• Zoe

What's the difference between a bookkeeper and an accountant?

Updated: Sep 11, 2018




Before I started But the Books, I worked in big businesses including the BBC, BT and Lloyds Bank and in local government so I have a really wide and varied background in accounting and during that time, I happen to have trained as an accountant. I've worked in treasury where I've been responsible for forecasting cash flows of millions of pounds from day to day, I've prepared budgets for services ranging from leisure centres to waste collection, and I've been involved in preparing VAT returns for hundreds of thousands of pounds of transactions. What I do through But the Books is quite different, my clients needs are quite different and I've set up But the Books as a bookkeeping practice with a bookkeeping licence. Bookkeepers and Accountants are quite different in terms of training, experience and what they do, so having first hand experience of both, let me summarise for you how the two differ.


Our training

To become an accountant, I trained on the job for four years and took 14 exams. An accounting qualification is considered to be a post-graduate level qualification and my exams covered everything to do with recording financial transactions and preparing the usual financial reports. There are many rules and regulations in accounting, and things get can quite complex so an accountant's job really is to know which rule to apply when and what that means for a business's finances. My accountancy training also involved quite a few exams on costing, budgeting and forecasting, I learned about tax, some contract law, business strategy organisation theory, and audit so it was a comprehensive and complex qualification.


A bookkeeper's training is at a more junior level which I believe is benchmarked against the various NVQ levels. I took 11 exams (although I believe it would be possible to obtain a bookkeeping licence by completing just 7) but I was able to complete these quickly because of my accountancy background. Bookkeeping exams are much more focussed on correctly entering transactions into an accounting system, than in understanding the complex rules and regulations of accountancy, but a number of important areas are still touched on, and I have also taken papers on self assessment tax and costing and budgeting to ensure these are services But the Books can offer day to day under our bookkeeping practice license.


What we actually do

You can think of your bookkeeper as your day to day operational finance person, with an accountant being the person you go to for end of year returns and when things get more complicated. There certainly is a crossover between what a bookkeeper can do and what an accountant can do, but it depends on your bookkeeper's skills and experience (and what their practice license allows them to do) as to whether they offer extra services like costing, budgeting and forecasting or self assessment for example.


What I see in practice is bookkeepers helping business prepare their accounts from day to day preparing certain submissions such as payroll, VAT and self assessment tax returns, and then accountants taking over with things like limited company accounts preparation and corporation tax returns, usually as an end of year job, reviewing the work of a bookkeeper and working alongside them. If you want to know more about what a bookkeeper does day to day you might like to read What does a bookkeeper do?


Our pricing

There certainly is a difference in pricing between bookkeepers and accountants and that price reflects the difference in the experience and training of bookkeepers and accountants. It's hard to find an accounting firm who will openly give me prices to quote to you but we as a bookkeeping firm have all of our prices on the website for you to see.


A lot of inexperienced bookkeepers quote very low hourly rates for work at a detriment to the profession (here's why you shouldn't choose the cheapest bookkeeper) and at But the Books we have a clear, fixed price model which means you know what you're going to pay before we start working with you. Our prices might seem a bit higher, and that reflects the extra value that's added for our clients by choosing to work with somebody who has 16 years of experience in large businesses. It means we're able to offer more than a bookkeeper and really add value to your business by helping you set up processes and systems which will see you through from small startup to growing business and by helping you understand your business with costing, forecasting, and management reporting. The testimonials of our service certainly speak for themselves in that respect.


If you'd like to talk to me about how I can add value to your business, please get in touch, I'm always happy to have a chat, and if you need any more pointers on how to choose a great bookkeeper, why not read my post 5 things to do when choosing a bookkeeper.

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