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.