Are bookkeeping certifications worth it?

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We've explored the various accounting certifications in the US, Canada, and EU, but we avoided one of the big topics of discussion: bookkeepers. 

Bookkeeping vs Accounting

Bookkeepers handle the day-to-day tasks like recording transactions, posting debits and credits, producing invoices, running payroll, and maintaining the general ledger and accounts. Essentially, they generate all the data that accountants will then turn into information. The complexity of bookkeeping really depends on the size of the organization. Is it running a few dozen transactions a day? Or more like a few hundred thousand? The more complex, the more skills a bookkeeper needs. 

Accountants look at the big picture. They take the data of the bookkeeper and verify it, analyze it, and turn it into understandable information like reports. They provide guidance and strategy, and help better understand the past and the future of the company.  

Bookkeeping Certifications

A big question is whether bookkeepers are as regulated as accountants. The very short answer is "no". As we know, there are numerous types of certifications for accountants around the world, primarily Certified Public Accountants (CPAs) and Chartered Accountants (CAs). And you aren't an 'official' accountant without one of those designations, and they take many years of study and many thousands of dollars to attain. But bookkeepers are a very different story. 

While there is one gold standard accounting certification in the United States (CPA), there isn't a bookkeeping equivalent. However, there are two recognized bookkeeping certifications. 

The AIPB, American Institute of Professional Bookkeepers, offers a CB or Certified Bookkeeper designation, as does the NACPB, National Association of Certified Public Bookkeepers. These certifications are similar in that they both offer study guides, newsletters, and additional resources. Like most accounting certifications, they also require continuing professional education. Unlike most accounting certifications, the cost and time involved are much lower. 

Bookkeepers also have the option of getting certified in specific software. These certifications don't necessarily prove that the person is a qualified bookkeeper, merely that they're proficient in the software. The most common are: 

  • Quickbooks
  • Xero
  • Bill.com
  • Freshbooks
  • Avalara
  • Concur
  • Expensify

Are bookkeeping certifications worth it? 

If you're already an experienced bookkeeper, the answer may be "no". You likely already have many of the relevant skills, knowledge, and credibility you need to be hired and do your job successfully, and most clients will ask whether you're an accountant or not, but if you're a bookkeeper and they're looking for a bookkeeper, that may be all they need to know - not whether you're a certified bookkeeper. However, if you're just starting out in bookkeeping, or if you're trying to set yourself apart from other bookkeepers, the various bookkeeping or technology certifications may be very worth your while as they might enable you to charge more, market your services more effectively, and, in fact, do a better job given deeper training.

Getting certified, either with the AIPB or NACPB, can help you stand out in a sea of resumes. It proves that you have gone through some sort of qualification process, and may help you land that first or next bookkeeping job.