Accountant or Bookkeeper: What’s the Difference? (And Which Should You Be?)

Want an accounting career? You might be a great accountant or a fantastic bookkeeper – but what’s the difference between the two roles?

What’s the Difference Between an Accountant and a Bookkeeper? 

An accountant and bookkeeper both fulfil financial roles within a business. So, what’s the difference between the two – and how do you decide which career path suits you best?

The biggest difference between a bookkeeper and an accountant

The most notable difference between an accountant and a bookkeeper is the type of accounting tasks they do.

A bookkeeper levels the ‘books’: making sure customers have paid, ensuring supplier invoices aren’t overdue, and even managing payroll and tax elements of business finance. They manage the cashflow of a business and report on the financial health of a company to the finance director.

An accountant, however, manages the overarching elements of business finance. They might provide – or prepare for – audits, advise on and complete company tax returns, or deliver business financial advice.

Bookkeeper vs accountant: qualifications 

You don’t need any formal qualifications to become a bookkeeper. Having good GCSE grades in core subjects – especially maths – will help, as will a demonstrable ability to manage numbers with ease.

Many people who want to become an advanced accounting professional start out in bookkeeping roles, too. It’s a good way to learn business finance in practice, learn about budgeting, understand payroll, and stay ahead of tax legislation. A lot of companies are willing to take on an unqualified person in a bookkeeper role as they pay for them to take their AAT Level 2 and Level 3 training to qualify as an accountant.

An accountant, on the other hand, has already completed their AAT training. They’ll also have – or be working towards – their chartered accountant status. You don’t need formal qualifications like a degree to take your AAT exams – but it may help in your job applications.

Work environment 

Bookkeepers are either self-employed, work in an accountancy firm, or in-house with a business. Most commonly, self-employed bookkeepers freelance to small businesses. These are companies with a small budget but who need extra help with their finance administration.

In-house bookkeepers work with larger companies who need a full-time person to reconcile accounts and manage payroll. You could be working in any industry sector as a bookkeeper: you don’t need specific sector experience. It’s your ability to work with data that’s important!

Accountants work in a wider range of organisations. You might work for a specific department of the Big Four – or as a self-employed accountant managing the tax advice (and returns) of small-to-medium sized businesses.

A natural career progression 

The great thing about a career in bookkeeping or accounting is that there’s always room for progression – even if you don’t hold a degree.

Many people start out as bookkeepers and use this as a springboard to qualify as a chartered accountant. Once you’ve got chartered status, you could specialise in a niche like forensic accounting or become a CPA in charge of auditing companies spending public money.

Find out more about how to get a job as an accountant here.