Bookkeepers need to adapt to survive | AccountingWEB

Bookkeepers need to adapt to survive

Bookkeepers and accountants who offer bookkeeping services will need to adapt to change in order for the role to survive, according to AccountingWEB members.

On a recent Any Answers thread, AccountingWEB member ccassociates sparked a debate when he queried the future of bookkeeping.

“One of the most startling developments I have seen over the last 20 years is how the role of bookkeeping has changed. Has anyone noticed this?” he asked.

Bookkeeping has moved from a key service offering from accountants to many more clients choosing to ‘do the books’ themselves, he surmised.

Due to technology and the increase in computer literacy among all generations, clients have become more confident about using accounting software packages themselves.

But is the ease of bookkeeping making the role redundant...

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  • Cloud accounting and cross collaboration
  • Bookkeeping skills
  • Things against bookkeepers


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I agree!    4 thanks

I firmly belive that there is no threat here at all. If you dont move and adapt to the changes that are being offered to clients today then you need a reality check!
I have recently started working with Cloud based systems not only for bookkeeping and accounts prep, but for receipt processing! I have offered this to clients and they love it, the fact they can take a picture of a receipt and in less than 72 hours its on thier records is great for me.

They dont even have to keep boxes of stuff now, and this also in turn means I dont have to travel to thier office as much to collect it all.

I had a new client recently who had 5 years worth of shoe boxes stuffed with receipts, I sent them off to get scanned and it saved me well over 70 hours worth of work... work i was able to replace with looking after other clients.

At the end of the day if you dont even look at the new systems on offer then you cant moan about loosing clients or business because the bookkeeper/accountant down the road has, and in turn offers a better service thats cheaper than you.

Receipt processing

marky65 | | Permalink

Surely this is the same with any business, we all need to adapt to change in order to survive and this may even make us more profitable



Receipt processing

marky65 | | Permalink

Gary, Could you tell me which cloud based receipt processing site you are using


pillowmay's picture

Receipt processing is definitely the way to go    3 thanks

pillowmay | | Permalink

We've been using Receipt Bank alongside Xero and Freeagent with our clients for 18 months now.  They absolutely love it and almost every client that I show it to, signs up there and then!  It is so worth it for £9 per month and the iphone App is wonderful - I love the fact that I can enter my expense for train travel whilst I`m waiting for the train to arrive!  There are so many easy ways to get receipts to Receipt Bank, including getting suppliers to email the invoices direct.

I think Receipt processing will definitely replace the transactional part of book-keeping in the future so that book-keepers can concentrate on producing clear and informative management accounts for businesses so that they really have a handle on their business performance.

P.S. I can't be the only one who thinks Receipt Bank are good as they have won Xero Add-on partner of the year for two years running in UK and they won in Australia this year too!

Book Keeping Skills    3 thanks

Rangith Athauda | | Permalink

I do not agree with the thought about the book keepers jobs being at risk.

It is a mistake if you let your clients to do book keeping on commercial programmes. Trial balance can be made up of debits and credits with no credible knowledge.

U K entertaining fixed assets and other expenses will end up in a muddle wthout the knowledge of book keeping who are associated with tax implications.

Bank reconciliation will end up in a mess. How much time you need as an accountant to print them all out and check the accuracy. Accountants time is money in terms of fees. The work is often duplicated by DIY book keepers. 

I strongly recommond the clients to give the books to a professional book keeper.



Sales and purchase ledger no longer required?

John de Montfort | | Permalink


"The cash basis for VAT and SA returns also means some businesses clients no longer need sales nor purchase ledgers."  These are always required. If they are not done it is simply a weakness in the company. The attitude that you do things just to satisfy the VAT officer or the auditor is a dangerous one.

johnjenkins's picture

Accountants and bookkeepers

johnjenkins | | Permalink

in their existing role are under threat.

With the advent of cloud systems and HMRC wanting a  bigger slice of the cake, it won't be long before cash is abolished and all transactions will be eletronically logged with copies to HMRC. This will enable HMRC to put accounts together and send their bill out. It will then become a tax specialist job to appeal.

Laugh out loud, but we are not too far away from it. In fact the technology is probably already available.

cloud system

sageman | | Permalink

this sounds great, but what package can u suggest, as finding the right one, is just a minefield??

