The Old and the New

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In the latest UK200Group blog post David Macdonald, Managing Partner The Martlet Partnership discusses accountancy in days gone by

I recently celebrated a landmark birthday – that’s right – one ending in a zero. Not quite time to hang up the quill, pen and abacus, but certainly time to think about it and to reflect on all the changes over what is now a long career.

When I started back in the early 80’s, everything was by hand. It seems faintly ridiculous now. After performing a bank reconciliation, we then had to write up a manual nominal ledger. These were stored on shelves in what was called the Board Room, but effectively, where we juniors undertook the donkey work of accounts preparation. Theses ledgers gathered a lot of dust and some went back to before the war. When removed from the shelf, much sneezing often ensued. We then extracted a nominal ledger from the totals in each folio, hoping against hope that it would balance first time.

In order to add up the cash books and ledgers, some of us used calculators but others, mostly the young girls who were nimble fingered used comptometers, These were cobby, fairly heavy manual devices with an array of buttons arranged in eight columns each numbered 1 to 5.

There were principally used by independent stock takers to rapidly count items of stock but were deemed by my employers to be more efficient than the mechanical adding machines.

Indeed, you could add up columns of figures quite quickly by this method and you’ve probably already surmised that in order to enter 6, you needed to press 2 twice in quick succession and so on and so forth.

What tickled me, and still does to this day, was that some of these venerable devices were in old money, and no doubt were very useful in pre-decimal days. Some of these were so old they still had keys for a farthing and three-farthings and were still in use! (Farthings were withdrawn from circulation in 1960).

Not ones for a great deal of investment in technology my first employers!

Once the trial balance had been revised and any further amendments processed, the accounts would be filled out in pencil, revised and sent for typing.

Then in an outhouse at the back of the building where resided two old retainers, the accounts were “called over”. Occasionally we juniors were summoned to assist the process.

The accounts were read out and compared and if there were any errors sent back for amendment and then “called over” a second or subsequent time.

We couldn’t remotely consider such lengthy processes these days with computers effectively taking over much of this functionality with the minimum of human intervention.

Whither basic accountancy now?

Frankly I have little or no idea where modern technology will take us but it will be interesting to find out and a hell of a lot better than the “good old days” for which I have no nostalgia whatsoever.

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