The difference between 'bookkeeper' and 'accountant': which is right for my business?

5 minutes reading time

Many people use the term 'bookkeeper' and 'accountant' interchangeably. Sometimes unconsciously, or sometimes because they do not know the difference between the two. It is an often mistaken thought that accountant is the ‘polite synonym’ for bookkeeper. A bookkeeper and an accountant are not the same profession. In this article, we explain the main differences between a bookkeeper and an accountant. 

The differences between a bookkeeper and an accountant

In principle, there are a number of points on which a bookkeeper and an accountant differ, namely:

We will discuss the differences below one by one.

bookkeeper vs accountant

Education and experience

A big difference between a bookkeeper and an accountant is that an accountant has successfully completed a four-year college or university study. The theory learned can therefore be tested. A distinction is made between AA-accountant (accountant-administration consultant) and RA-accountant (chartered accountant). An AA-accountant has completed a higher professional education and an RA-accountant has completed a university study. A bookkeeper however, is not permitted to have a particular educational background to call himself a bookkeeper.

Practical experience
A (starting) accountant also has a lot more practical experience than a (starting) bookkeeper, because an accountant must first gain three years of practical experience before he or she can be registered in the Register of Accountants. For a bookkeeper, there are no obligations to study or gain practical experience. However, this does not mean that you should immediately shy away from bookkeepers, as bookkeepers are often very eager to gain a lot of knowledge and experience in the form of, for example, courses.

Officially protected title

In addition, a "protected title" means that not just anyone may use the professional title in question. In this case, someone may only call themselves an accountant if they have completed an appropriate education. Moreover, an accountant is obliged to attend annual training courses to keep his or her knowledge up to date. 

The title ‘bookkeeper’ is not protected. This means that anyone can call themselves a bookkeeper, even though there are no compulsory studies. There are, of course, multiple courses and training programmes for becoming a bookkeeper, but it is not compulsory to take them. Anyone can offer work as an accountant. We only work together with qualified and accredited bookkeepers, so that you can be sure that the bookkeeper is knowledgeable.

Why do I need an accountant?

Every company depends heavily on an organised set of financial data. The more systematic financial records are kept, the easier it becomes to realise the growth of your business. Bookkeepers are the ones who are responsible for reporting and recording financial transactions. By doing so, they lay the foundation for better accounting analysis that allows a company to make better decisions about the direction their business is heading in. 

Bookkeeper duties

The work of a bookkeeper includes a list of numerous tasks. These are mainly executive. The most common activities of a bookkeeper are listed below:

  • Managing invoices
  • Preparing financial reports
  • Maintaining salary administration
  • Maintaining and manage accounts receivable and accounts payable
  • Prepare the filing of tax returns
  • Drawing up annual accounts and profit and loss accounts

Why do I need an accountant?

The valuable work done by a bookkeeper is usually assessed by a professional accountant. Many small businesses find hiring a full-time accountant unnecessary or too expensive, yet there are certain business events and growth phases of the company that justify working with an accountant, even if only temporarily. See below when it's smart to consider working with a certified accountant. 

Accountant duties

An accountant has slightly more authority than a bookkeeper and can therefore carry out more activities. An accountant also has a primarily controlling and advisory role, rather than an executive role like the bookkeeper. Common activities of an accountant are: 

  • Drafting internal and external reports
  • Providing advice on financial, business economic, legal and tax issues
  • Auditing annual accounts and financial reporting
  • Closing the annual accounts
  • Drafting the auditor's report
  • Checking VAT returns

Liability of bookkeeper and accountant

It is not only good for your business if the accounts are kept correctly, but also in the event of an inspection by the tax authorities. Imagine if the bookkeeping is not in order, who is then responsible? An accountant is legally obliged to take out liability insurance. So, if your accountant has made mistakes that have financial consequences for your company, the damage can be recovered from the accountant's liability insurance. Financial damage will therefore always be compensated when working with a certified accountant.  

A bookkeeper, on the other hand, is not obliged to take out liability insurance. If the bookkeeper has made a mistake that causes financial damage to your company, you cannot necessarily recover the damage from the bookkeeper. If a bookkeeper has not taken out liability insurance, then you have no guarantee that the full damage will be covered. Are you starting a collaboration with an adminstration office or bookkeeper? Always ask whether they have taken out liability insurance. 

Costs bookkeeper vs accountant

The actual costs of a bookkeeper and accountant cannot be stated in black-and-white, because each bookkeeper and accountant can determine his or her own rate. However, on average, the rate of an accountant is much higher than that of a bookkeeper. This is not surprising, since an accountant has more experience and a higher education. The rates of an accountant are therefore around 150 euros per hour, while for a bookkeeper they are around 75 euros per hour. Please note: the price strongly depends on the number of years of experience. A bookkeeper or accountant who is just starting out will naturally charge a lower rate than a bookkeeper or accountant with years of experience. 

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The next step for your business

The best way to benefit from both worlds (accountant and bookkeeper) is to recognise that each relies on the other to provide your business with financial skills and services. By having a bookkeeper and accountant working together, you can save valuable time, make better business decisions and better manage the growth of your business. 

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