“Such packages enable

smithcobcca | | Permalink

“Such packages enable businesses to do their own books without any help from trained people, these businesses don’t need bookkeepers and it’s time for our industry to wake up to that fact,” Wow - next thing you know we won't even need accountants cus we can file our own company tax returns online just by filling in the boxes. I actually have clients who 'thought' they could do their own bookkeeping - they had no problems at all with the software. They just didn't know about accounting rules.  If you have a hammer and a saw along with instructions on how to use it does that mean you can build a house?

Here Here!    1 thanks

pillowmay wrote:

We've been using Receipt Bank alongside Xero and Freeagent with our clients for 18 months now.  They absolutely love it and almost every client that I show it to, signs up there and then!  It is so worth it for £9 per month and the iphone App is wonderful - I love the fact that I can enter my expense for train travel whilst I`m waiting for the train to arrive!  There are so many easy ways to get receipts to Receipt Bank, including getting suppliers to email the invoices direct.

I think Receipt processing will definitely replace the transactional part of book-keeping in the future so that book-keepers can concentrate on producing clear and informative management accounts for businesses so that they really have a handle on their business performance.

P.S. I can't be the only one who thinks Receipt Bank are good as they have won Xero Add-on partner of the year for two years running in UK and they won in Australia this year too!


Your not Pillow, I use them too, but for Kasflow not Xero, and they fully integrate meaning no missed reciepts etc... I love being a bookkeeper in these changing times!

Accountants & Book-keepers

alanwhitehouse | | Permalink

Nothing Changes - the new wave says the same old thing - you dont need a abook-keeper or accountant - you can do it all yourself - whether its a Simplex Book , SAGE , now cloud.

The truth is an untrained person will not get it right between revenue/capital - tax knowledge/ adjustments. The analagy is give 500 monkeys a paint brush & paint at some point  will produce a masterpiece - it would not happen of course.

This does not mean of course you dont embrace change - our approach is to encourage our clients to do as much themsleves as possible or they are comfotavle with - whatever the medium used is - we advise but do not dictate.

susanna russell-smith's picture

the right cloud package

susanna russell... | | Permalink

Totally loving Xero - doubly brilliant with Unleashed as add-on for start-up manufacturing business with 120 different components, 12 different recipes, 30 different suppliers and fast-growing customer base. Now going with Magento website to connect e-commerce directly with Unleashed & Xero and client delighted to hear about Receipt Bank as another Xero add-on. Thanks everyone who mentioned it!  He's a highly intelligent business-savvy engineer who copes beautifully with the book-keeping, having had all the heads of account and opening balances set up for him beforehand with a little bit of initial explanation... but who set up all the items required for the stock control in Unleashed himself.  But, you need the right package to suit the client.

Accountants & book keepers

nickr | | Permalink

I think for some people preparing their own books is ok at the beginning but if they expand and have less time they can then pass the work to a book- keeper.
What works for one person may not be suitable for someone else - like everything else book- keepers have to adjust and keep up with the changes in technology and the current trends. Nothing stays the same!

Paul Scholes's picture

Whether it makes sense to you or not...

Paul Scholes | | Permalink

a significant number (maybe 30%+) of businesses do not have an accountant or bookkeeper and with Cloud accounting, HMRC/COSH tools & joint filing they can do everything themselves. 

Whether they get it right or not (to a standard we regard as acceptable) is, quite frankly, irrelevant they could do it for years and pay nothing to us, they can't hear our tuts & groans.

Obviously we would like to be there at the start, but unless they are aware we are there, and able to help & support them with their chosen system we will be passed over and have to hope that, eventually, once they have grown to a reasonable size, someone might suggest that they need an accountant/bookkeeper.

Having said all that, these days, basic bookkeeping and even accounts prep, for small simple businesses is not rocket science and many of these businesses, will actually do a good job, especially if the guides and support from the chosen provider are good, so don't assume that just because we are not involved, it will all end in tears.

So, whether it be via websites, social media or the provider's website, get to know one or two of these systems and let potential people know you know.  The three providers I use all publish their accountant/bookkeeper users and, for example, I and others have picked up business from contributing to FreeAgent's Community site where users post questions.

Similarly, Clear Books is connected to "Find a UK Accountant" and so all Clear Books users have the option to tick a box in their bookkeeping saying that they would like to be contacted by an accountant and, at the moment, there are over 100 possible new clients sitting waiting to be contacted by a Clear Books accounting partner.

There's nothing new in adaptation and being open to new possibilities (none of us would be here if our genes had not done it), it's just that many in our industry have never had to adapt so fast.

