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What does a bookkeeper do?
A bookkeeper is sometimes also known as an accounts clerk. Their role should not be confused with an accountant, as they are different jobs. An accountant is a financial expert who provides financial advice and helps businesses effectively manage their money. A bookkeeper collates and enters data. Their role is a subset of accounting.
Bookkeepers keep businesses’ financial records up to date, keep track of monies coming in and going out, and assist in preparing accounts. They can be generalists or specialise in specific aspects of bookkeeping, e.g. single-entry, double-entry and virtual. Therefore, what a bookkeeper does will depend on their specialisms. Whether they are employed or self-employed will also influence what they do.
All businesses are legally required to “keep the books”, i.e. maintain a record of their financial transactions, e.g. purchases, sales, expenses and other payments. A bookkeeper’s main aim is to help businesses with this task so they are compliant with the law. They also ensure business records are accurate, which can assist business owners in making financial decisions.
A bookkeeper can work in various environments, such as an office, their own home or a client’s home/business. They will carry out many tasks, including completing and submitting VAT returns and processing invoices, income, receipts and payments, checking the accuracy of accounts, managing cash flow, using accounting software, inputting data, etc. The role may also require administrative work, such as producing financial reports.
Bookkeepers can work with many different people. If employed, they will usually work with a team of colleagues (usually in finance departments), including senior managers, accountants, other bookkeepers and support staff. They will also liaise with external stakeholders, including clients (individuals and businesses), suppliers, banks, government departments, e.g. HMRC, auditors, etc.
Bookkeepers can work for different sized companies. They can work in an accounting department in a large organisation or for small to medium consultancies or bookkeeping companies. They can also be self-employed or work freelance.
A bookkeeper’s responsibilities will depend on many factors, including who they work for (employed or themselves) and the bookkeeping in which they specialise.
Some examples of their day-to-day duties may include (this list is not exhaustive):
- Completing and submitting VAT returns.
- Processing invoices, income, receipts and payments.
- Preparing income and payments statements.
- Managing day-to-day or week-to-week cash flow.
- Reconciliation, i.e. balancing the books.
- Managing employee expense claims.
- Preparing employee wages, e.g. payroll.
- Checking the accuracy of accounts and financial records and ensuring they are up to date.
- Using computerised accounting software.
- Producing financial reports.
- Inputting data into spreadsheets and databases.
- Assisting accountants with the preparation of annual accounts.
- Liaising with HMRC as and when required.
- Helping companies to understand their finances.
- Handling information that is commercially sensitive and valuable.
- Any other duties where necessary.
A bookkeeper can expect to work 37-39 hours a week, usually Monday-Friday, 8am-6pm. However, they can do more or fewer hours depending on the requirements of their role.
It is unusual for bookkeepers to work unsociable hours, but some roles may require them to work evenings, weekends and bank holidays.
Most jobs are full-time and permanent. However, some employers allow employees to work flexibly, i.e. part-time, job share, hybrid and remote. Temporary bookkeeping roles with recruitment agencies may also be an option.
It is uncommon for bookkeepers to travel or work overseas as part of their role, but some jobs may require this depending on the sector.
What to expect
There are many positives to being a bookkeeper, especially if individuals are organised and love working with numbers in an office environment with various people. Individuals must have a strong interest in finances and accounts and a keen eye for detail to succeed in this career.
It can be a rewarding career choice and give individuals a sense of purpose in their jobs. They support businesses and help them keep on top of their income and expenses, understand their worth and make informed decisions. They can go home after the working day knowing they have made a positive difference to their clients’ finances. Money can bring a lot of stress to clients, and bookkeepers can help put them at ease.
Many bookkeeping roles and jobs are available nationally across the UK, and there are different areas and sectors in which to specialise. There is decent job security with this career, as jobs are numerous, and almost every industry needs bookkeepers. Also, bookkeepers’ skills are transferable, giving individuals more career options. Salaries can also be competitive for those with more experience.
Being a bookkeeper can give individuals independence and flexibility, particularly if self-employed. Having an opportunity to be your own boss can be attractive, as it allows individuals to take charge of their working day and overall career progression. It can also help them achieve a decent work-life balance, as there are opportunities to choose their own working hours and work from home.
Even though there are positives to being a bookkeeper, there are challenges and cons, e.g.:
- Computer work and data entry – a lot of computer work and data entry are involved in bookkeeping. It can sometimes be tedious, as bookkeepers can spend many hours at a desk looking over figures and entering data. There is also a risk of ergonomic hazards and visual fatigue from working with display screen equipment. It may not be suitable for individuals looking for a more active role.
