangible sense of accomplishment. 

It’s not quite the same for digital files. At best, I suppose I can see a large folder empty out as I move the files into their new locations. Or, I could look down the list of a large spreadsheet...each row representing an entry I made into Freshbooks or QuickBooks. But at the end of the day, a 1KB file takes up as much physical space in my life as a 2TB folder. Plus, there’s no physical process where I life a heavy box of paper and drive it back to a clients office. 

The other real world example that might be similar would be the telephone. Most of the youth nowadays has no idea how satisfying it was to hang up on someone you were mad at 20 years ago. Do you remember that? You’d be really angry, so you would slam down the receiver onto the base. The person on the other end would hear the crashing sound...followed by the dial tone. I remember the first time I hung up on someone using a cordless phone. Angrily pressing the End button and having it quietly beep sure didn’t have that same feeling. 

It probably won’t be long until the stack of paperwork on my desk is completely gone. In many ways the idea of a paperless workflow is very appealing. As long as I have a good backup system in place, I can’t spill coffee on a PDF. The wind can’t blow it out of my hands while I’m trying to open the car door. I’m just going to have to design a graphical representation of those stacks on my screen. Maybe I’ll leave a couple dishes sitting next to the My Documents folder to complete the scene.