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What works best?

Relationship between internal bookkeeper and external accountant – what works best?

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Hello Everyone,

Inspired by Tax Dragon’s reply to my question last week, I am mustering all my persuasive skills to ask my boss and our external accountant for more support with recording some transactions. I did ask for help before but have not got far with either of them so, this time, I am preparing my “pitch”.

My question to those of you who deal with your clients’ internal bookkeepers – especially if they happen to be less experienced – is: what works best in terms of interactions? At the moment I am thinking about asking for a quarterly Zoom call to go through all transactions I tagged as “for review” (an hour-long to start with, hopefully shorter in the future). Is it a reasonable request in terms of accountant’s time and extra fee? Or would asynchronous communication be better?

A short background to my question: I have been working for my employer for quite a few years, doing tasks on the verge of admin and bookkeeping (mostly data entry, some reconciliations and valuations but with the “real” bookkeeping being done by others). During this time I have been also taking ACCA exams (I have one more to go), so when, last year, our circumstances changed, I jumped on the opportunity to assume responsibility for the “real” bookkeeping.

I quickly discovered that accounting theory, without practical experience is not worth much, but I have been getting by, working out how a transaction was recorded previously or searching for solutions online (and, occasionally, asking a question here).

However, as suggested by Tax Dragon, it’s time to ask for more support, so I would be grateful for any advice you may have for me.

PS. I love what I now do – the problem-solving aspect of it in particular - and hope I do not need to be replaced by someone more experienced. But I will take all comments on board.

Replies (19)

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By Truthsayer
23rd Jul 2021 15:03

I don't recommend a quarterly Zoom call. It is much better to raise queries one by one by email.

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Replying to Truthsayer:
By Hugo Fair
23rd Jul 2021 15:30

Depends on the quantity of queries / the number of different accountants with whom they're being raised / how many queries are 'frequent types' (where one call might resolve multiple queries or even stop whatever's causing them in the first place).

When you've got a rough handle on those 3 numbers, put yourself in the shoes of the recipient and think what you'd like (or at least dislike least)!
There's a balance in there somewhere between you not having to wait whilst your queries accumulate - and accountants not being interrupted with queries every hour (or whatever).

Good luck.

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By Mr_awol
23rd Jul 2021 15:25

It depends what kind of support you need.

If the accountant is complaining about the general standards of your bookkeeping and you need a quarterly review, trainign, or other, then you are on the right track. If there are a handful of ad-hoc queries like the one you posted this month, then a quarterly review is less valuable and you need to be able to raise queries as they arise.

The problem is, whether you have authority to ask the accountant, whether the employer will pay for it, etc.

I, for example, try to avoid answering questions from bookkeepers (particularly S/E ones) because, to be honest, most clients would be unhappy with a surprise fee for the time spent. That may be why you "have not got very far" with your firm's external accountant.

So first step is to speak to your boss and see whether they are happy to pay for the support required, second step is to work with the accountant to make it happen.

For ad-hoc questions perhaps the solution is (if the employer wants to keep some form of control over fees) for you to email the employer with your question and say you need it answered by the accountant. Your boss can then forward it on and ask they they reply to you directly.

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By paul.benny
23rd Jul 2021 15:27

Agree with Truthsayer.

Forget that this is about bookkeeping. It's learner and tutor. Whilst learning styles vary, it's usually best to address things as they arise rather than saving them up for weeks.

In terms of cost, does your external accountant have experienced staff that can support you at lower cost. Possibly even could be pitched as development opportunity for the helper.

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Routemaster image
By tom123
23rd Jul 2021 15:37

Surely 90 percent of what you do is:

Sales ledger
Purchase ledger
Cash book?

Concentrate on getting that stuff correct.
Set up default codes for each of the suppliers - that way you will get consistency.

For me: bookkeeping = transactions based on source records.
Accountancy = introduces journals etc.

If your employer is pushing you beyond your experience / comfort then it is important to point this out.

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By ireallyshouldknowthisbut
23rd Jul 2021 15:48

if it helps I love helping client bookkeepers get stuff right.

I would rather they saved up a few questions than asked them one at a time, but its much much better than dealing with a mess when its time for the VAT return or year end.

The key as above is to agree terms. it could be a fixed price per year, or "on the clock". Sell it to your boss as "training" and "pay for itself as the accountant will have fewer correction to make". It may well be the accountant has a more junior member of staff who can help and be cheaper than the full rates of a senior.

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By mariannajane
25th Jul 2021 13:20

Thank you for your replies and helpful ideas.

Luckily, what Tom123 said is true – I am comfortable with 90% of my work (as I mentioned, I have been working there for a while, so I have a good understanding of the business and no problems with categorising most of the transactions).

I guess I’m focusing on the 10% I don’t know how to do, partly hoping for learning opportunities. My career goal, hopefully not too far-fetched, is to one day work for a small practice, serving clients like my boss.

My plan of action for now: of the two types of queries I have for our accountant, the first one is related to more advanced source documents – HP agreements, loan repayments etc. I’m solving them as I go along (admittedly, with the help of this forum). These queries are not very frequent, and I think I will be sending them to our accountant by email, via my boss (as suggested by Mr Awol).

The other type are queries related to year end training for me, as I would like to learn how to reconcile our bookkeeping records with the statutory accounts (a task that was carried out by our previous bookkeeper). I am going to try to convince my boss that arranging a one-off training session with a junior member of staff from our accountant’s office will pay for itself next year.