- Person-centred role – bookkeepers frequently deal with clients and others during their working day. Therefore, it may not suit more introverted individuals. Bookkeepers must manage client relationships and communicate with them regularly. They will also liaise with many other professionals. They must be comfortable and confident in dealing with various people.
- Fast-paced and mentally demanding – being a bookkeeper can be stressful at times. They must be able to juggle different demands and meet strict deadlines, especially around tax time. They have significant responsibility, as they will work with businesses’ finances and accounts. There are also risks associated with data confidentiality and security when working with technology.
- Being self-employed – whilst being your own boss can be fulfilling, it can also introduce other challenges. Working for yourself, advertising and building a client base can create additional work for self-employed bookkeepers. It also takes a lot of willpower and commitment to work from home and requires good organisation and time management skills.
Every career choice has pros and cons, and prospective bookkeepers must know what to expect before deciding whether it is for them. Juggling different demands can be challenging and stressful. It is fast-paced, and there is a lot of computer work and data entry. However, there are many positives too, and those who become bookkeepers really enjoy their work, as it allows them to help businesses.
When considering whether to be a bookkeeper and the type of role, individuals should look at the pros and cons. They should also ensure they have the right personal qualities to carry out the role and responsibilities required.
Personal qualities needed to be a bookkeeper
Some of the personal qualities a bookkeeper requires will include (this list is not exhaustive):
- Approachable, honest, trustworthy, reliable, ethical and professional.
- Discrete, sensitive and confidential.
- Tenacious, determined, methodical and motivated.
- Good judgement.
- Knowledge of financial regulations.
- Knowledge of maths.
- Knowledge of finance and accounting.
- Excellent communication skills, both written and verbal.
- Excellent administration skills.
- Excellent concentration skills.
- Customer service skills.
- Numeracy skills.
- Interpersonal skills.
- Analytical skills.
- Organisation and time management skills.
- Being thorough, accurate and having attention to detail.
- The ability to work to tight deadlines and meet targets.
- The ability to establish relationships with clients.
- The ability to work well under pressure and remain confident and calm in stressful situations.
- The ability to be flexible and open to change.
- The ability to work well with others in a team and alone using their own initiative.
- The ability to use IT equipment, e.g. computers and hand-held devices, and relevant software packages, including specific accounting programmes.
Qualifications and training
There are many routes to becoming a bookkeeper. Individuals could go to university or college, enrol on a private training course, do an apprenticeship or apply directly. They could also do work experience to help them enter the role.
An individual does not need a degree to become a bookkeeper. However, having a degree can help individuals stand out, especially for bookkeeping roles with more responsibility.
The degree topic needed will depend on the type of bookkeeping an individual wants to work in and the industry.
Some examples of subjects that may be helpful are as follows (this list is not exhaustive):
- Business management.
- Finance, financial services or financial studies.
Having a degree in other subjects may also help. For example, if an individual wants to be a bookkeeper in a specific industry, e.g. healthcare/legal, having a degree in these subjects or a relevant one may increase their chances of success.
The entry requirements and the number of UCAS points needed will depend on each university, and individuals should check before applying.
They will typically require the following:
- A minimum of 1 A Level for a foundation degree.
- 2 or 3 good A Levels for an undergraduate degree.
- 2:1 or 2:2 relevant undergraduate degree subject for a postgraduate degree.
Some institutions may also invite applicants for an interview as part of the selection process.
Undertaking a college course can help individuals become bookkeepers.
Some example courses that may be useful are as follows (this list is not exhaustive):
- Level 1 Award in Bookkeeping.
- Level 1 Award in Accounting Software.
- Level 2 Certificate in Bookkeeping.
- Level 2 Certificate in Accounting.
- Level 2 Certificate in Manual and Computerised Bookkeeping.
- Level 3 Certificate in Bookkeeping.
Individuals usually need:
- Level 1 – two or fewer GCSEs at grades 3 to 1 (D to G) or equivalent.
- Level 2 – two or more GCSEs grades 9 to 3 (A* to D) or equivalent.
- Level 3 – four/five GCSEs grades 9 to 4 (A* to C) or equivalent.
Some employers require individuals to have at least a recognised accounts or bookkeeping qualification.
It is better if individuals select courses accredited by the Association of Accounting Technicians (AAT) or the Institute of Accountants and Bookkeepers (IAB). However, private training companies may also offer courses.
It may be worth enrolling on low-cost online short bookkeeping courses to see if a career as a bookkeeper would be of interest. That way, if not, it will save an individual a lot of time and trouble.