I have been operating as an    1 thanks

david ryan | | Permalink

I have been operating as an independent bookkeeper/accountant for over 20 years to the SME market. in my experience most SME owners need financial information in a format they can understand. Many accountants are primarily concerned with meeting the needs of HMRC or statutory accounting requirements. This defeats the primary objective of giving information to the management team which will assist them in identifying the strengths and weaknesses of the business.They can apply their skills and experience to improving business performance.The problem is often compounded by the purchase of "accounting software packages" which are set up without the guidance of an experienced bookkeeper or accountant. Many of theses software programs are databases with an accounting function bolted on the end. as with any profession, the role of the bookkeeper will change as new technologies become avaialable, but the fundamental skill provision of providing reliable, accurate and up to date financial information remains constant.

Bookkeepers - painting a positive picture    1 thanks

garrycarter | | Permalink

Bookkeepers remain in huge demand and I think rumours of their demise have been greatly exaggerated.

Times change; technology improves; legislation is introduced to simplify accounts. All absolutely true and very good too.  It’s a question of choice and it keeps bookkeepers on their toes to make sure that they add value to their offering.  Nobody can sit still.

It is very much like decorating:  Some people will always give up their weekend and holidays to spend time painting their home and then living with all the missed bits and bodged areas that, hopefully, only they know about.  But some people will decide to employ a professional and enjoy their spare time with their families whilst being safe in the knowledge that they are getting a job well done by someone who is fully trained and who does this for a living.  It’s all about choice.  Bookkeeping is no different. 

The point, surely, is that if Britain wants to become a nation of not only start-up businesses but of growing businesses, owners need to know that good, professional support is available – if they need it.  Knowing how to record invoices and payments on an iPhone is all very well.  But that is just recording transactions in a proper format.  A bookkeeper does so much more:  They make sure the Bank reconciles; they chase outstanding payments; they make sure that the business owner doesn’t accidentally confuse personal and business expenditure; they pay the bills; they do the payroll; they make sure the business has enough money in the Bank to ensure that bills can be paid; they keep up to date with legislation.  It’s tough enough running a business, without having to keep up to date with the ever-changing world of bookkeeping and accounts.  Business owners should just let someone else do it and then concentrate on growing their business!

cloud system

farrside | | Permalink

I agree about it being a minefield! I think it is important to go beyond the ‘package’ when looking at any type of cloud solution and look at what other services connect to it (Receipt Bank was mentioned earlier).  Some offerings like Xero, actively promote the bookkeeper/client relationship by allowing the bookkeeper to ‘supply’ their cloud based package to the customer.  The bookkeeper then gets anytime full access to their client’s books to boot and can easily add some additional services on top e.g. support!

Cloud systems    1 thanks

mgh | | Permalink

Cloud systems are a game changer, because book-keeper/accountant and client can collaborate much more easily, so you don't get the problem of clients "doing their own thing" with the software, or running out of date versions that can't be read into your systems, etc. etc. We're loving Xero because the bank feeds keep clients on the right lines - they are entering transactions as they appear on their bank statements. We also have clients who subscribe to Xero, and only raise their sales invoices on it, leaving us to do the rest for them. This was a difficult option to pursue in the days of desktop software, but it works well now.

Yes there will always be a need

sarah douglas | | Permalink


There will all ways be a need for good bookkeepers.   The simple fact is, yes a lot try to do their own books.  Some very well and others not so well.  

The owners or directors that what to actually run their  own business  in their own speciality area,  tend to use good bookkeepers.  They do not have the time to do their own bookkeeping and most cases they don,t want to either. 


Yes there will always be a need

sarah douglas | | Permalink


There will all ways be a need for good bookkeepers.   The simple fact is, yes a lot try to do their own books.  Some very well and others not so well.  

The owners or directors that what to actually run their  own business  in their own speciality area,  tend to use good bookkeepers.  They do not have the time to do their own bookkeeping and most cases they don,t want to either. 


Paul Scholes's picture

The day will come when....

Paul Scholes | | Permalink

the books will do themselves.  A human will say when an invoice will go out and will claim some expenses but, with joined up systems, the machines will pretty much take care of the rest of it AND tell the government when it happens.

