The Accounting Firm: “The Way It Was”

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I left Community College in 1970 to work at my father’s accounting firm in Muskegon, Michigan. On the way I pulled into Burger King to get my usual Whopper, fries and Coke. “That will be $.89 cents please,” I handed her a dollar complaining to myself – someday it will cost a whole dollar just to eat lunch!

Walking into the accounting office, it sounded like a factory. The new electronic typewriter was nice but loud; yet it was no match for the 40 lb. Underwood mechanical adding machines. As the record player tried to offer music with the large LP’s, my sister yelled, “I jammed another one,” She had pushed the numbers too quickly on the Underwood calculator and jammed the levers. Off to the shop for repairs. Let them deal with the 100’s of springs and little levers.

I sat down at my desk and pulled out the ink eradicator, fountain pen ink and pen. I turned the ink jar on its side to fill up the reservoir and stuck the pen in. By moving the lever built into the pen I slowly primed the ink into the pen. Then it was time to open the large Journal books and record all the client’s checks by hand. We had lots of tissue available to wipe off the ink eradicator after we corrected mistakes. After the checks were entered and balanced, I posted the results in the ledger book. Now to prepare the financial statements. The sales and expenses were entered by hand on paper but the percentages also had to be entered. The Friden calculator could do the job and gave you the % figure, which was about 20 numbers long. After hitting the enter button the carriage would fly across the top vibrating the whole desk which took about 10 seconds per number. You still had to put the decimal in by hand.

My father all of a sudden yelled out, “You need to see our new adding machine.” It was truly amazing and made out of plastic. What were all the keys for? It can multiply and divide and the demonstration was truly a miracle. I thought the wheel had been invented again. At a cost of $400 you may have to sell your car but it was worth it. Around this same time we were introduced to the amazing Litton computer, which could process the financial statements automatically! It was worth paying for the service since the computer cost around $30,000, but who could ever invent anything better? This was truly the new age.

Updates were another challenge. You spent $100’s every year for the Commerce Clearing House Tax Journals that had to be constantly updated with the changes. Sitting at the desk pulling the old pages out and plugging the new tax changes in took forever.

Tax returns were another challenge. Page one of the 1040 had 3 parts with carbon paper in between. Everything had to be done by hand. I remember the women in the office wearing long protective arm covers because of the carbon paper. If you made an error, all 3 copies went in the garbage can. Your desk was always a mess.

So where are we today? With a $300 laptop and a $400 software package you can handle business accounting and tax returns from anywhere in the world. No need for paper payroll checks. A business today simply e-mails or faxes payroll information and a direct deposit is performed. Tax returns are e-filed at a push of the button with direct deposit or how about a debit card issued with your refund. Clients can have copies of all their tax returns sitting in their computer.

I always cringed when the bank wanted a 5-year projection report for a new business. It took forever to change each number for the 60-month period. Now you change a few numbers and hit a button. From Excel worksheets to projected budgets and multiple year comparisons, you can offer just about anything with the technology available today. If your client is having problems with their computer, you can correct it from anywhere in the world. The paperless society is approaching, who knows what’s next?

I brought my boat down from Muskegon, Michigan to Fort Myers Beach, Florida in 2011. After spending a month traveling down the Intracoastal Waterway, I finally arrived at Salty Sam’s Marina where I currently live and work from my boat.

During the 2012 tax season, I pulled my boat out of the slip and took a break on a Friday anchoring off Fort Myers Beach. After the anchor was all set my cell phone rang. “How come you’re taking the day off during tax season?” the caller asked. Sure enough after traveling 1300 miles, one of my Michigan clients was sitting on the beach and recognized the name of my boat, “Pencil Pusher.” We both had a great laugh. It’s pretty hard to escape technology, but then again, thank God we don’t perform accounting the way we used to.

Scott B. Jones

In dedication to my father Erwin Jones and many clients over the years for their support.