Bookkeeping in Australia is bigger than you might think. In 2021, data suggests there are over 100,000 bookkeepers currently working in some capacity*. Some work full time, but many work part-time and/or remotely as independent practitioners. It’s a great career option for many different reasons, from flexibility of hours and location to the sheer variety of work out there. That’s why bookkeepers are also a really diverse group.
But how does one get started in this line of work? It’s a bit of a mystery in some ways, because there are so many pathways. Speak to a bookkeeper with 30 years’ experience, and you’ll get a totally different answer to a new graduate in their first job. Speak to a bookkeeper who supports rural and remote businesses, and you might get a different answer to one who works for tradies and contractors in the city. It’s a spectrum from extensive work experience (including family business admin) to formal qualifications.
Certification is the most straightforward way to get started and grow your career as a bookkeeper. It’s also the most reliable way to make sure you have the breadth and depth of knowledge to serve customers in a variety of different scenarios. In this article, we’ll look at some of the different methods and definitions of ‘certification’, so you can work out which one’s right for you.
Why get a certification?
In Australia, you don’t technically have to be certified in any way to work as a bookkeeper. That’s the reason why small business owners can do their own books and BAS. Administrators with experience in bookkeeping can offer their services without having to get a qualification to formalise their experience.
There are a few problems with this, however. If you’re not certified, you may lose out on job opportunities or clients to bookkeepers who are certified. You won’t have advanced standing if you want to go on and advance your skills with further accounting or business administration study. You also wouldn’t be able to submit clients’ business activity statements (BAS) for them as an agent – more on that later.
It’s also worth looking at the way that other finance-related jobs within Australia are becoming more professionalised and regulated. For example, financial planners and advisers now have to have a university qualification, pass an exam, and complete mandatory supervised work experience. In banks and financial institutions, like super funds, even those in roles that would generally be considered ‘entry level’ now need to have certification in general advice or in particular product categories. It’s possible that the bookkeeping profession will experience this kind of transformation as well.
With all these factors, it’s pretty clear that certification is more than worthwhile if you’re looking for a long-lasting successful career in bookkeeping.
Types of certification
The term ‘certified professional’ is used to talk about a variety of professions. When people use this term, they usually mean someone who has a certain qualification (a certificate, diploma or degree) and has passed other requirements of an independent certifying body. These ‘other requirements’ vary depending on the profession. For example, graduates may have to pass another exam to be fully certified. Alternatively, they may have to get a certain breadth of work experience, through departmental rotations.
When it comes to bookkeeping, there are three main things that people may be referring to when they mention bookkeepers and certification in the same sentence:
- A nationally recognised certificate qualification in bookkeeping (like the Certificate IV in Accounting and Bookkeeping)
- Membership of a certifying body
- Registration as a BAS agent
Each one has its benefits, and a slightly different timeline.
Membership of a certifying body
There are a few certifying organisations for bookkeepers in Australia, but the main one is the Institute of Certified Bookkeepers (ICB). This professional association is the largest of its kind in the world. Its mission is to maintain and advance the professionalism of bookkeeping in Australia. In other words, it wants to help set and maintain standards for things like education, experience, and ongoing professional development.
As a Monarch Institute bookkeeping student, you get free student membership of the ICB. This gives you access to a wealth of resources and networking opportunities. But more importantly, it sets you on a pathway to full certification. Once you’ve finished your Certificate IV in Accounting and Bookkeeping, you’re eligible to become an affiliate member. Then, once you have a year of work experience under your belt, you can become an associate member. When you have two years’ current experience, you can become a full member, and use the postnominals ‘MICB’. This is what you’d call full certification.
Becoming certified this way has a variety of benefits. First off, whether you’re running your own business or part of another practice, certification is a great way to show to potential clients that you’re a serious career bookkeeper. It takes extra dedication and integrity to do the extra work it takes to maintain membership. Having the badge of a professional association on your business website or CV is basically a shortcut to saying “I’ve been through a comprehensive education, I stick to high ethical standards, and I’m committed to continuously improving so I can better serve clients”.
How long does it take to become a certified bookkeeper this way?
In terms of timelines, the Certificate IV in Accounting and Bookkeeping has no minimum study time if you’re a full-fee-paying student (though at least three months is recommended to make sure you’ve properly absorbed the knowledge). If you’re in a government supported place, you’ve got to take your time; at least six months. There is a maximum of two years. This means that, in addition to the work experience requirements, you could be fully certified in around two and a half years.
Registration as a BAS agent
BAS agents are professionals who prepare and file business activity statements on behalf of their clients. They are usually qualified bookkeepers who provide a range of accounting and bookkeeping services to their clients. BAS agents can work independently or as part of a firm.
To become a registered BAS agent, you need to meet the Tax Practitioners Board requirements. These are:
- you must be 18 or over
- you must be a ‘fit and proper person’ (have integrity, a good reputation, no prison time, and no convictions around tax, fraud or dishonesty)
- have the right qualifications and experience
- get professional indemnity insurance
The main hurdle for most people is the qualifications and experience. There are a few different possible combinations, but to put it simply, the minimum is a Certificate IV in Accounting and Bookkeeping, plus a board approved course in GST/BAS taxation principles. You then have to have either 1,400 hours of relevant work experience in the past four years, or 1,000 hours plus membership of a professional association.
