Was There Really a Good Old Days of Accounting?

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At an accounting conference I attended last spring, the presenter was talking about the “Quickbooks slop” we practitioners get from our clients. This drew a lot of chuckles and universal agreement from everyone in the room.

The presenter used the “slop” comment in reference to a story about the good old days of accounting.

The story goes something like this:

Hooray for the Good Ol’ Days

In the good ol’ days of accounting, clients would bring us bank statements, canceled checks, and deposit slips each month.

We maintained the general ledger.

Bank accounts were reconciled.

The ledger was clean.

If there’s a well-maintained general ledger and reconciled bank accounts, tax time is a breeze. If formal financials need created, it’s easy because there’s always a clean ledger to pull numbers from.

As the story goes, this is how it was up until 15-20 years ago.

And then came Quickbooks.

Now, so the story goes, clients keep their own books, usually in a disastrous way, and they see no value in working with an accountant on keeping the books.

Instead of the accountant maintaining a clean general ledger all year long, now the client dumps their Quickbooks slop into our laps at tax time and we get to pick through it as best we can to create a salvageable tax return.

Did This Golden Era Really Exist?

I get skeptical when I hear people rail about some mythical “good ol’ day,” whether they’re talking about business or society.

Listening to my 73-year-old father and 98-year-old grandfather talk, I get the impression that the “good ol’ days” had plenty of problems. There were good things, and there were bad things.

Just like today.

So for accountants, is it really true that things were better with business clients “way back when”?

Retro Joe the Window Washer

I have a hard time believing that Joe the Window Washer was any different in 1995 or 1985 than he is in 2015.

Joe would never bring his bank statement and cancelled checks to an accountant for monthly or quarterly reconciliations.

Old School Joe the Window Washer, circa 1995, would have been the same as New Age Joe the Window Washer in 2015. He’d do a back-of-the-napkin tally of income and expenses in February, and hand that tally to his accountant to prepare the tax return for the prior year.

Bigger Businesses

I will concede that there may have been a good ol’ days with bigger businesses that have an office manager keeping the books.

Most of my clients who fall into this category do send me their things once a month for reconciliation, including a disaster-filled Quickbooks file. I spend most of my time fixing all the problems in the file.

This really isn’t the client’s fault, it’s more the fault of software that gives people a false sense of security. It’s all so easy! But it’s also easy to create trainwrecks in Quickbooks (or any bookkeeping software).

As long as clients in this boat have their file reviewed periodically, it works out okay. The best scenario would be for me to maintain everything myself, but clients see no value in that, and it’s a hopeless battle to fight. So the periodic tuneups are how it is.

The bigger problem here is the clients who need the monthly review but who choose instead to wait til tax time to get things to the accountant.

Call for Comments

I want to know what older accountants think. Was there a good ol’ days of of working with business clients? Or are this simply people reminiscing about a good ol’ days that never really existed?