This article aims to provide a comprehensive and up-to-date review of the relevance and quality of on-line discussion forums relating to accounting and bookkeeping in the United Kingdom.
Practitioners of accountancy as well as business people and students of the profession will often look to the Internet as a source of advice and guidance. Firstly we will examine the various types of online forums available for those seeking such guidance. We will also attempt to differentiate between the types of forums in terms of their usefulness in providing such value.
For the purpose of relevance, accounting forums in the UK can be grouped into a number of different categories:
Many discussion areas are hybrids of these; for example, the many LinkedIn accounting groups are both business and social media based sites.
A full curated list of the forums we've found, grouped by category can be found here: https://al-fn.co.uk/53/uk-accounting-and-bookkeeping-forums-a-curated-list
It should be noted at the start that the governing bodies for accountancy in the UK, such as the ICAEW (Institute of Chartered Accountants in England and Wales), CIMA (Chartered Institute of Management Accountants), ACCA (Association of Chartered Certified Accountants) and CIPFA (Chartered Institute of Public Finance and Accountancy), each have their own forums. These can be found by a search on the Internet for the governing body followed by the word ‘forum’.
Those looking for advice and guidance may be disappointed, because despite the presumed authority of having a forum attached to a governing body, these are not particularly well endowed with useful information, especially when compared with accounting forums which have derived from social media sites.
A cursory glance at the ACCA forum (which is part of the Accaglobal website) gives the impression that it is rarely visited and looks largely neglected by a community which otherwise seemed tailor-made for such content. The same is true of the CIPFA forum, which contains a general index of briefly stated headings (VAT, Housing, Finance, etc.) but nothing can be done to overcome the impression of sparseness (as opposed to the overcrowding impression of social forums and Reddit threads, for example).
The ICAEW forum seems better attended, but there are the giveaway signs of threads with zero replies, and even the most recent discussions struggle to receive replies above twenty or thirty. CIMA doesn’t seem to have started its own forum, although there is a CIMA section on the Open Tuition site, which has a section for all the governing bodies. The CIMA forum section contains pertinent threads, but the participation is sparse, with very few posts.
All in all, these governing body-led forums have all the hallmarks of being well intentioned and worthy in that they have been properly set up and their discussion sections have been well stocked with relevant headings and sub-headings, but nobody seems to go there in large numbers. You get the impression that people will visit these out of politeness, but that’s all.
The one exception to this is the forum of the AAT (the Association of Accounting technicians) where the content is comprehensive, meaty and highly informing; you get the kind of sinewy engagement here that is normally associated only with social media platforms.
Similar to the professional body forums, websites which one would expect to have lively discussion groups are very quiet. The forum of Accountancy Web is peppered with content that seems often off-topic or even jaded. But by far the most engaging activity is to be found on the groups which have grown from their base on social media websites. Reddit and Facebook are prominent in the accounting field, and this is where the most lively and enthusiastic conversations are taking place.
The UK business forums site has a lot of good material for accountants who wish to seek out best practice, but the social media content of the Reddit subreddits and the many LinkedIn groups provide some detailed information about what is currently happening and case-by-case specifics on what people should and shouldn’t be doing in various situations.
LinkedIn, of course, will be the refuge for accounting professionals, who may well already have a LinkedIn profile and who may be members of several of the LinkedIn groups. On these you will probably find enough information and advice from other professionals so that there is rarely a need to look elsewhere. The downside is that there are dozens if not hundreds of Linkedin groups related to accounting, and their quality and scope seems to vary a lot.
Facebook groups will provide a similar function, but the content seems to be of a more gossipy nature, more akin to the content found on Reddit. Several of the Facebook groups seem to be attached to the accounting governing bodies (and their own forums) whereas the Linkedin groups seem much more self-sufficient.
While questions of good practice may be gleaned from the likes of forums such as https://www.accountantforums.com/, the user will here be aware of the annoying obligation to have to select only those parts which are applicable to UK practice (denoted by the presence of a U.K. flag) as opposed to the majority of the content which is typically geared towards the U.S.
Discussions seem to take place at a leisurely pace at the Accounting Web forum, so you may well get a full reply to your questions, even though you might have to wait a while for this response. Matters of day-to-day concerns to accountants can be observed here at leisure, rather than the much more frenetic (if much more heavily detailed) content at Reddit.
People in the business community who need to know about specific matters of management accounting, bookkeeping or tax law in the UK will be able to venture into the various forums as welcome guests. Which of these forums is more useful to business owners is more difficult to pin down.
Owners of businesses will probably not be interested in the minutiae of the various subreddits, but may well go into the Accounting Web and also the Bookkeeper’s Forum if they needed a general question answered.
The amount of overlap between the professional sites and the general business sites is quite considerable, and business owners and managers could quite easily (and perhaps more comfortably) look up something in a LinkedIn group or the excellent UK Business Forums (for example at https://www.ukbusinessforums.co.uk/forums/accounts-finance.55/). There is huge array of subjects displayed, which people can easily dip in and out of, even if the responses to these topics are somewhat sparse.
Business people will be aware that they are on the outside, as opposed to the accountants, bookkeepers and students of accounting. They might want to harvest their knowledge on more familiar territory, as they may not like the possibility of jargon and prior knowledge that a visit to an accounting website may connote. They may feel happier asking questions and receiving the answers on their own turf, assuming that there is a forum or bulletin board set up to handle their specific industry sector, in all their diversity.
Chances are that the business owner will treat their own industry forum as a kind of refuge, if there is one. Failing that, they would seek the association of like-minded people in the form of a Linkedin group. Traditionally, businesses are more rarely associated with Facebook, so they would be less inclined to actually look for anything of serious value there. But the Internet is a place of many surprises and the only constant is change.
People of all ages who are at the start of their accounting careers, or who are yet to decide what their careers are to be, will want to plunge into a good resource to begin with, as they are looking for information which will be used to make decisions which will shape the rest of their lives.
Most people, especially the young, will be aware of the amount of disinformation on the Internet, so will want to separate the wheat from the chaff at an early stage and derive from the chaos of information what the best sources of good advice are, before committing themselves to full immersion in whichever sites have passed that particular test.
Social media sites are particularly good at conveying the realities and day-to-day experiences of people who are in the same position, or slightly ahead of those who seek such information. Reading through these questions, posts and threads, real life information is sought, if only so that the reader does not commit the same mistakes, or walk into the same traps, as those who make up much of the content of the threads. Some of the posts are nothing less than the unburdening of people's regrets and wishes, and this is the type of information which social media excels in supplying, as opposed to the hard facts that one would glean from the forums within websites of the professional bodies.
At forums such as the various subreddits, you will find useful answers to such questions as whether getting your AAT is really necessary or should you not bother with it, what kind of a salary should you expect in five years’ time, which of the professional bodies to join to get the most in terms of income and in terms of job satisfaction, whether the work load is really that bad around the start of the financial year, and whether, with hindsight, it was worth taking this or that course.
A lot of the questions from the student-based communities are couched around the terms with hindsight. One feels an almost overwhelming subtext in those asking the questions that they don’t want to make any mistakes, such as bothering to enroll in courses that would have been worthless from the point of view of someone who was five years or ten years down the line.
Similarly, there seems to be an attempt to find shortcuts to inform current decision-making: if I did a mathematics degree, would I still get the same exemptions from my professional exams than if I were to do an arts degree, which I would enjoy more?
So students will get more from the social media based forums, but should make sure that they at least have a good grounding at the more traditional sources.