What is a bookkeeper?

We’ve all heard of a bookkeeper. But what exactly does a bookkeeper do?

In reality bookkeepers can wear many hats, depending on who they work for or what clients they service. If you take a look at a few bookkeeper job descriptions, you’ll likely find the competencies needed will be broad and varied.

But you’ll also see there are some common skills and attributes you’ll need that employers look for, regardless of who the job is with.

Here we’ll explore “what is a bookkeeper?” and just as importantly how you become one.

Lady holding a work document

What does a bookkeeper do?

Bookkeepers maintain the financial records of a company or business. They form part of the accounts team within a business. Or they provide freelance bookkeeping services to other businesses.

The types of tasks a bookkeeper does include:

  • processing, reconciling, and monitoring transactions
  • maintaining accurate financial records
  • setting up and using accounting software
  • ensuring the accounting books are balanced
  • producing financial reports
  • interpreting the financial situation of the business

Although you may be doing the same types of tasks regardless of who you work for, the complexity will vary greatly depending on the size and type of the business.

You will likely also be involved with or responsible for:

  • payroll
  • invoicing
  • purchasing
  • lodging Business Activity Statements (BAS), which requires BAS Registration with the Tax Board.

The way you complete each task may differ from business to business. Although there are standard and accepted ways to fulfill most bookkeeping or accounting processes, many companies will have their own processes to meet the individual needs of the business.

Difference between a bookkeeper and Registered Tax Agent

Technically bookkeepers and Registered BAS agents differ. Although for the main part they fulfill the same duties. Registered Tax Agents are accredited to complete and submit BAS.

Most bookkeepers will undertake the necessary qualifications to become a BAS agent. Having the added accreditation means you’re able to provide an additional skill set to an employer or clients.

Bookkeepers are employed to look after the books. They’re also able to do many things related to business finances. Registered BAS agents can offer a few additional benefits to their employers or clients.  

They’re able to represent, advise, or assist their employer with certain matters. And they provide their employer with much more clout when it comes to the Australian Tax Office (ATO) than bookkeepers do.

Registered BAS agents undertake study and then additionally need to gain on the job experience while working. That experience relates specifically to:

  • GST
  • Wine, fuel and luxury car taxes
  • Fringe benefits tax payments
  • Payroll relating to withholding tax amounts
  • Income tax payments including PAYG instalments

Cup of coffee next to work documents

How do I become a bookkeeper?

Qualifications to become a bookkeeper is fairly straightforward in Australia. And while a formal qualification isn’t mandatory to become a bookkeeper, it will give you the skills employers are looking for.

The qualification is a Certificate IV in Accounting and Bookkeeping which is nationally recognised under the Australian Qualifications Framework (AQF). 

Monarch Institute offers the latest nationally recognised accounting and bookkeeping qualification.  The FNS40217 Certificate IV in Accounting and Bookkeeping has recently superseded older courses of FNS40615 Certificate IV in Accounting and FNS40215 Certificate IV in Bookkeeping.

And the added bonus is this course meets the Tax Practitioners Board (TPB) education requirements to become a registered BAS agent.  You’ll need to meet additional experience criteria before you’ll become a fully-fledged BAS agent. But it sets you up on the right path.

How long does it take to do the course?

Certificate IV in Accounting and Bookkeeping is designed to be completed within around 12 months. But it’s important to find a course that offers you flexibility and support. 

Most people need to work to support their study. Other commitments and sometimes “life” gets in the way of a structured in person style of learning. So you can take up to 2 years to complete the course through Monarch Institute if you need it.

And there’s no minimum timeframe. So for those who are highly motivated and well organised you can complete the full course at an accelerated pace.

The key factors that influence course completion are a student’s commitments outside study, experience they may already have, time availability, how fast they work and commitment levels.

It’s important to look for an option that suits your particular needs.

Gaining experience as a bookkeeper

Once you have your qualification, gaining experience with a business where you can be mentored and guided will give you the foundation to then be able to identify the type of business you want to work for. 

Getting a solid start in the accounting sector as a bookkeeper may even give you the expertise and confidence to set up your own bookkeeping business to service clients.

What skills and attributes does a bookkeeper need?

Enjoy working with numbers? That’s the first skill a bookkeeper needs. And it’s likely a good looking spreadsheet gets you feeling all the feels.

But it doesn’t stop there. You’ll become familiar with a range of accounting software packages through study and on the job experience. Being comfortable with computers and navigating the capabilities of the software is a big bonus for an employer. As is being adaptable to change. 

If you’re the type of person who has the following attributes, bookkeeping could be a great career option.

  • Methodical in your approach to work with a strong attention to detail 
  • Have an analytical mind and strong problem solving skills
  • High level computer skills and the ability to adapt to software changes and updates (they happen all the time!)

There are multiple bookkeeping software options. While many bookkeepers specialise in one it’s a good idea to have a handle on a few:

  • MYOB
  • Xero
  • Reckon
  • QuickBooks
  • Sage

The days of actually keeping “books” are long gone. Along with these accounting and bookkeeping applications, you’ll also use spreadsheets, access ATO portals and regularly use various software platforms on a daily basis.

Bookkeeping courses for the real world

Monarch’s Certificate IV in Accounting and Bookkeeping is ideal for independent learners ready to take the next step to becoming a bookkeeper. The online delivery gives you the flexibility to balance work and other life demands with your study.

Chat to a Course Consultant about your study options today on 1300 738 955.