Little more than a decade ago, most basic accountancy was carried out using pen, fifteen-column ledger and calculator. Arguably, trainee accountants learned the nuts and bolts of double entry far more effectively in those days by manually recording bank transactions, year-end journals such as depreciation and accruals, and opening balances, arriving at an extended trial balance which formed the basis of the final accounts.
Software such as Auditman began to ease the final accounts preparation as the trial balance figures, having been produced manually, were entered and converted into a format in line with the requirements of the Companies Act and Accounting Standards, but not until the mid to late 1990s did it become economic to have a computer on every desk. As this began to happen, manual bookkeeping became for many people a relic of a distant era; though, as Thomas Hardy wrote in The Mayor of Caster-bridge, ‘as in all such cases of advance, the rugged picturesqueness of the old method disappeared with its inconveniences’.
Arithmetical errors, which often take hours to trace, should be eliminated by a good software package or a well-structured spreadsheet. A common feature of manual bookkeeping is that control accounts may not balance – for example, the total of individual debtors does not equal the sales ledger control account, or the VAT control account does not match the VAT return. This should not happen with computerized bookkeeping. Bank reconciliations should be quicker and easier on computer.
Information can be shared more easily and passed between employees, or between accountant and client, via e-mail or disk. Errors can in many cases be corrected without fuss, though this can create problems of its own (see later). In short, most of the advantages of computers in other spheres apply also to computerized bookkeeping.