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Saturday, 15 October 2022

More Thoughts On Clients

I was encouraged by the interesting comments on my last post about the businesses I came across while working in accountancy in the nineteen-seventies, and the further thoughts they sparked off. The following captured my ambiguous feelings about it at the time:

Brown paper parcels containing vouchers,
Cash books and day books, bank statements in pouches,
Ledgers and ledgers, both sales and bought,
Ticking up postings requires little thought.

One big difference between then and now was the lack of computerisation. Nearly all records were handwritten. Some were in beautiful leather-bound ledgers, and there was a sense of pride and skill in being able to keep them neat and tidy in fountain pen, without mistakes and corrections.

Others might be in scruffy self-duplicating docket books. It was interesting to follow them around factories, matching them to drums of dye colour, or to trace them from lengths of cloth to the despatch of finished items of clothing. This was done to ensure the accounting systems were working correctly and detect possible fraud (which was rarely found).

But often the books of smaller clients would be brought into our own offices where you might be stuck for several weeks bored to tears, hence my parody of ‘Favourite Things’. 

I made distractions for myself. When we took on a model agency as a new client I was asked to produce a set of example book keeping entries for the owner to follow so that she knew how to fill them in. To the annoyance of my boss I used the names of famous models such as Twiggy and Jean Shrimpton, causing him to exclaim: “For goodness’ sake, Tasker, we’re a firm of Chartered Accountants, not Monty Python’s Flying Circus!” Too late. They were already inked into the first page of the cash book.

We also prepared sets of annual accounts for clients, filed them with the Inspector of Taxes on their behalf and dealt with their tax affairs. As a result I have never been afraid of dealing with outfits like HMRC or the DSS.

You could also get stuck of larger clients checking off lists against each other. It wasn’t called “double entry” book-keeping for nothing.  At one cloth warehouse it took several weeks to work through the sales ledgers. Statistical sampling and tests of significance would not have been considered adequate then. We checked nearly everything.

Another big difference was the sheer variety of types of business. We made so many more of our own things before globalisation. Now, Central Leeds seems to be predominantly financial rather than physical, and nearly everything takes place at desks in offices.

Computers sucked the life blood out of everything.

26 comments:

  1. Computers have brought many benefits in so many fields. I was just thinking about bar codes and how they have informed stock control and record keeping re. sales. Older methods were more time-consuming, cumbersome and liable to errors.

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    1. There is a lot of truth in that, but not when used indiscriminately. When I later worked in universities I could get my results out much more quickly using manual methods.

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  2. Funnily enough, a word went through my head - Kalamazoo. I must have used it in one of my jobs, also some sort of adding machine, was it linked, I don't know. I had a two weeks course at our accountants, for the two small firms my family ran. I could never get my head round making the two columns add up exactly, which meant they could be written off by the accountant.

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    1. They had several systems. One was a paper-based system of self-duplicating account books. I thought it over-priced.

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  3. That's small businesses for you. We put all our papers in a cardboard box and the box would go on a three monthly basis to the accountant. It worked well until we retired 8 years ago, my ring binders and cardboard box system never let us down and we never had a computer. There were times in our business when computer based customers of ours would come to us to rectify their own records from our hand written entries. I still keep my personal records for the accountant in the same way although I now tally up the figures and calculate the tax so the records are for me and I don't hand him the box, I deal with it myself at the end of the tax year. He runs his eye over my figures though.

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    1. As commented to YP, above, it can be easy for some to be drawn into using computers unthinkingly. But them, I once saw a shop keeper use a calculator to work out 10% VAT - and get it wrong.

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    2. My father used a ready reckoner for tonnages etc before calculators.

