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Blog: A (very) Brief History of Accounting

28th May 2020
Brought to you by
aqilla
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The well documented “technological revolution” appears to be the primary driver of the majority of changes in the modern-day organisation’s macro and microenvironments, rapidly increasing the demand of finance teams in a variety of ways across the globe. In this blog, we will look at the history of the role of accounting and how drivers of change in the past have brought us to where we are now. 

The first examples of accounting originate from ancient Egypt around 5000–4000 B.C. (although evidence of record-keeping was found in Mesopotamia that predates the Egyptians), after the creation of papyrus allowed for vast swathes of information on taxation, trade and inventory to be recorded at a much swifter and condensed manner than the stone tablets that came before them. However, due to illiteracy and the lack of coined money, their role beyond simple bookkeeping didn’t develop much further.

A few millennia pass and Greece, rising as the face of the modern world at the heart of trade and intellectual capital, saw the introduction of coined money around 600 B.C. This introduction changed the world forever, with the creation of banks (along with the concept of loans) and the beginning of standardised values bringing a greater sense of order to the world.

Aqilla History of Accounting

Later, the Roman empire began to take hold, with many of its citizens required to submit regular updates on their assets and liabilities to the Roman treasury. The Romans are lauded for many things, including the exceptional fiscal responsibility that was the bedrock for the most impressive empire the world ever saw, enabling them to generate and astutely manage the financial resources required to support the constant conquering of lands.

These practices remained largely the same for almost a thousand years, as the demising Roman empire gave way to the religious domination across Europe that stifled progress across a variety of subjects, including medicine, intellectualism and philosophy, infrastructure and accounting.

During the Renaissance, Italian Luca Pacioli produced Summa de arithmetica, a book that covered an extensive summary of renaissance mathematics and accountancy knowledge, and is understood to be the first book of its kind. The book summarises that the role of the accounts was still only for auditory and bookkeeping purposes.

The Joint Stock Companies Act 1844 birthed the split of Management Accountancy and Financial Accountancy, as shareholders with little-to-no accounting knowledge requiring succinct and accurate reporting became more involved. It was here where shareholders began to more greatly influence business decisions as the first sprouts of capitalism began to grow.

Aqilla History of Accounting

The external pressures of these shareholders shaped management accountancy, as the need for supporting strategic decisions, analysing performance and risk assessments became more and more important, resulting in the roles of management accountants becoming ever more critical and ever more complex.

The theme that appears to run through this brief history is that the role of accounting has always been largely defined by the requirements of the external forces erupting around it, whilst remaining integral to the running of the system within which the accountancy operations exist. This still rings true, but on a more complex scale than ever before, with the world appearing more and more volatile. But what does this mean for the modern-day management accountant?

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