Commercial Director Chapman Robinson & Moore Accountants
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The bookkeeper and accountant relationship

9th Apr 2015
Commercial Director Chapman Robinson & Moore Accountants
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There appears to be two very different types of relationship between the bookkeeper and the accountant, explains Mike Foster of The Entrepreneurs Mentor.

There is the collaborative relationship that works for all parties, being the accountant, the bookkeeper and the business owner. However there is then the non-existent relationship whereby any contact is kept at a distance and simply involves a handover for data processing. Based on new research, the reasons indicated for such a distant relationship were the fear of losing work, the lack of respect for another providers’ contribution and quite often a desire of seniority to control the client relationship.

A recent Any Answers post makes reference to the pace of change and provides examples whereby professional service providers consider their changing role as a specialist data inputter, a technical salesman or an interpreter.

It is clear that the role of accountants and bookkeepers is changing, as are client expectations. By working closely together better solutions can be found for all parties. For this to work every professional service provider needs to be honest about the true expertise and value they can offer. They can then strategically position their specialist role in partnership with other providers.

Twelve months ago it became clear that bookkeepers needed to adapt to survive. This has been further highlighted more recently with the fast-paced innovation of cloud based software. These developments are promoting to us all the opportunities of better collaboration. In my view, this collaborative working has always been the best practice to serve the interest of the business owner.

In these relationships there also has to be a clear understanding and respect for individual roles. For example, the day-to-day recordkeeping was kept by a qualified bookkeeper. Due to the daily detailed use of the software, the bookkeeper was better positioned to ensure the business was set up to best use the software. In addition, many bookkeepers are developing a more consultative role, running reports and generating information to help the business owner. For the business owner, the bookkeeper’s input is usually more cost attractive to them for this type of work.

However, good bookkeepers know the limit of their expertise and qualifications, so don’t just get attracted to the higher fee earning work. In the best case studies, the specialist role of the accountant then took over for the more complex management accounts, tax computations, tax advice and effective forecasting as well as for the accounts preparation and returns.

The better relationships demonstrate trust, and cross referrals are clearly evident. It’s a support network, where the bookkeeper feels the accountant is a reliable source of information, guidance and expertise. The accountant respects that the bookkeeper knows when to seek advice, rather than pick holes in their reason for asking. It was also clear from the research that the accountant knew the true value of the day-to-day work undertaken by the bookkeeper.

An understanding and respect for task ownership, with clear responsibilities, is important for any relationship to develop. Perhaps a more obvious, respectful, line between the roles should be created. Acknowledging each party’s strength will help build better relationships and, with greater client recruitment and retention, deliver long-term overall success for all involved.

One accountant said to me: “I allow the bookkeeper to do the recordkeeping. We could not offer this at the same price due to our overheads. We know and trust the quality of her work.

“We have in fact reduced our charge to the client, but still retain a high margin due to the minimal work that is now required of us. Overall the client is paying no more per year, but is receiving much more expert support. In return we have received a number of new business introductions and our business is growing profitably,” they said.

Mike Foster is founder and director of The Entrepreneurs Mentor.

Replies (11)

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By stubert
09th Apr 2015 15:28

Roles and responsibilities
As with any relationship you need some clearly defined roles and responsibilities. It has never and should never be a blame game where points scoring is the name of the game. If everyone works together the client wins and we all enhance our relationships. With the automation of so much we need to remind clients that getting the right information is absolutely imperative and automation allows us to spend our time on moving the businesses forward strategically. Building the systems, processes and finance team all under pins this and adds value to the business.

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By alancrm
09th Apr 2015 15:37

Excellent article


This really sums up how I see relationships with bookkeepers working for the benefit of all parties, delivering a seamless service to the client collaboratively.

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By nicosc
09th Apr 2015 15:38

The bookkeeper and accountant relationship

An interesting article that highlights the benefits of a good working relationship between accountants and bookkeepers.

