Bookkeeping Jobs: Disappearing or Evolving with Technology?

Bookkeeping Jobs: Disappearing or Evolving with Technology?

by Ainoura Oussenbec

March 1, 2018

In Oregon, bookkeeping is a large occupation at present.  There are more than 25,000 bookkeeping and accounting clerks, and about 1,800 of them work in the Rogue Valley. In addition, an undetermined number of bookkeepers are self-employed, i.e. they work in their own businesses. An Internet search offers a classic definition of a bookkeeper – a person whose job is to keep records of the financial affairs of a business. Bookkeepers can be found in every industry and sector, from retail shops to construction firms, from nonprofits to government offices, in small businesses and large.

Bookkeeping, accounting, and auditing clerks compute, classify, and record numerical data to keep financial records complete. They perform any combination of routine calculating, posting, and verifying duties to obtain primary financial data in maintaining accounting records. The typical entry level education is a postsecondary non-degree award. Almost all Oregon Community Colleges, including Rogue Community College, provide some training in Accounting Technology, usually for an associate degree.

In the past, this occupation was considered in demand, thanks to healthy job opportunities and decent wages. The Rogue Valley average wages for bookkeeping and accounting clerks are $17.54 per hour or $36,929 annually, with the Oregon average at $19.53 per hour.

However, OED’s current employment projections predict a decline for this occupation by 5.3 percent in the Rogue Valley, and 1.7 percent statewide.

Decline Forecasted for All Oregon Regions

The decline of bookkeeping jobs is projected for all regions in the state and is the result of profound changes happening in this field because of technology. There are not hundreds, but thousands of programs and applications available today, making bookkeeping processes automated or greatly simplified. Increasingly, bookkeeping duties get outsourced to specialized bookkeeping firms, and sometimes they can even be outsourced to other countries. In addition, it has been a common practice to combine bookkeeping duties with other duties, such as payroll and general office duties. There are fewer full time bookkeepers employed in businesses today, as the books migrate into the job descriptions of administrative assistants, office managers and even vice presidents.

What is going on with this once vital part of business operations? Is technology making bookkeepers obsolete?

Not Disappearing but Evolving – Local Business Leads the Way

Bookkeeping obsolete and disappearing? Yes and no, says Ingrid Edstrom, the owner of Polymath Bookkeeping Services in Ashland, Oregon. In 2016, Ingrid was named one of the 40 top accounting professionals under the age of 40 in the nation, according to CPA Practice Advisor Magazine. She teaches in accounting conferences and webinars for international audiences and participates in national discussions about the challenges and opportunities for this field. Her business is thriving in the small town of Ashland, while some bookkeepers may struggle even in larger metropolitan areas.

Ingrid believes that bookkeepers will remain a key part of business operations but their role must change and expand. Finances are still and will always be fundamental to any business. While business owners are typically entrepreneurs by nature, many of them are not skilled or that interested in the financial side of their business. Regardless of where the books are done, in-house or out of the country, and which software is used, the need to understand and control finances is crucial for every business and organization.

Here is how Ingrid’s business provides the next generation of bookkeeping services for her customers.

  • Know the books: Ingrid has years of direct experience in bookkeeping and is among those few who actually enjoy solving bookkeeping puzzles for breakfast. This is one field with no substitute for direct work experience and aptitude. Formal training is available at local colleges but the programs and instructors often times may be way behind the curve. Somebody with a passion for bookkeeping, who is able to keep up with the profound changes in the industry, is an incredible help to those business owners who just want to focus on daily operations.
  • Become an expert in many software applications: Ingrid has developed an extensive knowledge of numerous software applications related to bookkeeping. She is certified in advanced levels of several popular software suites. Any brave novice trying to explore the current bookkeeping software offerings will surely be overwhelmed by choices and loud sales claims. Ingrid helps customers to navigate the complex world of bookkeeping programs and select the most suitable solutions for their needs.
  • Become an educator and consultant: Ingrid works more as a consultant and educator, which means her communications and people skills are put to use daily. If the world used to see bookkeepers as silent and introverted persons in the back room, this is certainly not Ms. Edstrom. She is engaged in daily communications with her clients, offering customized insights for each business and each unique situation.
  • Become an industry expert, develop specialization: Ingrid believes that it is no longer possible to do everything for everybody. Each bookkeeping expert will need to find her niche. When employed in a business, the bookkeeper must develop a deep understanding of the entire business and industry. Only then can she become a part of the strategic conversations with the business owners and management. As a self-employed person, the bookkeeper needs to understand local economic conditions, and develop expert knowledge about one or two local industries.
While this new bookkeeper profile may appear to overlap with the expertise of Certified Public Accountants (CPA), differences still remain. CPAs can offer analysis of past financial performance and assist with projections, advice on taxes, financial and tax planning, auditing, succession planning, and other areas. Both accounting professionals can be needed in a business in different scenarios and at different stages.

Ingrid believes that bookkeepers of the future are problem solvers, educators, and consultants. The new definition for bookkeepers from the Institute of Certified Bookkeepers, reflects her business model and her vision of the future for the field: “Bookkeeping professionals are technology savvy, have business acumen as well as industry knowledge, and possess great people and customer service skills. They are management accounting professionals, often specializing in compliance, business strategy, technology setup, execution, and maintenance.”