Why accountants are uniquely placed to give back

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The idea of voluntary work abroad often conjures up images of building schools, working in orphanages, or helping to protect threatened wildlife. But these activities – crucial though they are – can only happen if the right financial infrastructure exists.

If a school in a Brazilian favela doesn’t make effective use of its limited income it might run out of cash and have to close. A women’s refuge in Nepal that hasn’t budgeted properly might have to turn away those who need their help.

Help where it counts

Accountants and bookkeepers have the training and experience to build the confidence of local finance staff. They can also improve the systems in use at a grassroots level for charities across Africa, Asia and South America. By using their technical know-how, they can build the confidence of locals while providing a sound knowledge of the basics.

Caleb Jenkins is Leader of Bookkeeping Services & Cloud Ecosystem at RLJ Financial Services (and the youngest person to ever become a Certified QuickBooks ProAdvisor at 16). He visited Haiti in May 2015 to help Christian Aid Ministries set up QuickBooks for their SALT Microfinance Solutions program.

‘Accountants and bookkeepers are uniquely placed to provide advice about the financials behind a business, no matter the country,’ says Caleb. ‘People will always need to budget, manage their sales, create a profitable system, and think about all the costs that go into selling.’

The problem for those in developing countries is that education for skills like these is simply not there. ‘There is a lack of teaching on business principles from generation to generation and unsuitable practices get handed down,’ explains Caleb.

Sustainable progress with accounting

The goal of the SALT Microfinance Solutions program is to provide microloans, create savings groups and help people start or expand small businesses.

Their Microloan program provides loans that enable individuals to create or expand small businesses. Before receiving a loan, each client must create a business plan. After the loan is issued, the clients are required to save small amounts of money on a regular basis. The average repayment rate since the program began is 97.5%. The results speak for themselves.

‘We helped one woman – she had her own business and was the only member of the family working,’ says Caleb. ‘She was making the equivalent of $2 a day, which meant she could barely put food on the table. After an 18 month period, and two loan cycles, she was making $15 a day. This meant there was enough for everything including education and helping out her parents.’

But what of the wider accounting issues that face those in developing countries? In the developed world, cloud accounting is shaping the accountancy practice of the future. This revolution promises more value for clients, improved service and the means to work from anywhere on any device. How can accountants in the developing world hope to keep up?

Cloud’s on the horizon

While moving to the cloud in a developing country brings challenges that mean it cannot happen overnight, that doesn’t mean it isn’t on the horizon.

‘First of all, reliable internet is super important in helping people,’ says Caleb. ‘In Haiti it can come and go on a day-to-day basis, so until it improves I can’t see a wholesale move from desktop to cloud. But of course as it becomes available it will be a tremendous opportunity.’

As for Caleb, his work continues as the programme grows and evolves, and there are exciting times ahead. He’s been to Haiti four times and is going back this month. And he wants to takes his skills to other places. Ghana is first on the list followed by Bangladesh and Nigeria.

‘Some accountants do it as a job, others do it because they really love what they do. I love what I do and I love the program and the reason behind it. I love the teaching. And I love accounting.’