As an accountant I work closely with a number of bookkeepers and agree that a unified team approach is really appreciated by clients and leads to a stronger relationship all round

Everyone wins in such a scenario

 

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Teignmouth
By Paul Scholes
10th Apr 2015 01:02

Hmmm?

I'm sure that this would have summed up my views up to maybe 4-5 years ago but today the distinction in roles is blurred, with one business's bookkeeper being another's accountant, have a look at this.

As it happens I see this as a healthy natural progression, clients are now able, and encouraged, to get more directly involved with their own record keeping and the extra compliance work, such as accounts prep and tax, has become more automated and simplified, enabling (and requiring) bookkeepers to extend their own skills.  

Over 30% of small businesses now don't use either an accountant or bookkeeper, ie doing the lot themselves, and I can only see this proportion increasing thus hastening the change in roles to a point at which comments like "I allow the bookkeeper to do the recordkeeping" will be greeted with derision, in fact that's what it generated when I just read it.

I agree that collaborative relationships have always been the best policy (it's healthier to see another accountant as a potential collaborator rather than a competitor) but the attitude that comes across in some of the above is more master-servant than it is joint venturers.

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By tonyh.crmoxford
10th Apr 2015 07:35

Great article, highlighting an important issue for all small businesses.  When key advisers such as the bookkeeper and accountant work together there is real benefit for all, but if they don't then the lost opportunity for the business can be very costly.

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By levelheaded1903
10th Apr 2015 08:28

To be a good book keeper you still have to have a good understanding of accounting. I work with 2 great book keepers but I still have to check certain elements of work, especially with VAT. So unless the relationship was collaborative and open ( both ways) then the client would suffer.

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By [email protected]
10th Apr 2015 11:33

collaborative and open

Good article. Cloud Accounting has made a fantastic difference to the way bookkeepers can work with Accountants (and vice versa). Having spoken to the cloud software providers and numerous Accountants, there is still a large number of clients out there who would really benefit from the real time reporting of a cloud product, but don't necessarily have the accounting skills required to populate it correctly. Collaborating has never been easier and with all the new scanning and communications tools, the cost of site visits has become a thing of the past. We are now working with Practices and clients that have everything in a digital format, making it easy to share and update. 

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Sarah Douglas - HouseTree Business Ltd
By sarah douglas
10th Apr 2015 13:34

The feedback we get every week

is that clients are desperate to find good bookkeepers who want to work with their accountant who the client trusts.   Here in Glasgow as the ICB branch leader our members are overloaded with work and many enjoying a excellent relationship with their local accountants. 

It is not a competition and the client ends up very happy.   There are a few rules though you must respect each other and make sure the roles are clearly defined.  You should both be promoting each others skills and working together for the good of the client.  No one likes people blaming each other and it is not constructive.  If you do work well together it can be very lucrative for both the accountant and the bookkeeper. 

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By paddy55
11th Apr 2015 03:35

The relationship between the bookkeeper and the accountant

Oh, the farmer and the cowman should be friends,
Oh, the farmer and the cowman should be friends.
One man likes to push a plough,
The other likes to chase a cow,
But that's no reason why they cain't be friends.

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By Scriptic
12th Apr 2015 09:46

New Questions - New Skills

With basic bookkeeping programmes able to efficiently process and report my role as an accountant has certainly had to change. My experience is that my advice on decisions relating to growth, investment and financing has become more relevant to clients as they are often more concerned with planning sales growth than the management of expenditures and investments and the essential liquidity, cash flows and financing that are needed to support them, something I constantly have to remind them of.

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Replying to kevinringer:
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By redboam
14th Apr 2015 14:56

For Planning Profits and Cash Flow Try...

Figurewizard. With some clients we use it for Q & A sessions having first loaded last years balance sheet values to illustrate how planned changes in sales volumes, margins, overheads and investment will affect liquidity and cash flow going forward. We also have clients using it who will often ask us to take a look at what they have come up with and advise on financing. All in all we are generating good activity from it.

 

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