Minimum time for certification
The work experience requirement equals roughly 25 weeks (six months) of full-time work. If you began working right after completing a Certificate IV in Accounting and Bookkeeping as a full-fee-paying student, and undertook the GST/BAS course while working, you could be certified and registered as a BAS agent in under a year. However, most new entrants take a little longer to study at their own pace, find the right graduate position, and get established.
Nationally recognised bookkeeping qualification
Nationally recognised qualifications are Certificates, Diplomas and Advanced Diplomas that meet strict rules on content and delivery. They are delivered by registered training organisations (RTOs) that have to meet strict quality standards. As the name suggests, a nationally recognised qualification is that it means the same thing everywhere in Australia. It’s what you’d call an ‘official’ or ‘formal’ qualification. There are a number of different benefits. For example, it opens up more learning options for you. You may be able to gain course credit or advanced placement for further study. Employers all over the country will know exactly what skills and knowledge to expect from you. You’ll be able to attract clients who want to be sure you’ve got the right skills to meet their needs, but don’t have time to quiz you.
The main nationally recognised bookkeeping qualification is the Certificate IV in Accounting and Bookkeeping. This Certificate is designed to reflect the work of a variety of employees in the accounting industry in general, including contract bookkeepers and BAS agents, as well as employees who have responsibility for bookkeeping tasks within their own organisation. It is made up of eight core units, plus five elective units that vary between different providers. The eight core units are:
- BSBFIA401 Prepare financial reports
- BSBSMB412 Introduce cloud computing into business operations
- FNSACC311 Process financial transactions and extract interim reports
- FNSACC312 Administer subsidiary accounts and ledgers
- FNSACC408 Work effectively in the accounting and bookkeeping industry
- FNSACC416 Set up and operate a computerised accounting system
- FNSTPB401 Complete business activity and instalment activity statements
- FNSTPB402 Establish and maintain payroll systems
These units reflect the general areas of responsibility that all bookkeepers tend to have: keeping ledgers, producing reports, doing payroll, doing the BAS, and working with different digital systems. Learners also develop transferrable skills, like working autonomously and exercising judgement.
As mentioned earlier, in terms of timing, the Certificate IV in Accounting and Bookkeeping has no minimum duration unless you’re a government-supported student. The maximum (two years) is so that your knowledge is still fresh when you start working.
It’s worth noting that, although you won’t be ‘certified’ yet, you can start looking for bookkeeping roles while you’re still studying. In fact, many Monarch students are already working in a small business or undertaking bookkeeping work experience when they enrol.
Your Certificate IV in Accounting and Bookkeeping with Monarch Institute
Monarch Institute has been delivering this qualification for several years. We’re a TPB-approved course provider. We’re proud to have thousands satisfied, successful graduates across Australia. Our grads work in a variety of different bookkeeping roles; some own their own bookkeeping practice, some work for major firms, others are now confidently handling the books in their family businesses. But don’t just take our word for it – check out our verified reviews on Trustpilot to see what they have to say.
Wondering what will make your learning experience with us really outstanding? It all starts with the awesome support. Our trainers are highly experienced bookkeepers and accountants who are passionate about giving students the learning experience they wish they had. It’s the best combination of independent learning, going at your own pace, with one-on-one help when you need it.
You’ll be able to chat to your trainer any time you’re getting really stuck with a new concept. Trainers are available to support you by email, phone, Zoom, Facebook and more.
Your Monarch Institute learning experience is designed to be totally flexible and self-paced. There are no enrolment deadlines. The (huge) window for finishing your assessments is based on when you enrol, and however you study in between is up to you. Got a week off and want to really get stuck in to it? Need time off for a holiday? Trying to fit study in here and there around work commitments? No worries – it’s up to you. In addition to trainer support, you’ll also have a great Facebook community of learners doing the same course, to share study tips and support each other. And of course, our friendly admin team are there with you right from the beginning to help with any other challenges you might be facing. Long story short, the challenge of becoming a certified bookkeeper will feel a lot less daunting with Monarch on your side!
In addition to the eight units above, your Monarch qual includes:
- FNSACC405 Maintain inventory records
- BSBWOR301 Organise personal work priorities and development
- FNSACC313 Perform financial calculations
- FNSACC412 Prepare operational budgets
- FNSACC411 Process business tax requirements
These units have been carefully chosen with tons of consultation with real employers and clients. They’re designed to help you stand out from the crowd, whilst giving you the flexibility to work in the biggest variety of potential industries.
Those are just a few of the ways that Monarch Institute can support you on your journey to becoming a certified bookkeeper. To discuss your options, or to chat more about the course content, get in touch with our course consultants today on 1300 738 955.
*See current joboutlook.gov.au estimates as at 02/01/21.