Write-up software is in the midst of major changes.
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While that has not much changed, the manner in which it is performed has undergone a massive evolutionary step in the past two decades.
Consider just three points:
(c) Clients use accounting software. Accountants are not dealing with monthly boxes of scribbled notes, hand-written checks and printed bank statements. Instead, companies are increasingly using bookkeeping tools, electronic banking, automated payroll and other services to streamline their own operations and make life easier for accountants. Likewise, software vendors are stepping up with new tools to better integrate the two and eliminate unnecessary steps in the process.
(c) Client portals are proliferating. Collaborative accounting has come to the forefront, with businesses of every size able to interact with the accounting firm on their own schedules and in a way that allows multiple users to participate at any given time.
(c) Paper is disappearing. Financial statements today are transmitted electronically - or held in a secure space for shared viewing. The administrative process of printing and binding reports has given way to the more economical processes of document management.
These changes have slowly altered not only the way write-up services are performed, but how there are perceived by both accountants and their clients. Increasingly, the stand-along write-up package is disappearing, integrated into the core accounting package and streamlined. As this happens, a number of software vendors are advocating the idea that write-up should be less the heart of accounting services to clients than a stepping stone to more advanced - and more lucrative - services.
For a better view of this next evolutionary step, take a look at Intacct's Accountant Edition. Though they are the most direct in this approach to write-up, the rest of the marketplace is not far behind.
This year's roundup presents eight top-of-the-line write-up systems from leading vendors, and an interesting glimpse of the future of this accounting service.
Pricing: Starts at $2,900.
Accounting CS is the next-generation application for accountants that was released in the spring of 2010, combining write-up, trial balance, financials reporting, live and after-the-fact-payroll, and compliance.
Through the Accounting CS Client Access system, clients can perform daily bookkeeping from anywhere, making data immediately available on the secure online portal. Client Access allows clients and firms to collaborate online in real time using the same interface and a single set of data. No imports or exports are necessary, and there are no third-party applications or client-side software installs. Client Access is currently available for check-writing and calculating payroll, with additional functions to be added over the coming year.
Multiple users in the firm can access each client file simultaneously, and accountants can create an unlimited number of account groupings with up to 20 customizable account segments, set up vendor records for 1099 and trade vendors, and store accounting and payroll data going back an unlimited number of years.
Accounting CS provides reporting based on either an existing template or a custom design. Its spreadsheet-like editor offers virtually unlimited design and formatting capabilities and allows design templates to be saved for use with other clients. Accounting CS also allows accounting, payroll, management and transmittal letters to be edited. A report profile feature allows grouping of reports into an unlimited number of customizable report profiles that can be used to send pre-selected bundles of documents to multiple clients. Reports can be distributed as files, sent via e-mail, stored in FileCabinet CS, and more.
Recent enhancements to Accounting CS include a new spreadsheet import wizard that makes it easier to import general ledger balances and Tax Code information; a new split-screen view that makes it easier to add, edit and delete journal entries in the trial balance; new integration features that make it easier to share journal entries from Fixed Assets CS, Practice CS and UltraTax CS; and new support for and integration with Mobile CS, a mobile app that provides real-time access to key practice management data. The new features include the ability to enter time and expense data from mobile devices.
Pricing: Accounting Relief Pro - unlimited staff and clients, $99 per month, or $990 per year.
Write-up services are a core feature of the Web-based Accounting Relief Pro, which is also available as part of the Power Practice System from AccountantsWorld. It provides the full array of write-up services, including reconciliation, reporting, check writing and full GL, along with trial balance capabilities and options for after-the-fact payroll, live payroll, and a complete collaborative bookkeeping system for the firm's client.
Accounting Relief provides a complete set of financials including balance sheet, income statement and statement of cash flow; along with title page, table of contents, accountant's letter and notes. A professional set of financials can easily be generated using system defaults, with the additional ability to customize each statement to group accounts, create supplemental schedules and design multiple formats for various recipients. Accountants can also control which financials their clients can print.
Among the major features of Accounting Relief is streamlined data entry and its use of electronic communication. Banks and credit card statements can be downloaded for direct import into the system, simplifying bank reconciliation. The comprehensive trial balance system makes it easy to create a tax trial balance, which then can be exported to any tax system. Thirty essential financial ratios break down a company's financial activity into simple mathematical computations, allowing for tracking of unusual activities that may require intervention.
In the most current update, financials have been enhanced to provide a more flexible level of customization. This includes user-definable fonts for a wide variety of report elements, and the addition of user-definable classes for the expenses section of the income statement. An unlimited number of formats can be created, and accountants can decide which formats can be printed by each of their clients.
Client Accounting Suite
CCH Small Firm Services, a Wolters Kluwer business
Pricing: Unlimited users on a network - Client Accounting Suite, $520; with Payroll, $795.
CCH has re-branded and updated its client write-up solution. CCH Small Firm Services now produces the Client Accounting Suite for its ATX and TaxWise customers, and a Client Accounting Suite Premier that contains all the same tool sets and features as Client Accounting Suite, but includes a specific integration with ProSystem fx Tax and Practice Management.
Client Accounting Suite includes general ledger, accounts receivable and accounts payable modules. It also has live and after-the-fact payroll, trial balance, and financial reporting. The Premier version contains the same capabilities as the former ProSystem fx Write-Up and Client Accounting System, but has additional features such as credit-card entry and credit card reconciliation, a set-up wizard called client set-up assistance, and a backup-and-restore feature. Users are also able to move to different modules from within the system. For example, someone working in the general ledger will now be able to access payroll and accounts receivable.
Key features of the Client Account Suite are its unique Spanish-language capabilities; integration with Small Firm Services' line of accounting and workflow products; and the flexibility of its financial statements. Users can create statements using templates or customized layouts. The user can control the statement appearance, including orientation, number of columns, placement of underlines and dollar signs, and custom headers and footers. The program offers professional client letters and GAAP-required statements.
Enhancements to the Client Accounting Suite for 2011 include an entity chart of accounts with tax-line mapping; the ability to export journal entries to QuickBooks and Peachtree software; a draft watermark for financial statements; the ability to change account length on industry chart of accounts; a redesigned payroll posting account set-up; the addition of state withholding forms, and the ability to print a client list and search the check register.
CaseWare Working Papers 2011
Pricing: Single-user license - $500; 5 users - $1,500, $290 per additional. SmartSync is an optional add-on to Working Papers. SmartSync - $100 per user. Connector - $60 per user. License renewal - 50 percent annually.
CaseWare Working Papers is a flexible solution designed for use by accountants tasked with financial reporting and compliance. That includes write-up for the preparation of year-end financial packages or presentation of statements to management.
Data can be directly imported with point-and-click reading of native files from most accounting software packages. The review process is automated with history tracking, milestone creation, issue/review notes, diagnostics, a full annotation system and online sign-offs, with no need for paper. Reports are created via "smart technologies" that automate formatting, rounding, diagnostics, account amounts, text, account balances and even financial notes based on set preferences.