Think bookkeeping is all work and no play? It’s true that accounting doesn’t always make the biggest splash when it comes to exciting careers, but you might just find yourself delightfully surprised by the rather unexpected side of this suit-and-tie industry. Here are 5 fun facts to keep you entertained the next time you sit down to tackle your own small business bookkeeping.
1. Certified Bean Counters
CPAs, CMAs, CFMs, CFEs … the list of professional accounting designations runs the full length of the alphabet. But despite its common usage, there’s one accounting title you won’t find listed here, and that’s “bean counter”. Not only a graphic reference to someone who fusses over the smallest financial detail the term bean counter is also the topic of many a lively debate in the accounting world. What exactly is the official origin of this unofficial label? According to some history-based theories, a bean counter might be:
- A nod to the Greek nobility of 2500 years ago who used colored beans and specialized counting machines to award coveted political roles
- A literal reference to early 20th century shop counters where dried beans were sold to the public
But the modern and much more derogatory use of the title bean counter for an accountant or financial comptroller didn’t emerge until the 1970s, when it was quite possibly inspired by the extremely strict cost and inventory controls that were often employed inside the commercial and military food industries. Not surprisingly, many accountants today prefer the more historical and rather nobler sounding origins for the term.
2. Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous
If you keep your own books or have ever thought of pursuing a career in accounting, you’re in good company. Many of the world’s rich and famous began their careers as proverbial bean counters, or at least pursued an education with that intention in mind. Some of these celebrities include:
- Comedian Bob Newhart,
- Author John Grisham, and
- Mick Jagger of the Rolling Stones
While the switch from a career in accounting to one in the arts might seem a little strange at first, consider this. Stand-up comedy, fiction writing, and musical ability all demand the understanding and application of patterns that aren’t so very different from those used in mathematics. Whether it’s crafting the perfect formula for a punch line or plot, or mastering the notes, chords, and strumming patterns of a six-string guitar, there is indeed some practical common ground between science and art.
3. Chew on This
What do accountants do in their spare time when they’re not telling jokes, writing stories, or making hit records? If your name was Walter Diemer, you invented bubblegum. While working as an accountant for Fleer - a Philadelphia-based manufacturer of candy and gum - Diemer enjoyed playing around with the company’s gum base product when he wasn’t busy checking invoices.
One fine day in 1926, Diemer hit upon a recipe that was far less sticky, and far more “stretchy” than the standard chewing gum of the time, and it wasn’t long before millions of bite-sized, paper-wrapped versions of his bright pink chewing gum were exploding onto the market as Dubble Bubble. Rumor has it that Diemer spent a lot of his spare time after that day teaching the company’s sales staff how to blow bubbles to impress potential clients.
4. Ahead of His Time
There’s no question that many of our everyday tasks have been made easier, faster, and far more convenient thanks to technology. If you think your small business bookkeeping is a chore by today’s standards, try imagining life before the invention of the calculator. Widely viewed as one of history’s most prolific and far-sighted inventors, popular opinion credits Leonardo da Vinci with the concept for the world’s first mechanical calculating machine. And he came up with his design long before building one was even a practical possibility.
In 1967, in the National Library of Spain in Madrid, a couple of long-lost da Vinci documents dating from the 1500s were discovered and sent to IBM for analysis. A working prototype of the device described in Leonardo’s sketches was soon built, and the world was introduced to the very first adding machine – but one with moving parts that would have caused far too much friction to have functioned effectively in da Vinci’s time.
5. Better Safe Than … Underpaid?
Ever heard of a forensic accountant? The FBI coined the term in 2009 when it first created this dedicated position for a new department of special agents responsible for analyzing the financial records of suspected criminals. But despite the fact that some 15% of today’s FBI special agents are accountants, the accounting profession as a whole continues to rank as one of the country’s top 10 “safest jobs”.
With annual data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, analysts regularly scrutinize career paths in various sectors for factors like income potential and risk of injury. One of the most interesting findings to emerge from these analyses? Becoming an accountant or mathematician is not only a great deal safer on average than pursuing a career as a firefighter or construction worker, it also pays a whole lot better.