By David Washburn
You might not be able to judge a book by its cover, but you can determine the health of a company by the competence of its bookkeeper. In fact, a bookkeeper is among a small handful of people in a company or nonprofit who has a clear sense of how the organization operates, where the money comes from and where it goes.
Yet in many organizations, especially small businesses, bookkeepers often lack even the most basic training. That is a problem Bob Osborne has been working hard to fix for the better part of two decades as a lead instructor of the UC San Diego Extension’s certified bookkeeping program.
“Many small companies are absolutely not well run with regard to their bookkeeping,” Osborne said. “A lot of them have amateur bookkeepers.”
A company can survive with this level of bookkeeping when it is in start-up mode, but if it intends to grow and needs a bank loan or wants to be acquired, the books need to be in pristine condition. That’s where the Extension program comes in.
“I can take that amateur bookkeeper and bring them up to an accountant’s level of understanding,” Osborne said.
Extension’s program is among about two-dozen nationwide that are certified by the American Institute of Professional Bookkeepers (AIPB), meaning that students have the opportunity to become “certified bookkeepers,” which gives them a significant leg-up in the job market.
But it is not an easy road. In addition to completing the nine-unit course, students must pass a battery of tests sanctioned by the AIPB and gain at least 1,500 hours of professional bookkeeping experience to be certified. “To call the course intensive would be an understatement,” Osborne said.
However, those who are willing to put in the time and effort benefit from a program that has “by far and away” the nation’s best pass rate on the required tests, said Steve Sahlein, the AIPB’s co-president.
“It is a fantastic program,” Sahlein said. “Bob has created a model for us on how to teach the courses…he has a tremendous dedication to his students and really sees how it is going to change people’s lives.”
Sahlein goes on to say that graduates of the program end up with a better sense of what it takes to be a bookkeeper than most accounting majors. “The college-level accounting programs mainly teach theory, this program teaches you how to do the job,” He said.
Osborne took a rather circuitous route to becoming a renowned bookkeeping instructor. He spent most of his working life in the Navy, where he ultimately became a submarine commander. After retiring from the Navy, he decided he wanted to go into small business and ended up working as a CFO for several companies. From there he became a consultant, specializing in helping small firms that were in danger of going under.
That was when he realized how many small organizations lack professional bookkeeping, which lead him to the Extension program.
The program attracts a range of students, including people working toward becoming a Certified Public Accountant (CPA), experienced bookkeepers and those with no experience who are trying to break into the profession. For students needing educational units to qualify for the California CPA Exam or licensure, the units may be applied to fulfill the “Accounting Subjects” area of study. Osborne says the course can be difficult for novices and urges anyone with little or no experience to attend the information session that the program offers.
Once students graduate from the program and get their certification, they generally pick one of two paths–either they get a job working in an organization’s accounting department, or go out on their own as a sole proprietor and begin building a client base.
While the main emphasis of the course is preparing students for the certification tests, Osborne also spends a fair amount of time talking about how to get started in the business. For those who choose the independent route, he recommends finding a niche, which can lead to some interesting experiences.
“One of my former students knew a person who knew a person who knew a professional football player, who needed bookkeeper,” Osborne said. “This person became the football player’s bookkeeper, and did such a good job that they were hired by a bunch of other football players.”
Learn more about the bookkeeping program on our website, or contact the department at email@example.com or (858) 534-8131.