Wednesday, 9 January 2013

why I never became an accountant

I spent today doing the beekeepers' accounts.  It was a waste of a good gardening day, what with it being dry, calm and sunny, but I have to get them audited before the AGM which will be on the fourth Thursday of the month, and the timetable for submitting the divisional accounts to the county won't wait for a frosty day when I don't want to be outside anyway.

I started the accounts last night, thinking that there couldn't be that much to do, since I've kept writing them up (or rather, putting numbers into spreadsheets) through the year.  After half an hour or so I decided that they were, to borrow a phrase from Fred Wedlock, doing my noodle in.  I've always been better at that sort of analytical work between about half past eight and eleven in the morning.  Evenings are for associative free-thinking, not tracking mystery missing sums of money round a series of spreadsheets.

I returned to the accounts this morning, thinking that hostilities would be all over by Christmas, or rather coffee time.  Not a bit of it.  With half an hour for lunch and a few brief de-noodling breaks spent wandering about, I finally nailed the last discrepancy of sixty-five pounds at around five in the afternoon.  I was exhausted, noodle well and truly done-in.  I can believe all the stories in the newspapers about how sitting down at a desk five days a week kills you.  Your blood vessels congeal with fat, your arse spreads to the size of Hampshire and you expire.  Goodness knows how I did it, or spent a significant hunk of my working days staring at computer screens, for as many years as I did, or why the Systems Administrator is not serving a life sentence after going completely insane over a bank reconciliation that wouldn't reconcile and stabbing the nearest person to death with a biro.

I have learnt a lot.  If re-elected as Treasurer at the AGM I will have much more of an idea next time round of how to write the books up as I go along, so that at the end of the year useful numbers drop out of the bottom of my spreadsheets, and it really is a question of pulling them together into an income and expenditure account, and making a couple of adjustments for pre-payments and contras.  When I came to look at the spreadsheets for 2012 I did have to admit that there were rather a lot of unanalysed totals highlighted in yellow with a note Breakdown in File, and that the quality of information in the file was such that the first breakdown was liable to be mine.

One presentational difficulty sprang from the fact that the financial records my fellow officers and committee members had given me were a weird mixture of net and gross income and expenditure.  Take the annual meal.  That was fairly tidy.  The person who organised it banked two sets of cheques received from members in payment for their dinners.  The secretary and I signed two cheques, one to pay the pub and one to reimburse the person who had got cash out of the bank with which to tip the staff.  It was only made a tiny bit more complicated by the four pounds charged for printing place cards included in an invoice for quite a lot of other things that were nothing to do with the meal.

And then a bit more complicated than that by the person who forgot to pay on or before the day, and eventually sent me a cheque made payable not to the beekeepers, or even to me, but to the person who organised the meal.  I gave her the cheque and she gave me cash, out of which I paid £9.30 expenses for stationery and postage to the Secretary, because I did not know if it was all right for the Secretary to countersign a cheque made payable to herself, and I could not face driving to the other side of Colchester to obtain a signature from the other signatory.  I then banked the balance, together with a cheque for fifteen pounds received in the post from a member, whose purpose I was not clear about at the time.

Accounting for the meal took some unscrambling, but at the end of it I had a pretty good idea what our income had been and how much we'd paid out.  Not so the summer barbecue, whose organiser banked the surplus after paying for the food, so I couldn't present that as Income from barbecue, Expenditure on barbecue.  The proceeds from the Chatto wildlife fair were net after someone had paid thirty-three pounds in cash to have the honey show trophies engraved.

Then there was the member who managed to pay his sub twice, the member who misunderstood the form and over-paid by ten pounds, and the man whose cheque bounced.  And the woman who paid an annual subscription in respect of 2013 for her father's Christmas present.  It was a kind thought, but it means I have an accrual.  As I grappled with the necessary accounting reversals I was reminded of how it was that I gave up training to be a chartered accountant, which was that I was sitting in a squalid rented flat in Highgate over a bottles and cases account that wouldn't come out, when it got to about ten at night and I said to the Systems Administrator Oh sod this, let's go to the pub.

As for the subscriptions, I don't understand what the previous Treasurer did, and I don't want to know, unless somebody insists on telling me.  Our subscriptions are conceptually straightforward, but unwieldy.  The sub covers membership of the local division, the Essex Beekeepers and the British Beekeepers, plus bee disease insurance.  The amount you pay for disease insurance depends on how many colonies of bees you have.  Some members make additional donations when they pay their subs which may be for bee research, for educational purposes, or for general divisional funds.  There are joint memberships, which cost less than twice a single one, and a few life and associate members who pay a lesser sub for a smaller range of benefits.  Members send their payments to the Membership Secretary, who pays them into the bank, which I'm grateful for in that it saves me several trips to town, or else by direct bank transfer.  In April when I offered to be Treasurer I was given a copy of the Membership Secretary's spreadsheet.  She is on a Mac whereas I'm on Windows Seven, and I found my copy of the spreadsheet difficult to manipulate.  It wouldn't let me freeze panes, for example, so that every time I scrolled down it all the column headings disappeared.

By dint of going through every membership form in the course of checking everyone's insurance premium I was able to pull out the totals for each kind of donation, which the Membership Secretary hadn't recorded.  If I'd been inputting the data I'd have done that at the outset, and broken subs down between county and national dues while I was at it.  But I wasn't and didn't.  The County Treasurer sent me bills for amounts due to the County and National associations, which I duly paid.  As far as I'm concerned that's what should go into the Income and Expenditure sides of the accounts for money due to the EBKA and BBKA.  Which leaves the question unanswered as to how the previous Treasurer managed to come up with different amounts for membership income attributable to EBKA and BBKA fees, and expenditure on them?

There is a consoling thought, which is that if anyone tries to give me too hard a time at the AGM about my accounts I can smile at them bashfully and suggest that they might like to take over for 2013.  That will shut them up.

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