A few years back I'd have said this was 10-20 years off, today....I'm pleased to be a few years from doing something constructive with my time with my wife & dog.

susanna russell-smith's picture

Agree with Paul

susanna russell... | | Permalink

So, right now, the customer fills in his own purchase order directly on the supplier's website, which is connected to his bookkeeping system, and presses Submit. The machine forwards the order to the manufacturer/warehouse; the machine there checks if it is in stock or pushes the order forward to the production line.  The item is manufactured and delivered to the customer (possible human involvement with production line/quality control/packing/delivering). The invoice, which has been automatically produced using preset credit terms/profit margins/VAT level etc, is emailed to the customer who makes direct payment into the supplier's bank account, which is automatically fed from the bank directly into the supplier's system.  Similarly, automatic purchase ordering when stocks are low.  The software recognises names/amounts on the bank statements and suggests matching invoices.  Bookkeeping largely limited to setting up new accounts, checking all is running smoothly, pressing ok buttons and occasionally allocating unidentified bank entries. Management accounts automatically there on a daily basis.  Small business owners, at any rate, find it not at all onerous, indeed helpful, to do most of what's left of the bookkeeping themselves, because they have a continuous handle on their finances/state of the business. It's for the same sort of reason that I haven't had a secretary ever since computers emerged into the light.

adding value - discussions elsewhere

Rob Connell | | Permalink

Relevant to bookkeepers and accountants (not every client will make the distinction between the two, in Finland we have a fantastic bookkeeper backed up by an auditor) on the whole adding value drive is a discussion at proactive accountants; and I just added the following comment:A year ago we published this simple guide in adding value as an accountant that seems highly appropriate to this string:

Wonderful time to be a bookkeeper and accountant!    3 thanks

timiambeing | | Permalink

Johnjenkins says HMRC want a bigger slice of the cake - HMRC don't want a bigger slice of the cake, they don't want any of the cake, HMRC don’t want to be bookkeepers or accountants! The reason deregulation is moving forward at such a rapid rate now, and also the reason why self assessment arrived in the first place, is not to nick clients from bookkeepers and accountants, but to catch those individuals who never filed a tax return in the first place - or if they did file one it was made up on the spot on the back of a fag packet.


HMRC just want an easy life and they face serious government pressure to get more tax coming in, so anything that will make people actually file a tax return and pay a little tax when they wouldn’t have done before is a bonus to them.


I was writing about XML data interchange, electronic bank statement downloads and e-commerce in general for the leading IT magazines way back in the 90’s - and we are virtually no closer to implementing these systems now than then! As an accountant I can’t get at my clients bank feed without going through online accounting systems I don’t want to use (because I love VTT because it is so damn fast!) neither can I rely on my clients to download the feeds in time not to miss transactions at the start of the month (due to Barclays in particular only keeping a month and a bit online in electronic format!). I can pay for aggregating services and external bank reconciliation services like Autorec, but these are not meant for monthly bookkeeping (although I can imagine they are brilliant for those year end carrier bags full of records situations) and are expensive in comparison with the ‘no cost’ option of the damn statement just arriving on my system each month automatically - if it could, if there was a standard interchange format, if the banks had the impetus do actually do something about it.


And talking about ledgers (I’m sure somebody was!), each month my bookkeeper sits and trawls through piles and piles of purchase invoices for our clients in order to post these to the sales and purchases ledgers, they have to be posted to ledgers because I don’t need to tell anyone here that people do not pay for things using just the bank or card - they use cheques (which cannot be automatically allocated via bank import), cash and part payments as a matter of routine. So if you get rid of sales and purchase ledgers then you get rid of any checking method as to whether invoices are paid or unpaid and for how long. In 1997 I wrote a long piece for PC Plus I think it was, discussing with people like Pegasus and Access their solutions for direct interchange between suppliers and clients accounting systems. As I said, an XML based system was implemented by Access and worked very well - but of course no-one has adopted this system in anything other than the corporate world. So my motor trade clients still present me with a huge pile of purchase invoices from their parts suppliers, and somebody has to type them in! Dark ages stuff and ridiculous in this age of technology - considering the invoices have already been typed into the originating accounting system, why on earth don’t they just arrive electronically on the clients accounting system ready to authorise and accept? Again this stuff was red hot in the 90’s - and now is decidedly luke warm.


