How much of accounting is computerized?

A friend/co-worker has decided to get a degree in accounting. I’ve been urging her to go to college, and learn something, anything, just don’t be stuck at minimum wage all your life.
If I could do it all again…

She’s finally listened to me. :cool:

Problem is, she is bad at math. I mean seriously, horribly bad at math. When she counts cigarettes at work, she’s almost always off by 20-30. It’s the adding that gets her. :eek:
We went shopping the other day, and she had to ask me, “What is 75% off of $8.00?”

I am not going to say anything to try to dissuade her, no matter what your answers are. But, she’s a lot like having the little sister I never had before, and I can’t help but worry.

So how much of it is plugging numbers into a computer? Will her lack of math skills even be an issue?

Okay, first…counting cigarettes?

Seconding, more importantly, I do a lot of accounting at work, 95% of the book keeping for a small business. On the one hand, very little of it is actual arithmetic that I have to do in my head. I have a computer, I have an adding machine, I have quickbooks, I have a calculator on my computer with a hotkey so I can pull it up very quickly, I have my phone with a calculator and sometimes I have all of them going at once. I also have a few spreadsheets with a bunch of custom formulas so I have to do a lot less math since those are all formulas I have to do every single day. Also, Quickbooks does the bulk of the actual accounting work and as long as you have an understanding of what’s going on and a way to reach out for help (co-workers, google etc) you’ll be okay.

However, in a job that does rely heavily on math, you do need to have a firm grasp on it. At the very least, you need to be good at estimating things in your head and that’s what worries me with you’re saying. If her boss asks her how much payroll was last quarter and she say it was at 12% of income (the software can pull that number), the question is, can she answer the next question, “What will it take to get it to 10%” (how much less do we need to spend on payroll or how much more do we need to make)?

Maybe she should just start off with an accounting 101 class and see how she feels. Do you know why she picked accounting? Does she know she’s bad at math? IME accounting 101 will be all on paper, so if she can’t keep up with the math, she’ll learn quickly. I don’t recall it being overly math heavy, it was just an intro class, some theory and just enough math to let you know how the theory works, but it’s there and it might scare her off. Accounting math isn’t like normal math.

So, there is a lot of math, there’s not that much arithmetic, at least not now, over the years, I’ve figured out my formulas and I just use them on a regular basis or program them into spreadsheets.

It’s funny, though, people will often ask me to do math in my head and, while I’m not bad, I’m not that good and they’ll always come back with “I thought you were math major” to which I reply “I am, but I didn’t spend 4 years doing arithmetic, you’re an English major, right [yeah], did you spend 4 years studying the dictionary…same thing.”

Wait, I got it, you worked at a gas station, right?

It’s a dollar store. We count the packs of cigarettes every morning. Then we subtract the previous day’s sales, and compare it to the number they had the day before. (We have a calculator at the store, and I know she uses the one on her phone.) I’ve learned to go to the day before she worked, and just subtract the sales in between to get a better estimate of what I should have. Saves me some panic attacks!

I have absolutely no idea why she picked accounting. She does not know she is bad at math. I think she thinks she is better than most, and thinks I am an oddball for being able to figure out percentages in my head. :eek: When I showed her the math to figure out what percent of her paycheck is lost, gross pay to net pay, she thought it was too complicated. The estimating will probably be difficult for her.

My hope is that she’ll get in college, and then pick a different field, without just getting discouraged and giving up. She’s already complained to me that she has to take English and Math courses, “just like high school.” :frowning:

Silly question…if she’s complaining that she has to take English and Math does she know what Accounting is? Or is she just complaining that she has to take English? I assume she’s just looking at a 2 year tech school and getting some kind of degree/certificate, not trying to become a CPA, right? If not, a tech school, if they offer the program, might be easier and least WRT the ‘other’ classes.
Just looking at my local tech school, it’s 23 classes, 15 are Accounting or business classes, the other 8 are Gen Ed classes. There are two English classes in there (Com Skills, don’t know what that is) and one Math class, but it’s 107 class, which sounds like a pretty basic class.

