A bookkeeper is someone who keeps financial records for a business, traditionally in the form of ledgers or journals which are sometimes colloquially called “books.” While a bookkeepers perform basic accounting tasks, he or she is not technically a qualified accountant, receiving far less training and not being subject to legal certification. A bookkeeper may work for a business, or contract out to individuals and small groups, handling the books for multiple clients at once.
Someone who works as a bookkeeper is responsible for recording every single financial transaction undertaken by a business. He or she notes payments made and what each payment was for, and keeps track of money taken in as well. These entries in the books must balance out, with all of a business's income and expenses being clearly and concisely accounted for.
At the end of a set accounting period such as a month or quarter, the bookkeeper may take the books to an accountant who does things like calculating tax payments to the Internal Revenue Service or issuing official reports. Some mid-size to larger companies prefer to retain an accountant and an accounting staff, cutting out the bookkeeper entirely for efficiency, while small businesses and companies might keep a bookkeeper and hire an accountant as needed for legal tasks like official profit and loss reports or taxes.
Bookkeeping and accounting can get extremely complex, especially as companies grow. A good bookkeeper is capable of being extremely flexible, working with a constant influx of information and surprises. In addition, he or she needs to be good with people, as bookkeepers work with people at all levels of an organization to ensure that the company can account for all expenses, from hotel rooms for work-related conferences to paper for the copy room. In some cases, a bookkeeper may engage in illegal activity such as falsifying records on the books to alter the appearance of a company's financial status. This activity is sometimes referred to as “cooking the books,” and it is unethical as well as illegal.
Someone who wants to become a bookkeeper typically takes accounting courses in college and he or she may receive on the job training as well. In some regions of the world, professional organizations offer certification and membership benefits to people who want to work as bookkeepers. These organizations may have entrance exams or membership requirements to ensure that all of their members are of similar quality.