The Financial GPS for Insurance Agencies – Double Entry Accounting

The advent of double entry bookkeeping is one of the most significant milestones in the history of accounting and finance.

Developed during the late Middle Ages and popularized by Luca Pacioli in the 15th century, this ingenious system transformed the way businesses, governments, and individuals recorded financial transactions. Today, double entry bookkeeping stands as a fundamental pillar of modern finance, ensuring accuracy, transparency, and accountability in financial reporting.

What is Double Entry Bookkeeping

In our last piece, we talked about bookkeeping and its relation to accounting in a broader sense. Bookkeeping is the method by which we meticulously document financial transactions in a business and today we use the double entry method to do this.

In double entry bookkeeping, every financial transaction is recorded in at least two accounts, which are known as “debits” and “credits.” These entries are made in such a way that the total debits must equal the total credits, ensuring that the accounting equation (Assets = Liabilities + Equity) is always in balance. This balance creates order and while it doesn’t always catch the errors and the fraud, we haven’t quite yet figured out how to reasonably deploy the triple-method or the quadruple-method of accounting…(maybe blockchain will enter the mainstream here soon).   

This elegant system provides several key advantages:

  • 🎯 Accuracy: By requiring entries to balance, double entry bookkeeping helps detect errors immediately. If the books do not balance, it is a clear signal that something is amiss and needs correction. 
  • 🫥 Transparency: The system provides a clear trail of every transaction, making it easy to trace the origin and destination of funds. This transparency is essential for internal and external stakeholders, such as shareholders, regulators, and auditors.
  • 🫡 Accountability: Double entry bookkeeping holds individuals and organizations accountable for their financial activities. It enables the identification of responsible parties in case of discrepancies or financial improprieties.

The Origins of the Double Entry Method

During the Middle Ages, accounting practices began to evolve from a single entry system. The single entry system had limitations. It recorded only one side of a transaction, making it susceptible to errors and fraud. There was no good mechanism in place to “proofread” the single entries. 

As trade and commerce flourished in cities like Venice, Genoa, and Florence, so did the need for accurate record-keeping. Merchants, bankers, and governments grappled with the challenge of keeping track of their financial transactions.

 

Enter: Luca Pacioli  

Luca Pacioli – The Father of Accounting (wikipedia)

Luca Pacioli is often regarded as the “father of accounting.”  While double entry bookkeeping was in use before him, Luca Pacioli, a Franciscan friar and mathematician, played a pivotal role in popularizing and codifying the system. In his 1494 book, “Summa de Arithmetica, Geometria, Proportioni et Proportionalita,” Pacioli outlined the principles of double entry bookkeeping, which he referred to as the “Venetian method.” His work provided a comprehensive guide for merchants and accountants of the time, and it rapidly gained recognition throughout Europe.  Leonardo DaVinci illustrated “Summa de Arithmetica, Geometria, Proportioni et Proportionalita,” adding to its popularity.

You may see us refer to the “Venetian Method” from time to time…sounds better. Or at least more interesting. 

How Double Entry Bookkeeping Affects Your Agency

In the fast-paced world of insurance agencies where every premium dollar signifies a client’s trust and financial complexities intricately thread through operations, the Double Entry method emerges as the GPS each agency needs.  Attempting to navigate the financial landscape of most agencies using the Single Entry method would be akin to walking blindfolded across a canyon on a tightrope. Insurance agencies, essentially financial jugglers, handle a delicate balance between fiduciary responsibilities and operational finances. They’re entrusted with receiving premiums from policyholders, ensuring timely transfers to insurance companies, and harmonizing these transactions with their internal operational accounting—tracking revenues, managing expenses, and more. Imagine attempting to reconcile accounts receivable and accounts payable without a ledger detailing your clients and carriers. How could an insurance agency manage open balances for insureds, loan balances, or producer payables without all of this in order?

Most agencies, in the daily hustle, may not pause to appreciate the intricate dance of debits and credits that keeps their financial ship afloat. This may be due to focus on the business, which is understandable, or it may be due to unfamiliarity, poor systems in place, or other resource constraints. But most could benefit from taking a closer look at the hull, engine room–or whatever other ship component we can use as an analogy here. Most likely, you are already sailing the Double Entry seas, whether you are conscious of it or not. It’s the silent backbone of financial management, silently powering your operations like an invisible force. But are you actively steering the ship or merely drifting with the current? 

If any of this has inspired you or caught your attention, we would always encourage you to do something about it. In this case, that might be to get with your accounting team, or it may be to engage an accounting consultant. And from there, deep dive into your financial waters, down to the nitty gritty of your Chart of Accounts. Take a closer look at the gears and cogs that keep your financial engine running. Are you tracking things the way you think you should be? Do you have a solid grasp of what is happening financially within your agency? You have ideas about how to write new business but some of them cost money. Can you spend that money or make that investment? These are things you should know, or if you don’t know, you can actively be working towards developing that knowledge. It takes time. We know of accounting restructuring at agencies that have taken years. There are ways to manage these things so that it’s not a major disruption to your sales and service operations. 

When it comes to the nitty gritty, in our next article, we’re going to talk about your Chart of Accounts, the atlas of your financials. Much like our encouragement to devote the time to refining your financial picture, we will continue to help develop a full picture of why certain accounting, bookkeeping, and finance concepts are important. And please share your thoughts, concerns, questions, or arguments along the way!  

 

 

About Crystal Temple

Crystal has spent nearly two decades focused exclusively on accounting and bookkeeping for insurance brokers. She has founded multiple bookkeeping groups, one of which was acquired by a prominent AMS provider. Crystal has also served as a controller of an agency group that acquired over 50 agencies in a two-year timeframe. She is the co-founder of a startup called Ricono, building a platform to address some of the technology deficiencies brokers face when trying to measure and manage their financial operations.

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