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Replying to mariannajane:
By atleastisoundknowledgable...
26th Jul 2021 09:15

“ I would like to learn how to reconcile our bookkeeping records with the statutory accounts”

The accountant will produce a list of adjustments journals which they have made to get from the bookkeeping to the accounts. These adjustments should be posted on your software and that should be that.

If you use a cloud software you could ask the accountant o make the adjustments. Otherwise ask them to provide a detailed breakdown of the journals so that you can post them. It should be fairly straightforward (and is of course easy to check whether you’ve out them on right).

The balances being correct on your software makes life easier for the accountant as the opening balances will be right for the following year. If you don’t put them on, they’ll just have to make the adjustments in their workings anyway.

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Replying to atleastisoundknowledgable...:
By mariannajane
26th Jul 2021 10:30

Thank you for clarifying this. I was expecting there will be some more meaningful work involved in helping me reconcile, for example, fixed assets and HP accounts, some of which now have to be closed. Still, I definitely need training in this area, before all these accounts deviate too much from the accountant's records.

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Replying to atleastisoundknowledgable...:
Pile of Stones
By Beach Accountancy
30th Jul 2021 10:48

Also, it is not unknown for a junior at an accountancy firm to make a mistake - so query any journals that don't make sense. You understand the business better than they do!

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Replying to mariannajane:
By bendybod
30th Jul 2021 10:53

It does sound as though what you are hoping for is straying a little bit in to "preparing me for my future career path" which, understandably, your current employer might be less inclined to finance if it means they are going to have to recruit a new bookkeeper in the not too distant future. If your current employer has an inkling that you are contemplating moving onwards and upwards, I can understand why they might be less inclined to fund conversations with the accountant. Yes, it might be inevitable that you leave anyway but they don't have to make life easier for you to do so by improving your skillset at their expense.
That said, asking the accountant for advice on things that you ought to be doing and are struggling with is a different matter.

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Replying to bendybod:
By mariannajane
31st Jul 2021 01:19

I can’t deny that my quest for development is motivated, in part, by thinking about my future career. However, on balance, I think that it would be of more benefit to my boss - as noted above, higher quality of bookkeeping records means less mistakes to correct for the accountant. The more concerning thought though is that the better alternative for him might be to employ or outsource work to a more experienced bookkeeper.

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By Lynda Williams
30th Jul 2021 10:09

I wish our clients' book keepers would ask for help like this as it saves the accountant and client time and money in the long run!

I have helped mentor a client book keeper in the past who then decided to do ACCA and it was very rewarding.

I would suggest some flexibility (ie ask some at the time and ask them to review ledger quarterly especially if they are able to access your records in the cloud) in how you arrange for your queries to be dealt with in your pitch to your boss - and as another contributor has said - try and sell this to your boss as a development opportunity for you that will save him money in the medium term.

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Replying to Lynda Williams:
By mariannajane
31st Jul 2021 00:38

I wish mentoring was an option available to me. I made a complete error of judgement, when I decided to self-finance my ACCA studies, without first securing appropriate work experience with the mentor-mentee structure it can offer.

The quarterly review of ledger by the accountant is a good idea - I will suggest it to my boss (I hope our accountant does it anyway, while reviewing VAT records).

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By enanen
30th Jul 2021 10:25

zoom does not give you a query audit trail, emails do.

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By Rgab1947
30th Jul 2021 10:26

I encourage email queries which I answer same day or a phone call if an email wont do.

I am a believer in the ability of people rising to an occasion so go into technical explanations, ask them to give it a go (I check and correct if required - I have remote access). I have a belief in myself that I can fix any errors they may make.

To date never been disappointed. My work load decreased as they could and were willing to take on more responsibility.

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By Husbandofstinky
30th Jul 2021 15:23

Emails all the way where possible in my book. All recorded in black and white.
Your boss should be the first port of call and then the accountant with your boss's permission first of course (costs).

The emails are there for reference as well as backside covering too.

Telephone/Zoom is good too under certain circumstances and Team viewer is great on stand alone software.

A good bookkeeper is like gold dust and external accountants love them (in general).

I am surprised that with only 'one more ACCA exam to go' reconciling to statutory accounts, fixed assets and HP accounts are an issue? Basic stuff and something you should be able to sort out simply with a decent Semi senior keeping the potential costs to a minimum.

Good luck and you will get there in the end.

From the other side of the equation I have assisted many a non bookkeeper to become very proficient ones. It costs quite a bit of time initially, but you get that back (and some) over time. None of it is rocket science and spending the time and putting that over to a novice reassures them, generating the confidence to learn and understand more, speeding up the process. I do feel a sense of acheivement at my end, but ultimately it is all down to them.

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Replying to Husbandofstinky:
By mariannajane
31st Jul 2021 00:44

"I am surprised that with only 'one more ACCA exam to go' reconciling to statutory accounts, fixed assets and HP accounts are an issue?"

It's a fair point. All I can say is that I can quote the accounting rules and, at some point in my studies, I practised on T accounts but, having never done it in “real life”, I lack confidence in my work and need some reassurance that I’m on the right track.

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By mariannajane
31st Jul 2021 00:16

Thank you for more helpful comments, words of encouragement and for reminding me about the audit trail advantage of email. I am pretty much settled on using email for my queries (and sending them via my boss).

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