Bookkeepers - What They Do

Accounting technicians and bookkeepers maintain complete sets of books, keep records of accounts, verify the procedures used for recording financial transactions, and provide personal bookkeeping services. They are employed throughout the private and public sectors, or they may be self-employed.

Job duties

This group performs some or all of the following duties:

  • Keep financial records and establish, maintain and balance various accounts using manual and computerized bookkeeping systems
  • Post journal entries and reconcile accounts, prepare trial balance of books, maintain general ledgers and prepare financial statements
  • Calculate and prepare cheques for payrolls and for utility, tax and other bills
  • Complete and submit tax remittance forms, workers' compensation forms, pension contribution forms and other government documents
  • Prepare tax returns and perform other personal bookkeeping services
  • Prepare other statistical, financial and accounting reports.

Job titles

  • accounting technician
  • bookkeeper
  • accounting bookkeeper
Employment Requirements

This is what you typically need for the job:

  • Completion of secondary school is required.
  • Completion of a college program in accounting, bookkeeping or a related field or Completion of two years (first level) of a recognized professional accounting program (e.g., Chartered Accounting, Certified General Accounting) or Courses in accounting or bookkeeping combined with several years of experience as a financial or accounting clerk are required.

Essential Skills


  • Read handwritten notes from supervisors, co-workers and clients, and comments on forms such as invoices and receipts. (1)
  • Read brochures, information releases and newsletters to learn about computer software and stay abreast of upcoming changes and upgrades to programs. (2)
  • Read short e-mail from supervisors and clients. They read responses to questions, details of meeting schedules and requests for clarifications of payroll, utility bill and government remittance amounts. (2)
  • Read instruction manuals and help files when using computer software. For example, they may read accounting software manuals and help files to review specific functions and steps needed to modify account descriptions and produce custom financial statements. (3)
  • Read bulletins outlining procedure changes from the Canada Revenue Agency, provincial ministries of revenue, Industry Canada and other federal and provincial authorities. For example, they may read about new procedures for the completion of tax and payroll remittance forms and the submission of payments. They read these bulletins for information which will affect their practices. (3)
  • Read the Income Tax Act, the Privacy Act, provincial labour codes and other legislation to verify rules and regulations. They may have to integrate information from a number of acts to provide advice to clients. For example, they may review the Income Tax Act to ensure that certain types of expense claims are valid and will be approved by the Canada Revenue Agency. They may also review their province's labour code to determine who is entitled to paid statutory holidays. (3)

Document use

  • Scan labels on floppy disks, files and office products for a variety of data. For example, they scan labels on file folders to locate dates and account numbers. (1)
  • Locate data in a variety of lists, tables and schedules. For example, they scan lists to locate account numbers and ensure the accuracy of posted journal entries. They locate employee names and hours worked on time sheets. They locate source deductions in complex tax remittance tables. (2)
  • Locate data in completed forms. For example, they scan receipts to identify claimable business expenditures. They search different sections of the receipts to locate the names of product vendors and service providers, before and after tax amounts, federal and provincial sales taxes, and other data. (3)
  • Complete forms such as general ledgers, tax and source deductions, remittances, workers' compensation, pension contribution reports, records of employment, annual financial reports and income tax returns. They may have to combine data from several sources to complete such forms. For example, they enter dates, dollar amounts, account numbers and other data in manual and computerized general ledgers. (3)


  • Write comments on forms and notes for record keeping. For example, they write short descriptions of financial transactions being recorded in general ledgers. They also write notes in accounting files to draw attention to missing documents that are needed to complete government forms and financial statements. (1)
  • Write e-mail to managers and clients. For example, they may write short messages to schedule appointments, respond to enquiries and request clarifications of receipt and invoice amounts. (2)
  • Write minutes of meetings. For example, they may write the minutes for finance committee and annual shareholder meetings. (2)
  • May write letters to the Canada Revenue Agency, provincial ministries of revenue and other federal and provincial authorities on behalf of employers and clients. For example, bookkeepers may write to the Canada Revenue Agency to justify expense claim requests and request corrections of monthly instalments that were applied to the wrong periods. They may also write letters to tax auditors about business tax returns. (3)
  • Prepare procedures and guidelines to assist co-workers, subcontractors and clients using financial software. They describe the steps software users have to follow when using particular functions. They refer to generally accepted accounting principles and specific taxation rules and regulations. They must be explicit and precise to reduce ambiguity and the possibility of misinterpretation. (3)


Money Math

  • Calculate and verify invoice and receipt amounts. They calculate amounts for goods and services, determine discounts and surcharges, and add federal and provincial sales taxes. (3)

