For an accurate diagnosis, veterinarians rely on an accepted set of quality controls.
Similar principles apply when handling financial and managerial data in a practice. Quality controls are essential, and applying them requires a trained, experienced technician.
That technician is your practice bookkeeper.
The bookkeeper's duties basically involve handling financial data and maintaining good records. Key attributes are attentiveness to detail, neatness, consistency and organization. Bookkeeping responsibilities are best handled by as few people as possible, in order to achieve conformity and continuity in your records.
Bookkeepers do not require degrees or licenses, but you might consider one who is certified (more to follow). Most will have taken business and accounting courses in a college or trade school. The bookkeeper should have a basic knowledge of computers and software, including spreadsheet and bookkeeping programs.
The descriptions that follow will help you find the best type of bookkeeper for your practice.
Consider the skill level and duties you expect. Will the candidate have other duties in your practice besides bookkeeping?
You can use this information to improve current staff through additional training and education.
A Certified Bookkeeper (CB) designation is to bookkeepers what a DVM license is to veterinarians, or a CPA license is to accountants. A bookkeeper who is certified must meet national standards set by the American Institute of Professional Bookkeepers (AIPB).
Certification follows an examination proving a basic knowledge; also, a minimum experience level and ongoing professional education requirements must be met.
On the examination, the candidate must achieve a score of at least 75 percent in each of five areas of knowledge: adjusting entries; error correction, including the bank reconciliation; depreciation, book and tax, including passenger autos; payroll; and inventory under the perpetual and periodic systems.
Before earning a CB designation, candidates must have at least 3,000 hours (two years) of practical office experience and sign a code of ethics established by the AIPB. To maintain certification, a CB must complete an average of 30 continuing-education credits per year.
The AIPB provides the following three titles and job descriptions for those who are not certified, but have skills and competencies required for bookkeeping. Such persons may meet the basic requirements for bookkeeping positions in many veterinary practices.
A person at this skill level:
As a caveat, we strongly advise outsourcing payroll in most veterinary practices with relatively small staffs (fewer than 30).
We believe veterinary practices are at risk when a single person is responsible for all aspects of payroll preparation, return filing and trust-fund account remittances. When outsourcing, practice owners are wise to research credentials and bonding before turning over payroll preparation. Talk with an accountant and attorney before deciding.
This individual has a lesser slate of duties and somewhat less expertise than the Full-Charge Bookkeeper. The basic profile:
This person has the following attributes and skills, and usually works under supervision of a Certified Bookkeeper or a Full-Charge Bookkeeper. (Or, an Assistant Bookkeeper may be supervised by a practice owner or manager with financial expertise.) The basic profile:
Up to one year's bookkeeping experience.
Records basic transactions in main and subsidiary journals and posts entries to ledger accounts with minimal supervision.
Totals the subsidiary ledger accounts and, under supervision, reconciles with the control accounts.
For information on the Web from the AIPB, go to www.aipb.org.
We urge practices to consider hiring bookkeepers who maintain AIPB membership.
The AIPB also publishes a free, twice-monthly electronic newsletter that is helpful.
Other advice on veterinary practice bookkeeping and internal accounting design can be found in Chapters 7 and 8 of "Practice Made Perfect: A Guide to Veterinary Practice Management." (M.L. Heinke, AAHA Press 2001).
A solid lab technician in the form of a well-trained bookkeeper, and fiduciary oversight by the owner or manager, are key to optimizing a veterinary practice's performance.
Dr. Heinke is owner of Marsha L. Heinke, CPA, Inc. and can be reached at (440) 926-3800 or via e-mail at MLHeinke@aol.com