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Various Career Options in Book-keeping

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Up-to-date records of business transactions and financial information are vital for the orderly functioning of a business and for wise decision making. Reliable sources of data are the lifeblood of business that must gather process, distribute, utilize, and store information. Bookkeepers maintain the records of all accounts and transactions in ledgers, journals, and other forms. The variety of procedures used to process the data range from the simple hand method to electromechanical and electronic methods. Automated equipment and the increasing volume of business have given rise to new job titles for people who process data, such as accountant, auditor, key entry operator, computer machine operator, systems analyst, and programmer. In each category, there are lines of demarcation reflecting different levels of skills and education as well as specialization of tasks.

Recent statistics show that 1.8 million office workers are engaged in bookkeeping, with another 985,000 employed as accountants. Of this latter group, 150,000 or 15 percent are certified public accountants.

In businesses of yesteryear (and even in some small offices today), a general bookkeeper kept the entire set of books-from journal to balance sheet to profit-and-loss statement. This book-keeper would analyze and record all financial transactions, balance the accounts, and prepare invoices and payrolls. However, as businesses changed from small, single proprietorships to corporations, the functions usually performed by the one bookkeeper were divided among many workers-each of whom performed a small, routine part of the total operation. For instance, in a large department store today, one clerk may enter charge sales, credit allowances, and payments only for those customers whose names are included in the alphabet from AA to AV. The clerk who performs this work needs to be a skilled operator of the bookkeeping machine that makes all of the computations. The individual clerk's work is summarized and handed to the head bookkeeper or accountant.

A bookkeeping staff may include a number of such specialized clerks-the entry clerk just described; the ledger or posting clerk, who transfers entries from the various record books into the general ledger containing the complete picture of all transactions; the billing clerk, who mails monthly statements; the payroll clerk; the accounts payable clerk, whose sole concern is with company purchases; and an inventory clerk. In an office employing a number of bookkeeping clerks of varying experience and ability, a head or chief bookkeeper, who may be a fully trained accountant, has charge of the department.

Job opportunities for the bookkeeper exist in all types and sizes of firms, with an exceptionally large number in the wholesale and retail trade. One of every three bookkeepers is employed in a retail or wholesale organization. Others are found in banks, schools, insurance companies, law firms, hospitals, and factories. In banks, bookkeepers are the largest single group of clerks.

Because of the increasing number of bookkeeping machines and the computerization of record keeping, most of the job openings for bookkeepers will result from a high turnover rate because of retirement, death, or other reasons. However, there are shortages of bookkeepers; and the need for bookkeepers during the next decade is expected to outpace the impact of labor-saving office machines.

In accounting, opportunities are very good because of the expansion and complexity of business accounting requirements. Morris Diamond, manager of the Professional Placement Center in New York City, said these were very few occupations in which there were more jobs than people seeking them. However, he did cite that the electronic data processing and accounting fields had a great demand for qualified personnel.

The job title, "bookkeeper," causes confusion because it may describe the clerk performing a specific limited bookkeeping function or it may describe a bookkeeper responsible for a complete set of books. The Dictionary of Occupational Titles defines bookkeeping jobs as a group of "occupations concerned with computing, classifying, and recording numerical data to keep sets of financial records complete. Occupations concerned primarily with bookkeeping machines, computing machines, and account-recording machines are included."

The job descriptions for the two categories of bookkeepers follow:
  • Bookkeeper I (full-charge or general)
Keeps records of financial transactions of establishment. Verifies and enters details of transactions as they occur or in chronological order in account and cash journals from items such as sales slips, invoices, check stubs, inventory records, and requisitions. Summarizes details on separate ledgers, using adding machine, and transfers data to general ledger. Balances books and compiles reports to show statistics, such as cash receipts and expenditures, accounts payable and receivable, profit and loss, and other items pertinent to operation of business. Calculates employee wages from plant records or time-cards and makes up checks or withdraws cash from bank for payment of wages. May prepare withholding, social security, and other tax reports. May compute, type, and mail monthly statements to customers. May complete books to or through trial balance. May operate calculating and bookkeeping machine.
  • Bookkeeper II
Keeps one section of set of financial records, performing duties as described under Bookkeeper I. May be designated according to section of bookkeeping records kept, such as accounts-payable bookkeeper; accounts-receivable bookkeeper; Christmas-Club bookkeeper (banking); interest-accrual bookkeeper (banking); safe-deposit bookkeeper (banking); savings bookkeeper (banking).

A further breakdown of personnel employed in this category is the accounting clerks, a term used by the government synonymously with bookkeepers. The accounting clerk primarily performs the routine accounting clerical operations of posting and verifying as well as preparing journal vouchers. The job descriptions for the levels of accounting clerks are:
  • Accounting Clerk
Performs one or more accounting tasks, such as posting to registers and ledgers; balancing and reconciling accounts; verifying the internal consistency, completely, March 1980, U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Bulletin No. 2081, October, 1980. Mathematical accuracy of accounting documents; assigning prescribed accounting distribution codes; examining and verifying the clerical accuracy of various types of reports, lists, calculations, postings etc.; preparing journal vouchers; or making entries or adjustments to accounts.

An Accounting Clerk I performs simple, routine accounting clerical operations and receives clear and detailed instructions for specific assignments from the supervisor. Work is closely reviewed for accuracy. Accounting Clerk II performs one or more routine accounting clerical operations, such as examining, verifying, and correcting accounting transactions to ensure completeness and accuracy of data. Completed work is reviewed for accuracy and compliance with procedures. Levels III and IV require a knowledge and understanding of the established and standardized bookkeeping and accounting procedures and techniques used in an accounting system, or a segment of an accounting system, where there are few variations in the types of transactions handled. In addition, some jobs at each level may require a basic knowledge and understanding of the terminology, codes, and processes used in an automated accounting system.

The question naturally arises at this point as to the difference between a bookkeeper and an accountant. Basically, the difference between the two centers is around the exercise of judgment. The work of a bookkeeper is confined largely to making routine entries in accounting records, without the need of knowledge of accounting or the exercise of judgment. An accountant, on the other hand, is required to exercise sound judgment in his or her work. This judgment is based on a sound knowledge of accounting principles and techniques. Accountants are responsible for devising systems and procedures so that the financial affairs of organizations can be recorded and translated into meaningful financial statements, and they must be able to interpret the accumulated data recorded in the organization's books so that proper policy decisions can be made.

In no other clerical field has the increase in the employment of women been so pronounced as in the bookkeeping area. From completely masculine personnel, the change has been so great that today almost 90 percent of the bookkeepers are women. Increasing numbers of women also are entering the professional field of accounting.
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