When it comes to the write-up software wars, accountants and software vendors have to confront the challenge of Intuit's QuickBooks. "A lot of clients ask about QuickBooks-at least 80 percent," says Sean Manning of Manning & Co., based in Littleton, Colo. "Our approach is to ask them to print out a financial statement and tell us if they think it's accurate. The majority say 'No,'" adds Manning.
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He continues that, "We then have them look at Write-Up CS and what it can do. We convert about 90 percent of the clients that ask about QuickBooks. It's usually the integration capabilities that convince them."
Mountain View, Calif.
On the other side of this coin, Fresno, Calif.-based Moore & Grider is switching all of its 75 write-up clients using Write-Up CS to QuickBooks Accountants Edition.
"People are more familiar with QuickBooks and the reporting is easier," says partner Kendall Wheeler. "The financial statements designer is great." In addition to basic write-up work, the firm prepares financial statements for its clients. "With QuickBooks we have complete control. It's a more stable program for us to use, and if our clients want to take the services in-house they can," adds Wheeler.
It's no secret that write-up is one of those building blocks that most practitioners hate, but that they are forced to endure. So the key for write-up vendors today is to provide practitioners with products that have flexibility, efficiency, and integration.
The more flexible the charts of accounts and financial statements set-up, the easier it is for the practitioner to produce quality work.
Products also need quick, simple data entry to provide efficient processing and analysis. Finally, integration with other vendors' products and with those in the same software family helps eliminate redundant data entry. This combined functionality gives practitioners what they want-productivity gains and extra avenues for additional revenue.
Manning has seen his write-up practice grow over the last three months. In fact, the eight-person firm, which generates half of its fees through monthly write-up services, has averaged seven new clients per month during that period.
"Most of the new clients coming in want to start using computers for their write-up processes," says Manning, whose tool of choice is Write-Up CS from Dexter, Mich.-based Creative Solutions.
Manning, whose firm offers clients services that include importing data from accounts receivable, accounts payable, the check register, and payroll, makes modifications in CS and produces financial statements, eliminating a lot of data entry.
QuickBooks Is King?
But as Manning's experience shows, anyone that wants to do write-up, or vendors who compete with the widely used Intuit product, must come to terms with QuickBooks, which gained popularity as a write-up package even before it was designed for that task.
It's either use it, or show clients why they shouldn't. But they can't ignore it.
Mountain View, Calif.-based Intuit claims QuickBooks is the application most widely used for write-up work.
There is no doubt that Intuit is a player when it comes to write-up; it offers two products- EasyAcct and the QuickBooks Accountants Edition, which came to market after accountants began adopting the regular QuickBooks for write-up work.
But why offer two products, when one is the most widely used? One major difference between the two products is that Intuit developed QuickBooks, while it acquired EasyAcct with the purchase of the former Tax and Accounting Software.
"The product helps professionals work more efficiently, and professionals only need to master one program to support all their clients," says senior marketing manager Kristina Hile.
The Accountants Edition includes all versions of QuickBooks and with a single installation professionals can toggle to any version, see what the clients see, and answer any questions.
Another difference is that EasyAcct has import tools that handle data from a wide range of applications, while Accountants Edition only shares QuickBooks files. According to Hile, EasyAcct is used by professionals who work with small business clients that do traditional write-up work based off a box of documents. QuickBooks Accountants Edition costs $399, while EasyAcct starts at $1,590.
The Course of Least Resistance|
One of the things that pushed QuickBooks into a major share of the write-up market was that so many small businesses used it for their own accounting, says Bruce Andersen.
"What happens now is that you don't have much write-up work where people still bring in their shoeboxes [with receipts]," says Andersen, a sole practitioner based in Woodland Hills, Calif.
For many years, Andersen used Datawrite, one of several write-up applications Creative Solutions bought and killed during the 1990s. Andersen says that he didn't settle on a replacement for a while, until QuickBooks came out with the Accountants Edition.
He was pushed in that direction because clients in great numbers began bringing their data in on disk. "Guess what? Most of it was QuickBooks," he says.
Andersen, whose firm has six employees, says that "when we are doing the ugly stuff with the few shoe boxes we still get in, we have people trained on data entry."
"For tax preparation, it's the best thing," he continues. "If I am doing my last tax return for the day and I have to figure out what happened with income tax payments, I drill down into QuickBooks and see what my number is."
Most vendors agree that QuickBooks is a popular option when it comes to write-up, but point out the strengths of their products versus QuickBooks. "Practitioners run their practices based on how their clients run their businesses. If a client uses QuickBooks, it's easy to keep doing that," says Teresa Mackintosh, vice president of marketing for Creative Solutions.
"The benefit of this is that the client knows how to use the software," she says, "but the practitioner is not adding value to what the client is doing. The professional is billing for time and making corrections. Professionals need to show them the difference."
Brian Steinert, a product manager for several products in CCH's ProSystem fx Office suite, agrees.
"QuickBooks is in a lot of client offices, but more professional write-up programs offer true closing of the books, more of the reports clients want generated, and tighter integration with other products, not to mention most products import details from QuickBooks, making it easy for professionals who have clients who use QuickBooks," he says.
At the moment, Torrance, Calif.-based CCH also offers two write-up packages, ProSystem fx CPAClient Write-up and the CPASoftware product acquired from Sage, to its 1,200 write-up clients.
However, unlike Intuit, CCH has plans to turn two products into one. By 2007, all the features in the Sage product will also be in the ProSystem product.
The switch is something of an unexpected development, since CCH released its first write-up product, ProSystem fx Write-up, less than two years ago, in September 2004, as a product written from the ground up and written in a way that CCH would be able to easily and continually expand its capabilities.
But the company is now de-emphasizing ProSystem fx Write-up in favor of the CPASoftware product, which has been renamed ProSystem fx CPAClient Write-up. In fact, when CCH has been requested to provide users to speak about ProSystem fx Write-up, it has had difficulty doing so.
The newly named application will be the sole CCH write-up product available by the end of next year, says product manager Steinert.
Among the differences between the two products is that ProSystem fx Write-up integrates well with ProSystem fx Tax and Engagement, but does not have built in payroll, although it does integrate with PayCycle. The former Sage product integrates with the other acquired Sage product, Practice Management, and includes built-in payroll.
CCH president Kevin Robert says that the products are being merged because the more mature Sage application has more features, while the CCH-developed software is .Net enabled.
Many features will be complete by the end of 2006. The features include advanced after-the-fact payroll, live built-in payroll, a custom financial statement generator, editable forms within the payroll system, QuickBooks, Peachtree, and Quicken-import capabilities, and advanced trial balance and associated reporting capabilities.
There are several companies such as Drake Software, ATX, and AccountantsWorld that also offer write-up packages, but aren't trying to compete with the likes of CCH, Intuit, and Creative Solutions.
However, they do want to provide their customers with the major benefits write-up packages provide, such as the ability to transfer relevant balances directly to tax preparation software, as well as being able to populate a Schedule C or a K-1 to save time in data entry.