Scheduling, Budgeting & Accounting Math

  • Record amounts payable and receivable against various accounts in general ledgers. For each financial transaction, they have to debit and credit several accounts. (2)
  • Compare transactions listed on bank statements to journal entries to identify errors and produce monthly reconciliations. (2)
  • May calculate fiscal year-end dollar values given inventory amounts and quantities. They may also create capital cost allowance schedules to calculate the new values of depreciated capital equipment. (3)
  • Calculate time intervals and identify dates for a variety of schedules and timetables. For example, they may schedule payments of utilities and tax remittances in order to avoid late penalties. (3)
  • Calculate amounts for payroll, utility and tax accounts. For example, to calculate payroll amounts, they generally multiply time worked by hourly rates and then deduct federal and provincial income taxes, contributions to pension plans and employment insurance fees. They may have to use different hourly rates for overtime and holidays. (3)
  • Prepare and monitor operational budgets for businesses and organizations of all sizes. They frequently have to change budget line items because of unexpected events. (4)
  • Prepare and verify monthly financial statements including balance sheets, income and expense statements and statements of cash flows. (4)
  • May prepare and verify personal and corporate tax returns. For example, they verify gross incomes by adding all sources of revenue. They calculate and subtract a variety of deductions such as registered retirement and pension plan contributions, union dues, day care, financial fees, moving fees and capital gains to obtain net and disposable incomes. They refer to taxation tables to determine net taxes and subtract taxes already paid to obtain amounts due and owed. In some provinces, they have to calculate both federal and provincial income tax returns. (4)

Data Analysis Math

  • Analyze data from financial statements to obtain summary measures and compare financial performance across time periods. For example, they may calculate average sales expenses over several years to design realistic budgets. They may compare incomes over quarters to identify seasonal trends and may also calculate several financial ratios to assess the financial performance of corporations. (3)

Numerical Estimation

  • Estimate times to carry out job tasks using past experience as a guide. For example, they may estimate the number of hours needed to post entries in general ledgers and prepare tax returns. (1) )
  • Estimate cash balances at the ends of upcoming months by analyzing accounts receivable and payable. The rate of receipt of payments is somewhat uncertain and bookkeepers must help corporations maintain sufficient cash flow to meet fixed expenses such as rent and payroll. (2)

Oral communication

  • Interact with suppliers to enquire about products, verify prices, lodge complaints and ask for refunds. For example, they may call suppliers to verify invoice amounts when sales taxes seem to have been miscalculated. (1)
  • Talk to representatives from the Canada Revenue Agency, provincial ministries of revenue and other federal and provincial authorities to sort out the details of remittance payments and claims. (2)
  • May interact with co-workers and subcontractors to provide directions, coordinate bookkeeping tasks and help resolve difficulties in balancing financial statements. They may assign new tasks, review completed tasks and enquire about the status of ongoing work. (2)
  • Interact with supervisors and clients to collect receipts and invoices for record keeping, clarify financial transactions made and coordinate the preparation of cheques for payrolls, utilities and tax remittances. They also discuss expenditures and overdue accounts receivable. (2)
  • Discuss the interpretation of tax laws and generally accepted accounting principles with accountants and other bookkeepers. For example, a bookkeeper may talk to an accountant to verify how to treat an expense item. (2)
  • May present financial reports to shareholders. For example, they may present overviews of monthly financial statements, including balance sheets, income and expense statements, and statements of cash flows. They may recommend areas for improvement such as cost-cutting and investment banking. They must be able to answer complex questions and handle audiences with varying degrees of financial expertise. (3)
  • Train co-workers, employees, subcontractors and clients to use financial software. They teach the steps trainees have to follow when using particular software functions. They explain applicable methods, demonstrate tasks, facilitate discussions and question trainees to ascertain their understanding of procedures. They have to establish trust and encourage trainees' active involvement in the learning process. (3)


Problem Solving

  • Find that financial records are inaccurate, incomplete or missing. For example, they discover that they are missing invoices to match expenditures shown on bank statements. They speak with their supervisors and clients to identify purchases made and seek assistance in obtaining copies of missing invoices. (2)
  • Are unable to access the Canada Revenue Agency website. The situation is further complicated if they need to collect new income tax rates immediately to calculate pay amounts. To avoid undue delays in issuing pay cheques, they contact other bookkeepers and accountants to obtain the required rates. (2)
  • Receive complaints from employees who believe they are entitled to more pay. Bookkeepers re-examine time sheets and punch cards and recalculate income and deductions for the employees concerned. If the pay had been miscalculated, they adjust it. Otherwise, they refer complaints to employers. (3)
  • Encounter discrepancies between bank statements and journal entries when performing bank reconciliations. They undertake thorough verifications of cheques issued, deposits made, and debits and credits shown both in journal entries and on bank statements. If they discover errors generated by bank computers, they ask their employers and clients to advise bank representatives. If they are unable to locate the errors, they ask other accounting professionals for assistance. (3)

