This section is from the "Practical Banking" book, by Albert S. Bolles.
Mathematical accuracy is one of the prime virtues of an accountant. It is nowhere more important than in bank bookkeeping. While the affairs of a bank are running along smoothly its customers are given little opportunity to judge of the capability and thoroughness of those who manipulate the books of account. But when the institution comes to grief, and the creditors are waiting in painful suspense to learn the fate of their deposits, the opportunities for determining how well the books have been handled are excellent. It is at such times that the public are taught to appreciate the value of accuracy, system and promptness. When it requires days, and, as is sometimes the case, weeks, for the book-keepers to make up a statement of the condition of a suspended bank, the inference may be fairly taken that something is radically wrong. It may be the imperfections of the system in vogue, or possibly a weakness in the brain of the bookkeeper.
A good theory to follow in bank bookkeeping is one which each day presumes that the bank is to suspend payment before time for the doors to open the next morning. And not only so, but also one which presumes that the directors or proprietors are to require a complete financial exhibit of the bank's affairs within twenty-four hours from the time the suspension is announced. There can be no good reason why a complete statement should not be presented within a few hours at any time, if no crookedness has been practiced. It is not only important that the work of each day should be finished before the doors open on the morning of the day following, but that the work should be so performed as to enable the bookkeepers to make up a full exhibit without delay. Even in cases of defalcation and crookedness on the part of any one individual where several officers and clerks are employed, there would be no reasonable excuse for requiring days, and often weeks, in preparing statements for the public. Simplicity in method and an efficient clerical force will obviate the present prevailing difficulties.
It is not good economy for the manager of a bank to expect one clerk or bookkeeper to perform the labor of two. There can be as much of a mistake in employing not enough as too many. But, before considering the number to be employed, the fitness of each for the position should receive attention. Above all things, know that each and every person doing clerical work in a bank is thoroughly qualified. Then see that the force is sufficient to have the work kept closely up, and require in all cases that no part is neglected. We would say to the bookkeeper of a bank: Demand that you be allowed a sufficient force to do the work punctually and in the best manner. If your request is refused it is better to resign than take chances in doing your duty when you know that important parts must be neglected. Banks show, as a rule, more wisdom in this respect than commercial houses. Yet there are but few banks in which an improvement might not be made by an addition to the regular force. This improvement would redound to the advantage of stockholders as well as the bank's customers.
The method of bookkeeping practiced in a bank may have much to do with the force necessary for performing the work properly. We cannot undertake in this treatise to go into the details of all the different systems in vogue. It is our aim, however, to give such explanations of the methods in most general use as will enable the reader to understand the principles and be able to choose a plan best adapted to his special needs. Important changes and improvements in bank as well as commercial bookkeeping have taken place within the past ten or fifteen years. A few years ago banks received a fair revenue from the sale of exchange. Remittances from one part of the country to another are still made almost entirely by means of bank drafts, but since the establishment of a currency which is at par throughout the United States, the rate of exchange cannot much exceed the cost of transmitting money by express, and the business of dealing in exchange by banks is no longer considered an important item of revenue. The change has had its influence upon bank bookkeeping.
The tendency has been, in bank bookkeeping, to abridge the work. There is still room for improvement in many institutions in this direction. It is a good idea, in all places where possible, to avoid rewriting items and amounts. We will first turn our attention to Accounts Of Depositors