For years, the death of write-up services has been predicted by many who felt the labor-intensive service to be too low end to be worthwhile to most CPA firms. These services were thought to be lower-end services easily replaced by accounting software. Some CPA firms have fled the service, long considered unprofitable and tedious, instead leaving the work to be completed by bookkeepers and much smaller practitioners.
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Today, write-up work is alive. And a large part of the new popularity is due to the advent of strong suites of CPA firm software packages. Many CPA firms have embraced write-up in different ways than in the past. Rather than bring back shoeboxes of loose checks and deposit slips, they're more often importing a disk containing accounting software data.
The strong feature set of today's lower-cost accounting programs such as QuickBooks and Peachtree have prompted accountants to recommend the simple approach versus the multi-module systems that used to be considered the only true accounting systems.
When reviewing write-up software, it's tempting to ask why not use a simple accounting system such as QuickBooks or Peachtree as a write-up system? Some firms have adapted accounting programs to serve as pseudo write-up systems. However, many of the features that are missing include the ability to easily record (and modify) accounting transactions and have advanced editing control over entries (often called after-the-fact) to make corrections and adjustments to them.
So what exactly will write-up software offer that a simple accounting system won't? If there is a compelling reason to invest in separate software for the purpose of write-up, these are the features that you should consider when evaluating the different alternatives.
Suite of products. If you're investing time and energy into using a software package to adjust a client's data, it makes sense to use it as a starting point for further analysis.
Write-up software is available as part of a suite of accounting software products. After data has been created, you should naturally use it as the starting point for working paper software as well as other technical analysis. Having a well-integrated suite of software can save hours of data preparation as well. Because the user interfaces for suites are generally similar, expect to benefit by saving valuable staff training time.
Easy data import. It's rare to find a client without an automated accounting system. Save hours of time by using your client's accounting system data file as the starting point for the write-up package. At a minimum, you'll want the ability to import QuickBooks, Peachtree, Excel, CSV (comma separated values) and Lotus files. Some software suites such as Thomson's CS Professional Suite even offer programs that a client can use for their everyday accounting, which then feed directly to their write-up and other professional software packages.
Integration with workpaper software. An accurate and complete set of accounting records is only the start of an engagement. When it's time to prepare annual, monthly or quarterly financial statements, you'll want to use data you've created as the starting point for your working paper software. Easy import and exchange of data is a key feature. Focus on software programs which offer this suite of products that you can readily exchange data with.
Presentation-quality financials. Creating financial statements is a goal for nearly every write-up engagement. A full-featured wysiwyg (what you see is what you get) report writer is a must. Be sure that the report writer is expandable and allows you to include footnotes (should they be needed) and supports the use of seemingly simple tools like spell check.
Analysis reporting. There are many people available who can do an adequate job of compiling financial statements from raw transactions. What you, as a CPA, provide is a level of additional analysis of the underlying data. Many write-up systems allow for the creation of analysis reports such as ratio comparisons to industry averages and multiple-year trends. The service that you add by providing such analysis will justify the additional fees you charge above what a typical bookkeeping service can offer to the clients. You'll want to make sure that any analysis reporting is customizable enough for you to add in your own ratios and computations as you see fit. Some systems even allow for subscriptions to industry-standard ratio guides. The end result will be more value to the client and a long-term and happy relationship.
Target market. There is a wide range of capabilities within different write-up packages. Some software is designed for use with small start-up companies while other software assumes that write-up may be only a tiny portion of the audit services offered to a much larger client. Be sure to get a clear idea of exactly who the write-up package you are considering is targeting.
Templates for financial reports. You're likely to have many clients that you provide write-up services for. Most clients will use a standard format for their financial statements. Make sure the write-up software you select supports the use of a common library of financial formats. This makes it easier to re-use statements that you've created. You also can establish a firmwide set of financial statement layouts to ensure consistency throughout your organization.
Export to tax packages. Quick-and-easy exporting of data to a tax package is a must. Look for a package where the export is aided by the ability to natively code the tax lines that the individual amounts should be posted against. If you're able code this information once, and then each year when you prepare the taxes, you'll seamlessly transfer data for tax preparation.
Historical reporting. When it comes to transaction history, more is better. Retaining five to 10 years' worth of historical information can come in handy when there's a need to prepare trend reports. Even if you don't think you'll ever use that much historical data, keep it. There's almost always a way to get rid of unwanted data. Making that data suddenly appear is not as simple however.
After-the-fact payroll availability. You may not regularly prepare client payrolls. However, the availability of after-the-fact payroll will be a plus for those who request the service. Even if you're not preparing weekly payrolls, the ability to enter totals and produce year-end W-2 and other tax filings is a feature that most CPA firms find they need at some point during their processing.
With these tips in mind, we look a six of the leading write-up packages available. Use the topics above as a starting point for your own review of these systems. Not all will contain the features discussed above. Pick and choose those which are the most important to you in a write-up system.
Drake Client Write-Up
Drake Client Write-Up is billed as an extensive payroll package that includes basic bookkeeping functionality. You may process payrolls either live (including printing the checks via MICR format) or after-the-fact. Both employees and contractors may be paid through payroll, and either W-2 or 1099 forms are automatically generated as the need dictates.
When performing write-up work, you can import a chart of accounts for similar clients, thus saving time with data entry. Additional functionality in the form of accounts payable is not yet available but slated for a future release.
Because Drake's focus is tax preparation, you'll find that most add-on modules would be most useful to a CPA firm focused on tax work. The company offers an impressive line of integrated modules ranging from scheduling to document management and due-date tracking. Each integrates to provide one point of entry for all of the data.
Data cannot be imported directly into Drake's Client Write-Up. Instead, you need to create the accounting records in Write-Up and then import that data to the Drake Tax software.
Financial reports are stored in text or RTF (rich text format) files. These must then be opened outside the program for further work and formatting.
Drake has addressed a niche for write-up software where the practitioner is not primarily interested in preparing a financial statement for an audit engagement. Rather, this software fits most appropriately within a tax department or tax-oriented CPA firm.
Accountants have been using the EasyAcct solution since its days under the Lacerte Software umbrella. There are several unique features within EasyAcct which keep users coming back.
First, EasyAcct presently offers a DOS version, the only such version in the programs reviewed here. While the DOS version is available for use, Intuit does warn against expecting the data files to be interchangeable between DOS and Windows versions, should certain modules such as Accounts Receivable be used under Windows.