She could also try a few different 101 classes and drop the ones she doesn’t like before what ever the cut off date is to get a refund, usually about two weeks in. At least she’ll get a feel for them.

I don’t think someone with fundamentally bad fundamental math skills should go into a math-centric profession, regardless of how smart the computers are. The programs don’t do everything and some judgment about relative numbers and such is required on a daily basis.

Sounds like a really bad case of Dunning–Kruger effect. Hope she doesn’t waste too much time and money realizing accounting isn’t really a good fit for her.

You know how in orientation the department head will tell the freshmen, “Take a look at the person on your left. Now look at the person on your right. One of you three will graduate.” She’s going to be one of the other two.

I have an accounting degree. Actual accounting has a lot of software around it. Or at least the bookkeeping part of it does.

However, she’ll never get through a B.A. program without being able to do math - as in word problem math. The arthmatitic they’ll let her use a calculator for. But my degree included College Algebra, a Business Stats class - and of course Accounting class. Which included word problems like…

“Your company makes widgets. Factory rent is $2000 a month. Labor is $5500 a month. Each widget has $2.50 in parts. How much does it cost to make 250,000 widgets a month? 400,000? Working at full capacity, your workers can make 400,000 widgets. A large order arrives and you will need to produce 500,000 widgets paying time and a half. Widgets sell for $6.00 each, how much is your profit on the order?”

I do a ton of that as well. For me it’s easy, I’m always surpised when other people either can’t do it or can’t wrap their head around it. My ex was a culinary arts major. They had an entire section (or maybe it was a class) on food costs. I wouldn’t even know how to fill up all that time with “add up everything and divide by how much stuff you get”*, but as I said, some people can’t even begin to wrap their head’s around it, but I can have them lob the numbers at me a minute later I can say ‘okay, mark them $2.99 each’.

*Before anyone tells me it’s more complicated than that, I know, food cost is what I do.

ETA, I’m also fairly organized, I know where all my costs are, I have a standard number to add in for labor if it’s something that takes a long time, I have a cheat sheet for myself when someone tells me they used 3tbls of the item that came in a 5lb bucket (helpful, guys, really) etc.

You may love her like a sister, but that doesn’t mean you should urge her to go to college. Urge her to do something she’s capable of.
If she can’t count cigarette packages, she shouldn’t be in a college classroom. Especially since she’s already comlplaining about it, before she even starts…(math and English? Horrors!)

Urge her to learn a trade. (I dunno…Hair stylist/beautician?)

I have a friend that runs a machine shop. She’s always talking about the benefits of learning a trade instead of going to college. In her words, why go to college just to come out the other side with a bunch of debt and end up working in an unrelated job for no money when you can come work for her with no education and no experience and the company will tell you exactly which classes you need to take to get the correct education you need to work in their field so that in a year or two you’re making decent money without laying out more money than necessary on tuition.

Granted, if I just up and decided I wanted to be a machinist, I’d probably figure out which degree I’d need to get for that so I could work wherever instead of working at her shop, taking 6 classes and hoping I never lose my job, but the logic is sound.
And even if you did go that route, you could still continue to take more classes so you could rise higher in the company or move on to bigger and better things.

Forgot I was editing…

ETA, you do have to be careful now though. You can’t go up to her and be like ‘uh, accounting, you know you’re not that smart, right?’ and try to talk her into something else. You might be able to prod at her to see if you can figure out why she chose accounting and go from there or you might be better off just dropping the college thing altogether before you too deep into it and she’s mad at you for wasting all that money.

