I attended the MYOB conference in Wellington this weekend and found myself at our hotel after the gala dinner chatting with a small group of my fellow MYOB consultants about how they thought the conference had gone. One of the women in this group bemoaned the fact that the MC on the first day had constantly referred to the group assembled before her as bookkeepers.
This person was highly insulted and considered the term ‘bookkeepers’ to be so derogatory, speaking with such passionate derision that I was completely taken aback. Was I offended? Yes. It upset me actually. Her perception of what a bookkeeper is was clearly different to my own and to my colleagues in this industry who proudly call themselves bookkeepers and pride themselves on providing a skilled, valued and extremely professional bookkeeping service.
Of course I immediately introduced myself, making it quite clear the name of my business was Jada Accounts and BOOKKEEPING. Awkward backtracking.
I don’t think she meant to insult the skill level of those of us calling ourselves bookkeepers, but I think that she was probably just as taken aback that we would actually want to call ourselves bookkeepers. It seems that to her mind a bookkeeper equates to something like a minimum wage data entry clerk. If she looked at what we do in our role as bookkeepers, and at the education and experience that we have, she would probably call us something different.
I don’t think she is alone in thinking this way, and it was actually the second time that day that someone had mentioned how they’d been incorrectly called bookkeepers all day and how that had bothered them. MYOB Consultants seem to be a mix of accountants, bookkeepers, and software consultants who deal only with, or mostly with, the setup and installation of the software. So to address the audience collectively as bookkeepers was plainly incorrect. But was it really so insulting?
There is a part of me that kind of gets it. When I first started Jada I didn’t know what to call us as I also didn’t like the term ‘bookkeeper.’ I felt at the time that it didn’t represent accurately the skill level that I had or the level of service that I wanted to provide. To me we were the equivalent of an entire accounts department wrapped up in a package for small businesses. I actually wanted to call us The Accounts Department but someone had already thought of that brilliant name before me.
So I named the business Jada Accounts Ltd (Jada for my 2 boys Jamie and Daniel). That is our legal name. But initially we kept getting confused for accountants, it wasn’t clear what we did, the word ‘accounts’ didn’t fully represent what we did. So I tacked on ‘and Bookkeeping’ to the trading name to try to clarify our offering and it seems to have worked. And honestly, bookkeeping is exactly the game that we are in. There really is no other appropriate word that fits.
It seems that there is more work to do in raising the profile of bookkeepers in New Zealand and in combating the type of mis-perception that I was faced with this week. To be fair part of this is also raising the standards of those calling themselves bookkeepers so that all bookkeepers are working to a similar standard. I’ve written before about the wide spectrum of skills and abilities out there.
The NZ Bookkeeping Association was formed only a few years ago to address this kind of thing, to raise the standards in the industry, educate and support those of us working as, or wanting to work as, bookkeepers. There is an exam to pass in order to become a Certified Bookkeeper. Run by a voluntary, member-elected executive committee, the NZBAI has, over the short time since its inception, done a fantastic job of raising the profile of bookkeepers in New Zealand.
I can see the change as we are now recognised by many organizations as a collective of skilled accounts professionals. Accountants refer business to us. Software companies want our loyalty. The industry (mostly) understands what we do, the value that we bring to our clients, and that often the bookkeeper holds a strong position of influence within a company.
To be honest I think this woman’s perception was more the exception than the rule and the more we address one by one these types of attitudes as they crop up, the more we get out there, the more we network, introduce ourselves as bookkeepers and provide quality work, the less that this will happen.