Courses and qualifications do not guarantee a role in bookkeeping. However, it will demonstrate to employers and companies that the individual is keen on the job and may give them a competitive edge. Always check the entry requirements before applying..
There is an apprenticeship route to help individuals become bookkeepers, e.g. accounts and finance assistant intermediate apprenticeship. It typically takes 12 months to complete.
Individuals usually need some GCSEs, including English and maths, or equivalent.
Opportunities are on Government’s Apprenticeships, Institute for Apprenticeships and Technical Education and Indeed.
If individuals have some qualifications, they could apply for bookkeeping jobs directly. They usually need five GCSEs grades 9 to 4 (A* to C) or equivalent qualifications, including English and maths.
If individuals have further qualifications in business studies, maths, economics or relevant experience, it will help. Bookkeeping roles are on various job websites.
Some employers may decide to take on individuals as interns and train them as bookkeepers if they have the necessary personal qualities and enthusiasm for the role. It would help individuals to have previous experience. However, the requirements will depend on each employer.
Individuals may be able to work on temporary or part-time contracts in accounts or finance departments as an admin assistant while taking a bookkeeping qualification. Experience in accounting software, e.g. Quickbooks, Xero & SAGE 50 software, would help.
Volunteering can also help people gain valuable experience and develop skills. Individuals could volunteer with charities in their finance departments. There is information on volunteering and local opportunities on Do-IT, NCVO and Volunteering Matters.
Work experience relating to customer service, accountancy or finance can be beneficial and can help an individual work towards becoming a bookkeeper. Even college and community courses can count, e.g. AAT in business skills and customer service skills.
Learning does not stop with experience or once someone becomes qualified. Attending relevant training courses and having additional certifications can help individuals enter the profession, enhance their employability and give them a competitive edge. Many colleges and accredited private training companies can provide relevant training courses.
Some examples of courses that may be useful for individuals looking at a career in bookkeeping include (this list is not exhaustive):
- Work-related stress.
- Display screen equipment (DSE).
- COVID-19 awareness.
- Office health and safety.
- Health and safety for homeworkers.
- Data protection and the GDPR.
- Complaints handling.
- Customer service skills.
- Time management skills.
- Business management.
- Resilience training.
- Anti-bribery awareness.
Additional IT skills, e.g. in office packages and accounting software, and training in customer relations can also be beneficial.
Professional bodies, institutes and associations, such as the Association of Accounting Technicians (AAT), the Institute of Accountants and Bookkeepers (IAB), the Institute of Certified Bookkeepers, and others, may also advise on reputable training courses. Some also provide events and support to help individuals become bookkeepers, providing the means to continue their professional development.
The type of training required will depend on who an individual works for and their specialisms. It is worth looking at several job advertisements to identify the training needed for roles. Jobs are on websites such as GOV.UK find a job service, Indeed, LinkedIn, Glassdoor, eFinancialCareers, bookkeepers.org.uk and many other sites. Also, look at recruitment agencies for bookkeeping roles.
More relevant training and competence (skills, experience and knowledge) will open up more opportunities for individuals. Refresher training is also advisable as it keeps their knowledge and skills up to date.
Qualified by Experience (QBE)
For less academic individuals, there is an option to carry out practical experience in bookkeeping. Individuals who can demonstrate to employers they have a proven track record in bookkeeping are referred to as Qualified by Experience (QBE). They have the same knowledge and skills as those with official qualifications. However, becoming a certified bookkeeper will open up more opportunities for individuals.
There are additional responsibilities associated with being self-employed.
Self-employed bookkeepers must:
- Have the correct insurances, i.e. public liability and home/car business. If employing anyone, employers’ liability insurance will be required.
- Register with HMRC.
- File tax returns.
- Register with the ICO to hold personal data (to comply with the Data Protection Act 2018 and the GDPR).
Further advice and guidance on being self-employed are on GOV.UK.
Criminal records checks
Some bookkeepers may need to undergo a criminal record check. A criminal record, caution, warning, or conviction may put off prospective employers. However, employers should account for the seriousness of the crime, when it occurred and its relevance to the role.
The organisation that holds criminal records will depend on the country within the UK, for example:
- England and Wales – Disclosure and Barring Service (DBS).
- Northern Ireland – AccessNI.
- Scotland – Protecting Vulnerable Groups (PVG) scheme.
Some bookkeepers may need to drive as part of their role. Therefore, they should have a full driving licence, preferably with no points.
Where do bookkeepers work?
Bookkeepers can be employed by companies of all sizes across the UK and in many industries, for example (this list is not exhaustive):
- Independent accounting and bookkeeping practices and firms.
- Accountancy groups.