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  4. I remember the first computers I saw were in a bank were I worked as a student - they filled the room, big as wardrobes, and spitted out punched tape.
    When I started to work as a counsellor we had a weird system to find the file of a client by putting a long peg/pin/tack - I do not know the word - through little holes in hanging cardboard folders and as by magic you got the right file.
    And then we got "the real thing" - endless boring tutorials ("How to use the Internet", bla bla bla - four hours to sit around..). Some things about Word were useful - but could have been learned in a shorter time.
    Nowadays I am a bit frightened: even I (all my over 150 diaries are written by hand) type now my entries into the computer.
    I have many huge folders with extensive exchanges of handwritten letters by many friends - but if I now choose to write a letter instead a quick mail it is a rare day.

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    1. Like quite a lot of people who worked with computers, I have a lot of scepticism about them. Although they make pleasures like blogging possible, they remove also pleasure from other things. And I won't use mobile phones unless essential, even though I could write "apps" for them.
      I don't know what the peg system is that you describe, although it sounds fun and clever.

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    2. I think he means Hollerith punch cards. They used them in the health department of my home town. You clipped out a notch on the correct pre printed entry so that a search as you slid the rod through the stack would skip the choices with the notches and retain the ones still with holes not notches. So the cards you wanted fell from the pack onto your sesk. Simple and brilliant.

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    3. Yes, of course. Thanks for that. I'd forgotten. They used to teach you about it as a precursor of computing.

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  5. Yes, computers really revolutionized a lot of professions. And they sped up many processes, which is largely a good thing in the long run, I think.

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    1. The old "Parkinson's Law" adage also applies - work expands to fill the time and space available. So when I worked in universities, we moved from simply publishing results to producing lots of comparative statistics and ever more complicated systems of modules and classification methods. And awful awful quality control and back-covering procedures.

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  6. Its that no fear dealing with HMRC that lept out for F. She wishes she could feel that way about desling with our Greek accountants and revenue people. Scarred for life....

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    1. It's easy to think they are looking out to get you, like when a policeman is in the car behind, but actually most of the staff want as little hassle as possible.

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  7. When I started my librarian training, we still used cardboard cards and stamps in the front of the book so that people knew what date the book had to be returned. To work out late returns, we used the same system described above with the holes/notches in the cards, and spent about two hours every Wednesday morning to type reminder postcards to those readers who were late.
    I still like working with pen and paper and keep a physical diary for my appointments, but work as such would be impossible without computers. Much - but by no means all - of it would not be necessary without computers, either.

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    1. The wonderful 1895 Browne Issue System with cards, trays and index boxes. It had beauty and efficiency. A joy to use. I prefer a paper diary too.

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  8. One of my jobs in the 70s was as a punch tape operator. The counter staff would fill in the deposit and withdrawal details on tear off sheets and pass them to me for recording on the huge punch tape machine. At the end of the day the huge rolls of blue tape would then be sent off to Head Office.
    My first computing experience.

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    1. At one company I worked at, we filled in football-pool-like grids of accounting entries to be punched in by the data processing centre. Then they replaced them with automatic character recognition sheets, and we all had to go on a course to learn how to form and write numbers properly. The punch staff were no longer needed. Everything was printed out in massive binders.

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    2. How funny, Jaycee. My first job was a keypunch operator as well. The key punch turned letters into holes which were fed into a computer (which took up an entire room!) You mention keypunch now and people have NO idea what you're talking about.

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  9. When we were in farming I always kept the books and I took great pride in the "analysis book, making sure the entry was correct before I inked it in and making sure each page balanced. I miss doing it!

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    1. I would miss it too Pat. It's the joy of focusing and concentrating on a job and doing it well.

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  10. I don't think I've ever worked anywhere where bookkeeping was done by hand. (At least, not to my knowledge, though I was never the bookkeeper!)

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    1. I bet you too are a fan of the wonderful 1895 Browne Issue System which mentioned to Meike, above.

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  11. "We made so many of our own things before globalisation" Same everywhere I think, now "all" things go to China and come back as cheap goods. Or not so cheap goods, but perhaps lesser quality than when made in-house.

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    1. I think there is also an element of economic warfare buried in it too. I was appalled to read recently that China is now effectively the only manufacturer of solar panels, having put most others out of business by undercutting them. I sometimes think Britain and Europe don't have much of a clue about protecting their own interests.

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