Bean counter is an informal term that is used to refer to an accountant or any other financial officer who is overly concerned with quantity. Due to this characteristic, a bean counter may overlook other factors. The term bean counter does have negative connotations, and when used to describe a person, is usually associated with other negatively received actions such as budget cuts.
The origins of the term bean counter cannot be pinpointed to a single account, but the general consensus is that it was first used in the 1970s. Imagine a person accounting for the inventory of a grocery store, for example. This person is so detail-oriented that he insists on counting every single bean that is in the inventory. That is where the idea of a bean counter comes from.
It is obvious that in doing so, the accountant or financial officer uses up a lot of time and effort to account for every bean. As a result, other crucial activities or matters may be sacrificed.
Today, an accountant or financial officer may not be involved in the actual act of counting beans in the inventory, but he may take on an obsessive stand about accounting for every single penny. For example, a company’s Chief Financial Officer may scrutinize the budgets of every department and involve himself in the decisions and activities of each department unnecessarily. You can just imagine how this kind of micromanagement can be received negatively by the managers and employees of the the company. This is the modern day bean counter.