- Outsourcing accounting and bookkeeping service companies.
- Consultancies and management firms.
- Accounting or finance departments within various types of organisations, e.g. retail, manufacturing, telecommunications, recruitment, legal services, agriculture, telecommunications, housing, construction and charitable.
They can also be self-employed, freelance or work for recruitment agencies. Some may carry out bookkeeping for their own business, spouse, partner or family member.
Bookkeepers can work in a variety of establishments, such as (this list is not exhaustive):
- Clients’ homes.
- Clients’ business premises.
- Their own home or remotely, e.g. virtual bookkeeping services.
Some bookkeepers may also travel during their working day, which may require some overnight stays, but this is uncommon. More experienced bookkeepers may have opportunities to work overseas. However, this is rare.
How much do bookkeepers earn?
A bookkeeper’s salary will depend on their role, qualifications, experience, geographical location, employer, working hours, contract and specialist area, and whether they choose to be self-employed.
For example (these figures are only a guide):
- An entry-level bookkeeper (less than 1 year experience) – £10.22 an hour.
- An early career bookkeeper (1-4 years of experience) – £10.67 an hour.
- A mid-career bookkeeper (5-9 years of experience) – £12.08 an hour.
- An experienced bookkeeper (10-19 years of experience) – £13.64 an hour.
- A bookkeeper in their late career (20 years and higher) – £14 an hour.
- The average salary for a bookkeeper – £12.10 an hour.
According to Glassdoor, a bookkeeper’s national average annual salary is £26,753 in the UK. The National Careers Service states that the average salary for a more experienced bookkeeper is £35,000.
Self-employed bookkeepers’ salaries will vary. They should factor in various expenses when considering the salary, e.g. tax, National Insurance, travel, other insurances (business/liability), equipment, software, qualifications and training, etc.
As an apprentice, the salary will depend on an individual’s age and how long they have been in their apprenticeship. Apprentices must earn at least the current National Minimum Wage (NMW). Some employers will pay more than this. However, it will depend on the organisation and role on offer.
Types of bookkeeping to specialise in
Bookkeepers can generalise in all aspects of bookkeeping or specialise in working with specific businesses and industries, e.g. construction, retail or manufacturing.
There are two main types of bookkeeping, which are:
- Single-entry bookkeeping – a simple method which involves making one entry for each transaction, e.g. incoming and outgoing.
- Double-entry bookkeeping – balances the books by assuming each transaction (debits and credits) affects two accounts.
Bookkeepers can also specialise in specific accounting software, e.g.:
- Sage bookkeeper – has experience using SAGE LINE 50 accounting software.
- Xero bookkeeper – specialises in using Xero accounting software.
- Quickbooks bookkeeper – works predominately with the accounting software Quickbooks.
There are also jobs where bookkeepers can combine their roles, e.g. accounting, payroll and administration.
All different bookkeeping roles will require differing knowledge, skills, experience and qualities. Bookkeepers must have good maths knowledge, be good with numbers and have a keen eye for detail. They must also be familiar with accounting software. Any additional areas of expertise will depend on what a company is looking for (if employed) and the specialist areas a bookkeeper wants to work in. Further qualifications and training will usually be necessary for specialised areas.
If bookkeepers do not carry out their roles correctly, i.e. if they enter data incorrectly, it can cause significant issues for clients’ finances and may result in them losing money or getting into debt. In serious cases, customers may decide to complain or start legal proceedings. Therefore, whatever the type of role, bookkeepers must have the necessary competence to carry out the work professionally and safely. They should also know the limits of their competency, i.e. asking for help when something is beyond their expertise.
Bookkeeping practices, technology, software and laws are regularly changing. Therefore, bookkeepers must keep ahead of the latest developments and changes to comply with the law and ensure they carry out their roles effectively and correctly. Continuing professional development (CPD) gives bookkeepers the knowledge and skills to keep up to date with these changes, understand their responsibilities and progress in their careers.
Joining a professional body, institute or association, such as the Association of Accounting Technicians (AAT), the Institute of Accountants and Bookkeepers (IAB), and the Institute of Certified Bookkeepers, can help prospective and current bookkeepers enhance their skills and overall career. They may offer different levels of membership, CPD, support and access to industry contacts and networking events.
There is ample opportunity for career progression for bookkeepers. With more qualifications and experience, they can become a senior bookkeeper, an accounting technician or specialise in an industry. If they do a degree, they could become an accountant. Alternatively, they may become self-employed and start their own business, freelance or work for agencies.
Knowledge, skills and experience from being a bookkeeper can also lead to a career in different areas. For example, they could move into teaching or other areas of finance.