10 accountancy facts for International Accounting Day

By Isabelle Bell and Eleanor O'Neill, CA Today

9 November 2018

This Saturday (10 November) is International Accounting Day. To mark this special event, we’ve put together some interesting facts about accountancy that may surprise you.

1. The father of accounting was Luca Pacioli

Italian mathematician Luca Pacioli published the first book about double-entry bookkeeping on 10 November 1494 - and it is in his honour that International Accountants Day was started. His book, Summa de Arithmetica, Geometria, Proportioni et Proportionalita, described keeping accounts for assets, liabilities, capital, income, and expenses, much like the systems we use today in balance sheets and income statements.

He advocated the use of ledgers and is known for saying a person should not go to sleep at night until their debits and credits are equal.

Luca Pacioli

Image: Jacopo de' Barbari (1460/1470 - before 1516) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

2. The world's first accountants originated in Ancient Mesopotamia

Accounting is thousands of years old and can be traced as far back as ancient Mesopotamia.

The world's first accountants worked for the temples, keeping track of taxes paid in sheep and agricultural produce for the religious authorities of the day. In the process, many historians believe they invented the practice of writing in order to keep receipts. Prior to this development in record keeping, token systems were often used to document the exchange of goods and services.

Early forms of bookkeeping have also been found in ancient Iran.

3. Many accounting terms have Latin roots

Accounting may be called ‘the language of business’, but did you know that many well-known accounting terms are derived from Latin?

The word ‘debit’ means ‘he owes’ in Latin, while ‘credit’ means ‘he trusts’. The word ‘accountant’ is derived from the Latin ‘computare’, which means ‘count’.

4. ICAS is the oldest professional body of chartered accountants in the world

ICAS was founded in 1854 by Royal Charter, making it the oldest professional body of chartered accountants. ICAS originated from the Edinburgh Society of Accountants, the Glasgow Institute of Accountants and Actuaries, and the Aberdeen Society of Accountants.

James Brown, James McClelland and John Smith were the first presidents of the three institutes. Robert Gordon Simpson CA was named as the first president of ICAS in 1951.

5. Mick Jagger, Janet Jackson, Eddie Izzard and John Grisham studied accountancy

Mick Jagger of the Rolling Stones, Robert Plant of Led Zeppelin and singer Janet Jackson all studied accountancy - although Robert Plant abandoned his chartered accountancy training after just two weeks and Mick Jagger never completed a full year!

Comedian Eddie Izzard studied accountancy and financial management at the University of Sheffield… where he spectacularly failed all of his exams. Unable to retake the course, he took to street-performing and worked his way up to the comedian he is today.

John Grisham, author of The Firm, The Runaway Jury, and The Client, also has a degree in accounting from Mississippi State University.

Mick Jagger

Image: Featureflash / Shutterstock.com

6. Oscar winning films featuring accountants

Accountants pop up in a number of Oscar-winning films, including Itzhak Stern (Ben Kingsley) in Schindler’s List, Oscar Wallace (Charles Martin Smith) in The Untouchables, Leo Bloom (Gene Wilder) in The Producers, and Bud Baxter (Jack Lemmon) in The Apartment.

Other memorable movie accountants include Any Dufresne (Tim Robbins) in The Shawshank Redemption and of course, the loveable Louis Tully (Rick Moranis) in Ghostbusters.

7. The Romans were obsessed with accounting

The Roman army kept scrupulous records of cash, commodities and transactions, and they computed revenue every day.

The public expenditure of Emperor Augustus was even documented and quantified for the Roman people.

8. The founder of pottery company Wedgwood was the first cost accountant

Though better known for his pottery and ceramics business, Josiah Wedgwood is also considered the first cost accountant.

During a slump in business in 1772, Josiah began to make a concentrated effort to establish the profit or loss realised each time a particular product was sold from his factory. He recognised the sense in recording not just the cost of materials and labour but calculations for coal, storage and transport.

9. Bubblegum was invented by an accountant

US accountant Walter Diemer worked for the Fleer Corporation in the 1920s. But his big claim to fame is that he invented bubble gum in his spare time!

10. There is a patron saint of accountants

St Matthew of Apostle fame is the patron saint of accountants, bookkeepers and tax collectors. Before becoming an Apostle, he was a tax collector in the ancient town of Capernaum.

Read next: Accountants who made their mark on history


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