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10 things you never knew about accountancy

Written by: ICAEW
Published on: 20 Oct 2023

People at work

Think accounting is dull? Think again – here are just a few fascinating facts about one of the world’s oldest and most important professions.


1. Accountancy is a truly ancient profession: as far back as 7,500BC – and long before the earliest-known writing – clay tokens were used to represent grain and other goods being traded in Mesopotamia.


2. The first published explanation of double-entry bookkeeping was set down in 1494 by mathematics teacher and monk Luca Pacioli in his book Summa de Arithmetica. In 2019, a first-edition copy was auctioned by Christie’s in New York, fetching $1,215,000.


3. And talking of bookkeeping, it’s the only word in the English language to have three sets of consecutive double letters.


4. Accountants, bankers and financial professionals have their own patron saint in the Christian faith: Saint Matthew, who worked as a tax collector for the Romans before becoming one of Christ’s 12 apostles.


5. The worlds of music, entertainment and literature would be very different if some stars had stuck with their accountancy careers: Rolling Stones frontman Mick Jagger, Led Zeppelin’s Robert Plant, comedian Eddie Izzard and author John Grisham all started out studying accounting.


6. A career in accountancy could take you far – even as far as the FBI. Forensic accountants have been a key part of the Federal Bureau of Investigation since it was founded in 1908. Today it employs some 600 agents who specialise in investigating financial crime.


7. It was US government agents who famously who brought down gangster Al Capone in 1920s Chicago. When other efforts to prosecute his many crimes failed, Internal Revenue Service special agent Frank J Wilson and his team scoured two million documents to find the evidence that eventually saw him jailed for tax evasion.


8. At the same time, some 750 miles away in Philadelphia, another accountant was busy inventing bubble gum. Walter Diemer was working for a confectionery company and experimenting on the side when he accidentally stumbled across the perfect recipe. He reputedly never received any royalties for his invention.


9. Accountants play a starring role in the Oscars each year: since the 1930s, PwC has overseen the vote, hand-counting thousands of Academy ballots to determine the nominees and eventual winners. The independent firm was brought in after a public outcry in 1934 when Bette Davis failed to be nominated.


10. Join ICAEW and you’ll be in good company: with 36,084 students and 166,3398 members (December 2022), it is the biggest professional accountancy body in the UK and Ireland.