The terms "bookkeeper" and "accounting clerk" are often used interchangeably in business. The duties of a bookkeeper and an accounting clerk can be very different from company to company. However, a bookkeeper often refers to an independent contractor who keeps the books for several companies, whereas an accounting clerk works only for one business.
There is no single definition of "bookkeeper" or "accounting clerk". Both terms refer to someone with financial skills who records transactions for a business and prepares financial reports that summarize those transactions. In practice, a bookkeeper is often an external supplier that provides services part-time to small businesses. An accounting clerk is often a full-time position within a larger company. Accounting clerks can do all of the book work for a company or specialize in one particular area.
Duties of a Bookkeeper
A bookkeeper who works for a small business often reports directly to the business owner. He often does everything from the daily transaction reporting right up to financial statement preparation at the end of every month. A bookkeeper does the billing for the company and often processes the payment receipts and issues outstanding account statements. To ensure that all of the transactions that appear on the bank statement are recorded, the bookkeeper reconciles the values on the bank statement to those recorded in the accounting system.
Duties of an Accounting Clerk
An accounting clerk often works under the supervision of a lead accountant and works directly for the company in an employee capacity. The clerk focuses on daily transactional reporting, such as accounting for expenses, petty cash and cash receipts. The accounting clerk also monitors accounts payable and accounts receivable to alert the accountant when to pay bills and when to pursue collections on customers. While the accounting clerk often produces a trial balance at the end of each month, it is usually the accountant who prepares the financial statements that will be distributed externally.
The Year End Accounting Process
At a company's fiscal year end, there are several specific accounting tasks that do not occur at other times of the year. The responsibility for these tasks may fall on either the bookkeeper/accounting clerk or the lead accountant, depending on the organizational structure of the company. Year end tasks include creating accrual transactions to account for expenses that belong in the current year but have not yet been billed. If the company is incorporated, income tax liabilities must be calculated and recorded in the books. Also, the results of any annual inventory count will adjust the inventory and cost of goods sold balances. The final financial statements will be provided to the owners and investors of the company and may be distributed to external users, such as banks and other creditors.
Angie Mohr is a syndicated finance columnist who has been writing professionally since 1987. She is the author of the bestselling "Numbers 101 for Small Business" books and "Piggy Banks to Paychecks: Helping Kids Understand the Value of a Dollar." She is a chartered accountant, certified management accountant and certified public accountant with a Bachelor of Arts in economics from Wilfrid Laurier University.