Bookkeepers and accountants both need a knack for numbers and a keen eye for detail, so if you’re drawn to one profession, you’re likely drawn to the other too.
However, although the two professions often intertwine, accountants and bookkeepers tend to play rather different roles in a company.
So which one is right for you? We’ve highlighted the main differences to help make your decision easier.
Training and qualifications
One of the biggest differences between a bookkeeper and an accountant is the amount of training each need in order to get a job. Certain employers don’t require bookkeepers to have any formal qualifications, whilst accountants will always need to have reached a certain level of training.
Bookkeeper | Required qualifications
- An interest and proficiency with numbers/mathematics
—AND / OR—
- A qualification from a professional accounting or bookkeeping body like AAT or IAB – for example, the AAT Foundation Certificate in Bookkeeping.
Accountant | Required qualifications
- A university degree in accounting and finance
- A qualification from a recognised accounting body, such as AAT, the Association of Accounting Technicians
Qualified accountants can continue their training to gain chartered status from ICAEW, ICAS, ACCA, CIMA or CIPFA. Many accountants also choose a specialism, such as auditing, tax or management.
Required skills and daily tasks
Of course, if you’re debating whether to become a bookkeeper or an accountant, one area to look at is the nature of the work itself. What role will you play in an office? What will your daily tasks be?
While accountants often do a certain amount of bookkeeping, their skills typically exceed those of a bookkeeper. Bookkeepers are tasked with organising and recording a company’s finances (sales, expenses, petty cash usage, etc.), and accountants use those records to perform more complex financial processes, such as filing returns, preparing final accounts and analysing budgets.
Bookkeeper | Typical tasks
- Balancing accounts through double-entry bookkeeping
- Reconciling petty cash records
- Processing and preparing: customer and supplier invoices, credit notes, expenses, receipts and payments
Accountant | Typical tasks
- Analysing costs and assessing the financial health of a company
- Drafting financial statements on behalf of the company
- Preparing and filing income tax returns
- Advising business owners or CEOs on the financial implications of major business decisions
Salary and career progression
Both bookkeepers and accountants make a good living. However, accountants — particularly chartered accountants — have the potential to earn a much larger salary and progress further up the career ladder. Accountants are so valuable to a company that many actually go on to fill senior management roles.
Bookkeeper | Typical salary: £15,000 to £31,000*
Accountant | Typical salary: £18,000 to £51,000*
Figures according to PayScale.com, as of September 2016.
For accountants with more experience and additional qualifications, these figures can be much higher. Highly experienced chartered accountants can earn as much as £85,000 per year, according to Graduate Prospects.