by Seth Fineberg

Hauppauge, N.Y. - It has been a busy summer for AccountantsWorld, between the sale of its tax preparation product line to a major competitor and trying to solidify its identity in the market.

The company is now ready to put all of this activity aside and set a course to establish itself as a leading Web portal provider of accounting tools.

Just to recap, in mid-July, Creative Solutions, a Thomson business, announced that it had acquired AccountantsWorld’s Tax Relief line for $20 million and made a “special offer” to transition those customers to its UltraTax line, providing users with UltraTax at Tax Relief’s current price for the next three years.

Then, only days after the sale, the FBI arrested three AccountantsWorld employees for allegedly trying to sell its TaxRelief customer list to another rival company, ExacTax.

However, AccountantsWorld president Dr. Chandra Bhansali sees beyond these events to a future where the accounting world is entirely Net-based and his company is at the forefront.

“We want to be the only company that is truly a practice development company, offering all the resources accountants need to develop their practice and enhance their relationships with clients while raising their bottom line,” Bhansali said.

He stressed that AccountantsWorld had been expanding into Internet services at a fast rate and eventually discovered that it was “involved in too many things.” For one, the company spent nearly six months of the year just updating its tax product. Soon after, Bhansali realized that the company needed a new direction.

In a previous interview, Bhansali also said that he had been approached by a number of companies about a sale over the last five years, but decided that “now is the time, because we want to concentrate on new services.”

Regarding these “new services,” some are just that, while others have been in the works for some time and are now improved or expanded. Accounting Relief Online is one of those products.

Describing the product as a “collaborative accounting system,” the company started it last year, but recently added an accounts payable and receivable function and a new general accounting system for small businesses. The company will release the new version of Accounting Relief Online this month.

With this product, accountants can prepare financial statements and make any adjustments that they need online. Depending on client needs, accountants can also assign what activities they want their clients to access. The company is promoting this product’s use with its existing Accountant’s Relief desktop application.

Another product that AccountantsWorld wants to push hard is its relatively new online payroll service, Payroll Relief, which offers access to a full-service payroll bureau.

All that a client needs to do is enter the necessary data, and the AccountantsWorld-run bureau takes care of check printing, direct deposit, compliance work, W2 processing, etc. Accountants can access this online service, as well.

“We realize we are also in the practice development business, and most accountants don’t offer payroll services to clients,” Bhansali said. “At the same time, payroll service businesses are quite profitable and now accountants can offer payroll services profitably to their clients and we do all the work. Accountants can make $1,000 to $1,500 per client for the year on this and do little work.”

AccountantsWorld is not ignoring its other desktop applications, which include the Accountant’s Relief write-up software, after-the-fact payroll and fixed-asset computation products, and the PFP Relief personal financial planning software.

In addition to its products and services, the company is also enhancing its Web site content, primarily in the areas of payroll and human resources. These, of course, feed into its Payroll Relief product.

“We are really trying to beef up all of our content areas, but [payroll] is the next major growth area for accountants,” said Larry Zuckerman, CPA and director of community development at AccountantsWorld. “Our content on payroll and human resources will explain how accountants can make money in this area. With the Internet, accountants now have access to the same mega-databases as the bureaus. So, instead of referring clients away for payroll services, they can now access their own service.”

Zuckerman said that accountantsworld.com receives between 60,000 and 80,000 unique visitors per week.

Convincing customers about the company’s new direction is admittedly a challenge, according to Bhansali, but it is one that he feels prepared to meet.

“There was definitely some initial shock when we sold the tax product. Most were concerned about us losing staff because they thought all we were was tax software,” Bhansali said. “We spent a lot of time at the recent New York State CPA Society show signing people up for our webinars to show them what else we do.”

So, will accountants take to such Web portals? Practice management consultant Jay Nisberg says that his clients look upon them positively, but it may be some time before they flock to the Web.

“Trust and security is really tough right now, but it will evolve,” Nisberg said. “More imperative is the role of WebTrust. It must reinvent itself and I believe the accounting profession will be a good place for people to monitor the credibility of Web providers.”

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