Decision Making

  • Select accounting software to use for particular applications. They consider factors such as the type and size of business, reporting requirements and their own personal preferences. (2)
  • Decide to transfer funds from one account to another to meet payroll and tax remittance obligations. To help them make their decisions, they perform cash flow analyses regularly and closely monitor bank statements. (2)
  • May decide which bookkeeping tasks to assign to co-workers and subcontractors. They consider individual strengths and weaknesses, work experiences and abilities to meet deadlines. (2)
  • Select procedures to record financial transactions. Standards established by the Canada Revenue Agency leave room for discretion. For example, they may decide to classify new offices as capital expenses to be depreciated over a number of years. (2)
  • Decide to terminate relationships with clients who ask for unethical bookkeeping. They have to assess the potential for legal liability suits. For example, they may decide to terminate their relationships with clients who cheat workers out of pay and insist on finding loopholes in tax regulations. (3)
  • Choose or recommend methods and procedures for handling delinquent accounts. They may write off bad debts, use collection agencies or pursue debtors in small claims courts. They need to consider several factors to make appropriate choices. (3)

Critical Thinking

  • Assess the accuracy and reasonableness of financial reports generated using accounting software. They compare data to previous reports and use their experience to identify potential errors. (2)
  • Evaluate the completeness of procedures and guidelines they have written to assist co-workers, subcontractors and clients using bookkeeping, billing and accounting software. They ensure that important information has not been omitted and wording is not ambiguous. (3)
  • Evaluate the suitability of bookkeeping methods. They consider a number of complex factors including various taxation laws and rates, generally accepted accounting principles and the scope of business operations. Bookkeepers' reputations suffer if they make errors in judgement. (3)

Job Task Planning and Organizing

Own Job Planning and Organizing

Bookkeepers have wide scope to plan and schedule their tasks within timeframes set by employers and clients, Canada Revenue Agency, provincial ministries of revenue and other federal and provincial authorities. Bookkeepers working in accounting and bookkeeping firms experience a significant increase in their volume of work at tax time. At these times, they require above average planning and organizing skills to ensure the timely delivery of tax returns. Missing documents, equipment failures and other unexpected events may force them to reorganize job tasks. (3)

Planning and Organizing for Others

Bookkeepers contribute to short and long-term financial planning for public and private sector organizations. They may be responsible for assigning tasks to co-workers and subcontractors. (3)

Significant Use of Memory

  • Remember account numbers to speed up journal entry processes, and may remember security codes to access computers and networks.
  • Remember procedures to deal with software errors and equipment idiosyncrasies.
  • Remember the names and specializations of employees, subcontractors and clients to save time and facilitate communication.

Finding Information

  • Find historical information on the financial performance of their employers' and clients' organizations by consulting shareholders and reviewing past financial statements and income tax returns. (3)
  • Search government bulletins and websites to find information about corporate and personal taxes. For example, they may search for taxation rates, source deduction tables, equipment depreciation schedules and remittance guidelines. (3)

Digital technology

  • Use word processing. For example, they may write, edit and format text for letters, minutes of meeting and procedures using programs such as Word. (2)
  • Use databases. For example, they may enter and retrieve sales and costs data from databases using programs such as Access. They may also display and print existing database reports. (2)
  • Use the Internet. For example, they may use programs such as Internet Explorer to access the Canada Revenue Agency website and download tax forms. They may pay invoices through on-line banking services. They may also perform keyword searches to get information about financial software products. (2)
  • Use spreadsheets. For example, they may use programs such as Excel, Lotus and Quattro Pro to create new accounting and financial spreadsheets and modify the structure of existing ones. They may use these programs to organize corporate account balances by department and fiscal period. They may also use them to calculate tax remittances, workers' pay and payroll deductions such as vacation pay, employment insurance and pension plan contributions. (3)
  • Use communication software. For example, they may create and maintain distribution lists, receive and send e-mail and attachments to clients, co-workers and colleagues. (3)
  • Use bookkeeping, billing and accounting software. For example, they use programs like QuickBooks, MYOB, ACCPAC, Acomba and Simply Accounting to record financial transactions and prepare pay cheques, invoices and monthly financial statements, including balance sheets and income and expense statements. They may install these programs and train co-workers, employees, subcontractors and clients to use them. They may use programs such as Tax Wiz and Taxprep to assist in the preparation of personal and corporate tax returns, and Amortiz to calculate interests on car loan payments for income tax purposes. Bookkeepers working for the retail industry may also use programs like Business Vision to integrate accounting processes with point-of-sale software systems. (4)

Other Essential Skills:

Working with Others

Bookkeepers perform most of their tasks independently but coordinate their work with supervisors, clients, accountants and other bookkeepers. They interact with supervisors and clients to exchange information. They work with accountants to prepare tax returns and year-end financial statements. They may supervise and train co-workers and subcontractors assisting them with bookkeeping tasks. (2)

Continuous Learning

Continuous learning is an integral part of the job of bookkeepers. They are expected to stay abreast of changes to government procedures, rules and regulations, and to further their knowledge of accounting software and practices. On a day-to-day basis, they acquire new learning by discussing with accountants and other bookkeepers, browsing the Internet, reading government bulletins and software user manuals, and reviewing the Income Tax Act, the Privacy Act, provincial labour codes and other legislation. They also attend seminars, workshops and courses offered by business and professional associations, accounting firms, government departments and software companies. (3)