OTOH, who knows, maybe in a structured school environment she’s better at math than you’re giving her credit for. I have employees that shouldn’t have made it through high school based on their (in)ability to count from 1 to well, 1. But we all know that for a lot of these people the real reason is that they just don’t care. Why should they? What’s the worst that’ll happen? They’ll eventually get fired and get a job the next day at a store 2 blocks away? Big deal.
These are the same people that will quit because ‘you’re not paying me enough’ and when we ask them where they got a job they’ll say ‘I don’t know, I haven’t started looking’ and all we can do is say ‘so, um, you felt that $X/hour wasn’t enough, you never asked me for a raise and now you’re going to be making nothing? okay? well, let me know if you change your mind’.

She’s going to be attending a community college. She started looking into to it too late to get in this quarter, and since her husband’s job doesn’t work as much over the winter, she’s thinking of putting it off 'til spring. (So there is always a chance she’ll never go…) No, she’s complaining about the Math classes, too.

I think I’ll encourage her to take the required courses first, to “get them out of the way.”
A basic English and Math course won’t hurt her, whether she finishes college, or not. :slight_smile:

I can teach her the College Algebra. I attended college for a little while, and I finished all the Algebra courses. I still have two of my books. Matter of fact, I might see if she would be interested in “getting a head start on it” on our days off together. If nothing else, it’ll show me whether or not she’s serious.

There is always the chance she’ll take the placement tests, realize where she stands, and how much she’ll have to learn. Hair stylist/beautician would never work! She’d be more likely to go into auto mechanics! :smiley:

The question is really whether she’s really this unskilled and/or dumb at adding, or whether she’s ever really had to exercise those mental muscles beyond maybe taking a semester of algebra, trig and geometry in high school.

I mean, how do you graduate from high school in the first place and not be able to say… add 4 digit numbers on paper accurately? That’s not “smart person” type knowledge; that’s basic, not-in-special-ed person kind of knowledge. Same with percentages and fractions. She ought to know (like any non-mentally handicapped person) that 75% is also 3/4, and that 3/4 of 8 is 6 without having to think about it- it should be as everyday as say… knowing that 9 plus 3 equals 12. It’s not like knowing that 3^4 = 81, which is still trivial, but probably a considerably less used aspect of basic high school math.

If she’s that bad at math, maybe a different degree is a better fit. It’s going to be hard to find one with a trajectory that doesn’t end in academia or teaching, without a fairly significant amount of basic math and other complicated stuff though.

:eek: ‘uh, accounting, you know you’re not that smart, right?’ :eek:
No, that would just never happen!!

I haven’t brought it up in a while. She did overhear a customer and I talking about wishing we had gone, so that may be what spurred the sudden interest. I’m curious about why she chose accounting, so asking about that won’t be a problem!

The structured school environment will probably help. I did notice that the people that paid more attention in college were the ones that were paying for it themselves. The kids whose parents were paying for it were more likely to act like it was high school.

Is there any chance for her to shadow a real accountant for a day? Anything that would let her see what a day in the life of an account is like?

Accounting is a lot like medicine - while you can make a few broad generalizations, there are many different specialties and many styles of practice.

The fact that she can’t take an inventory is worrying, because being able to take, review and/or input inventories is a pretty critical accounting function. Even in a computerized inventory system, a good accountant needs to say “200,000?! The computer can’t be right!” and then double-check the computer’s inventory count.

Still… there are accountants in large companies like Amazon, Boeing or Microsoft who have very specialized roles and don’t need to handle a wide variety of tasks. Maybe she can find herself a role that does suit her talents.

There are times when calculators and computers do not give the correct results. (Broken or set up problem - something entered wrong.) When that happens, you should be able to recognize that the results given are incorrect, so helps to be able to get a ballpark figure in your head.

With that said, as soon as she starts complaining about the difficulty of her classes, be ready to suggest she try something different. What does she like to do for fun in her spare time which could also be a career?

To me, the math isnt the problem, its whether you care about your work being correct and having the sense to know that.

If you dont really care and all you want is that paycheck than there’s problems with the end product.