And finally (as I have some banks to reconcile!) I have getting on for 30 years experience of accounting software in the hands of small business who feel they can ‘do it themselves’. Going on a course that teaches you how to use Sage Instant will not make you a bookkeeper, and just as it is sensible to ask a plumber to deal with your plumbing requirements, so it is eminently sensible to ask a bookkeeper to deal with your books. Ask any accountant who has received a load of Quicken or Sage files from their client who happily think they have saved hundreds of pounds in accountant bookkeeping fees because they have installed an ‘accounting’ package. Only to find that the accountants bookkeeper has to go back to the original documents and do it all again because it is a complete mess! An experienced bookkeeper has more knowledge about what goes where and why on a daily basis than even your average accountant, who usually just plays with a trial balance at the year end. An experienced bookkeeper has so much business knowledge as a result of dealing with multifarious varieties of enterprise that they are invaluable on the team of any business. Bookkeeping is where the skill lies that results in a set of accounts that are safe, reconciled and believable - not because the person knew how to use Sage, but because the person knew what to post where, and why not. They knew when to ask questions because it didn’t look right and they care about how ‘neat’ their set of books is - none of which skills can be applied to your average business person, who really just wants to get on with running their business and making sales.


Now of course, if HMRC relax both the accrual basis throughout all levels of enterprise, and the need for any reconciliations or checks (which means they couldn’t ask for these requirements when they inspected either) - well then yes, you can just send them a mess. But any business owner who runs their books just to satisfy legislative requirements and not to gather the crucial management accounting information needed to successfully run there business is in for a short and bumpy ride to liquidation. Bookkeepers will always be with us, and small business accountants will always be needed. Because the world has proven that although there are always those who like to dabble and have a go themselves, these people are in the minority. Accounting fees have come down as a result of time saving technology it is true, but that means more time for more clients and less time spent typing in numbers - and the opportunities for added value services have expanded to fill the gap if you don’t want to take on more clients. Now is a great time to be an accountant and a bookkeeper, lots of lovely technology to make your life easier and some great ways to monetize associated services - my clients don’t want to do their own bookkeeping let alone their own accounts - damn it I can hardly get them to keep track of the bits of paper I need to do my job! :o)


johnjenkins's picture

sorry timiambeing

johnjenkins | | Permalink

if you don't think HMRC want a bigger slice of the cake then you must live in one of those "cloud systems".

I'll make it very easy for you to understand why I say what I do.

Firstly I was in on the sminars regarding "agent strategy" (that is giving agents more freedom). Where is it now???????? Oh yes "on hold" funny thing that.

Secondly The energy companies putting their charges up. What does the treasury do? Yes you got it a "windfall tax" So they want a tax on the extra money that we are paying. What's that if it's not wanting an extra slice of the cake? (No they're not giving the "windfall tax back to us).

coraliescott's picture

Collaboration    1 thanks

coraliescott | | Permalink

I think this is the main part of the bookkeeper/client relationship that has changed/improved.

I wouldn't say a bookkeeper and the knowledge and experience that comes with that will ever be redundant because as much as SMEs embrace the new technology that has become available there will always be complexities they aren't confident with.

It may be a case of adapting by learning as much as possible about systems and how best to manage on a case-by-case basis. 

Also, being competent with the emerging cloud market means that you are open to a wider audience of computer literate people who want to work with you and with whom you can collaborate online - something that wasn't possible before.

Flexibility is key.

Change for better

njpandya | | Permalink

As a commerce graduate; I have worked in pratice for 3 years and industry for 2 years in Mumbai India and 3 years practice in London and 6 years Industry in London, City. In my opinion what I have noticed is a dedicated bookkeeper or an accountant at the client site makes a hell good compare to chap droping in a week to write books. I always believed that in accountancy whatever the hell analysis accountants do but if you do not have a grip and trusting frame of your data it doesn't lead to good ending and end up in adjustment journals which has became a norm particularly in Practice to larger extend. It's like "SHIT IN SHIT OUT". I have seen Accountants passing Jrnls in control accounts which is the S***t part of bookeeping and I hate that. Client have no idea what he is looking at. Things just goes on.

I understand the article speaks about those business which are most probably 1 man PSC's or a business of small scale; in which case if the employer knows accounts he/she can do accounting but that is not a solution; because that complety defeats the purpose of their main skill. The thing employer has to decide is to get the right person on job.

In my opinion any employer small or medium must recruit a person full time on site to write a books ensuring they have the right skills; which will in turn will only help them to make better decisions and from bookeeping to tax planning every single thing will make perfect sense. I am 100% sure it's not a rocket science; unless Accountants makes it. Good luck!