Just a couple of years ago, it looked like the write-up market was going to turn into a one-horse show. Creative Solutions, usually considered to have the greatest market share in write-up, had devoured a number of competing products: Professional Design Systems, Bass, Microtique's Class, ATB Write-up, UniLink, ProTym, Franklen, WinCabs, and Network Systems.
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But a funny thing happened on the way to consolidation. While smaller players disappeared into the CSI write-up machine, bigger competitors got in. The end result is that there are more viable write-up packages on the market now than two years ago.
Intuit entered the market, with both its purchase of Tax and Accounting Software and its EasyAcct line and the addition of QuickBooks Accountants Edition. Then, Drake Software and CCH got into the act. TaxWise, the Rome, Ga.-based tax software company, is steering its customers to Client Write-Up by PCSA.
"I think it's sort of one of those building blocks that everybody hates, but that everybody has to do," says Dave Olsen, executive director of accounting products for Caribou, Maine-based ATX, which got into the market with its Total Accounting Office Full Write-up.
The move toward integrated packages and vendors trying to provide one-stop shopping are likely primary factors in spurring companies to play in the write-up market.
"I think that it's happening because integration is becoming a distinguishing factor," says Jack LaRue, CSI's vice president of marketing. "That's where the productivity gains are being made."
Write-up is also changing as features that help apply the data in the financial statements are increasingly offered in the software. The ability to turn write-up work into analytical work is a key to greater profitability, says LaRue.
"If you are handling write-up as compliance, it becomes commoditized," he says.
It's after the reports are generated that "the work really starts," LaRue continues. What is happening is that accountants are increasingly moving into the role of remote controllers and handling accounts receivable and accounts payable processing, along with check writing for their write-up clients.
Sean Manning of Manning & Co., based in Englewood, Colo., has tried to move his practice into a more analytical direction. He wants to utilize write-up data to help clients with such issues as in-depth tax planning and exit strategies.
"It's been a little bit of a slow process to get the clients to put together the plan. They haven't thought of the necessary steps, like computerizing their accounting," he says.
A 10-year purchaser of Creative Solutions products, Manning, who has 10 employees, uses the vendor's Creative Solutions Accounting and gets his clients to use the Client Bookkeeping Solution, which is a rival to QuickBooks.
"It's a better option in my mind than QuickBooks," he says. He imports data from accounts receivable, accounts payable, the check register, and payroll-"if you are having the client do that." He makes modifications in CSA and produces the financial statements. "It eliminates a lot of data entry," he continues.
The Versatile Group
"A few years ago, we thought the market would shrink. I'm not sure it will, although we don't seem to see new, younger accountants doing as much write-up," says John Stafford, president of The Versatile Group, a Dallas-based company that has about 1,000 CPAs using different generations of its Certiflex Dimension write-up package.
Write-up users can be very conservative. There are those still doing write-up by hand and there are still Certiflex users with DOS versions, even though TVG has dropped all DOS support.
Document storage and integration are important, and TVG has started using PDF files for storing documents within the application and has added integration with QuickBooks. Stafford estimates that 20 percent of all features in Certiflex are integration or communication tools.
CCH Moves In
Integration is very much on the mind of CCH, with its use of Microsoft's .Net platform and its MSDE database technology.
"We are trying to bring everything together and make it one big happy family, database-wise," says Stuart Gill, product manager for ProSystem fx Write-up.
The next important enhancement is the planned addition of bank reconciliation, scheduled for May. "The bank reconciliation function is one request that we are getting across the board," says Gill. The company is also working on adding comparative statements and interim-period integration with ProSystem fx Engagement.
The package is priced at $1,859 for the first user and $175 for each additional user. However, CCH is offering 50 percent off in an early adopter program that has no expiration date.
CCH is also thinking beyond write-up, to providing greater connectivity with the other elements of its product suite. Since the newer applications in the lineup are SQL-based, CCH anticipates being able to "provide a consistent database so the firms don't have to have eight different databases," says Gill. "Using .Net allows us to utilize a lot of that technology."
A Name Change
CPASoftware, now owned by Best Software, has been in the write-up business for years, although it was known more for its practice management application. But the Pensacola, Fla.-based unit continues to enhance its product, formerly known as Visual Write-up, which was renamed as CPAClient Write-Up last year.
"We have added quite a few integration features, imports and exports," notes Sheila Fallon, an associate product manager at CPASoftware. That includes the ability to import and export involving sister applications MAS 90 and Peachtree, and to QuickBooks.
"It allows an accountant to make correcting journal entries and export them back to the clients," she notes.
Fallon says that the company has also responded to requests to make CPAClient Write-Up user friendly. That meant less need to exit individual screens to access other functions.
In an upcoming version, CPASoftware is releasing a workpaper manager that will utilize the onscreen working trial balance. The system will also provide the ability to archive supporting documents.
CPASoftware has some very loyal fans, including Tony Greiner, who has been using the company's write-up offerings "through all the progression of different formats and operating systems," since 1980.
Greiner, whose firm, Greiner & Co., is based in Manheim, Pa., says he has stuck with CPASoftware because, "Every time I looked at every other program, they weren't offering anything I couldn't get here."
He was particularly pleased with CPASoftware's implementation of Windows, which he says is easy to work with.
Greiner likes the ability to correct mistakes. If his firm finds a mistake in client data, "we just 'check' the client out of our system. That freezes the database here and it's emailed to the client to make the fixes. They can work with it better when they have it in their own computer."
ATX Bulks Up
The ATX Full Write-Up Office includes the functions of the company's Total Accounting Office, plus accounts receivable and accounts payable, along with the general ledger and cash management, providing for the creation of an unlimited number of companies.
Although "available all along in the Total Accounting Office," the write-up element got a boost with the addition last year of the "Quick" write-up screens that make the after-the-fact data entry much easier, says ATX's Olsen.
This year, ATX is emphasizing three points in write-up: electronic file exchange, and analytical capabilities-"pushing the virtues of being a virtual CFO for your client, so that you are adding value, and not just doing a clerical function," says Olsen. The third element is after-the fact payroll, "and making it as easy as possible for a data-entry point of view," he continues.
The company is following an approach similar to the one that CSI is using with its pairing of the accountants' write-up package with the Client Bookkeeping Solution used by the client. In the ATX case, the write-up software is paired with the end-user's Cash Command, a product introduced last year.
"We are putting a real focus on [Cash Command] as a practice-building tool for building your off-season write-up work," says Olsen.
Cash Command, designed to let businesses record their daily transactions, income, and expenditures, was developed by ATX's vendor partner, AccTrak 21. Business owners can schedule recurring transactions, such as withdrawals, bills, deposits, and transfers, while exporting financial transactions to their accountants.
On the enhancement schedule is MICR check printing for firms that process client payroll. ATX also plans to improve the CRM aspects of the write-up offering to provide a better communication trail.
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