Case Studies: Bookkeeping software in 2020

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Bookkeeping is a service is in a deep state of flux, driven by technology that has automated many of the processes. Still, it is a core need of businesses small and large, and accounting and bookkeeping firms can help their clients a lot with minimal expenditure of resources if they implement the right technology well.

Below are three case studies of three very different software solutions: the robust and trusted QuickBooks Desktop solution; the newer and more agile FreshBooks software; and the unique firm Botkeeper that provides bookkeeping via “AI with a human touch.”

Indisputably robust

Product: QuickBooks Desktop

Firm: Tonneson & Co.

Staff: 75

On record: Client services senior accountant Susan Joefield

Selection: Tonneson & Co. uses both QuickBooks Desktop and QuickBooks Online to provide bookkeeping services to their clients, but this case study will focus on QBD to highlight the specialized features the desktop program offers to small businesses.

Initially, the firm selected QuickBooks Desktop because “it was the only game in town,” Susan Joefield said. Indeed, in the 1990s, when Intuit introduced QuickBooks, it quickly became the most popular accounting software in use. But the firm likes the software today because of its very robust feature set, especially in reporting.

Onboarding: When onboarding a new client, Tonneson assesses their specific needs: Do they need a lot of invoicing? Cash transfers? Are they an international or domestic business? What is their volume of transactions? The answers to these questions allow the firm to determine whether QBD or QBO is a better fit.

Tonneson uses cloud-hosting provider Xcentric (now owned by Right Networks) to provide clients a portal through which they can access QuickBooks Desktop remotely. This way, clients can work in their QBD file, then Tonneson staff can review it and answer any questions the client may have, just like they would be able to on cloud software.

“Cloud hosting works nicely because clients can run their own reports without our assistance,” Joefield said, “Whereas typically if we’re running clients’ books, we’re inputting their raw data into QuickBooks and giving them reports as requested.”

Highlights: “I like how we’re able to integrate some bank feeds into Desktop so we’re reducing manual re-entry,” Joefield said.

She also highlighted a feature called Audit Trail that allows bookkeepers to see and track all changes made in each transaction entered into QuickBooks, even if an entry has been edited. The historical information is all in one place.

Additionally, QuickBooks Desktop is affordable, Joefield said, which makes it easy to roll into billing for bookkeeping as a small add-on.

Challenges: “I don’t face this too often, but sometimes we take on clients that have been running QuickBooks historically, and there are already a lot of users using all the available subscriptions,” Joefield explained. “They just have to delete a user and add us.”

In QuickBooks Desktop, tracking inventory is a challenge, as well, for clients who need that service.

Finally, sometimes Desktop can freeze if a user is trying to enter a lot of information at once. The workaround is to enter large amounts of information in batches, Joefield said.

Firm goals: “The future of bookkeeping at Tonneson will likely be driven by the changing client base,” Joefield said. “We have more international clients coming in — I now find myself working on a client in the U.K. with business in the U.S. We’re going to continue to use Desktop for them, and QuickBooks remains part of the long-term plan.”

Joefield also said Tonneson is going to try and introduce a more fully hosted version of QBD so clients can access files whenever needed; she wants to get clients more involved in the actual bookkeeping, like with data entry, to keep them more engaged with their books.


Product: FreshBooks

Firm: Lance CPA Group

Staff: 15

On record: Managing director Joshua Lance

Selection: While Joshua Lance founded his firm five years ago, he started using FreshBooks last year, prompted by clients in the digital agency space who like the solution.

“FreshBooks really works well for them because it’s a one-stop-shop piece of software — they can sign on clients, propose services to their clients, and do all invoicing and payments from there,” Lance said. “From their standpoint, it’s a place they can do everything, as opposed to using three or four different apps.”

Implementation: Lance called implementation “seamless,” as FreshBooks is similar enough to other accounting software and is also designed to be easy for non-accountants to use (e.g., small businesses). Also, because it is cloud-based, FreshBooks is a good fit for the firm, which operates virtually and does not have a brick-and-mortar office. Lance CPA only uses cloud-based software.

Highlights: Lance’s favorite features are proposals, which allow businesses to create project proposals in-app; and payments, which allow users to accept credit card payments through the app. This makes it easier for clients to get paid, and quickly understand what type of payments are coming through, Lance said.

“I also like that it has great integrations, like with Gusto [a payroll app], for instance,” Lance said. “It makes our lives easier.”

The fact that FreshBooks is also designed with the non-accountant in mind makes it easy for Lance’s clients to use, which is helpful.

Challenges: “As accountants, we always want to have control over lots of different things, and have our fingers in different things,” Lance said. “FreshBooks can seem to have a limited feature set sometimes, but we’ve gotten more comfortable with that over time, and FreshBooks has been making additions.”

Lance said the software vendor wants to understand accountants more deeply, and is receptive to their suggestions, such as feature sets similar to what they’re used to from other accounting software.

Firm goals: “We’re actively growing the digital agency side,” Lance said. “We work really well with the two-to-10 employee size, and that fits really well with what FreshBooks is doing and the niche clients that they work with. It makes a good symbiotic relationship. They target the same type of creative individuals that work with our team and firm.”

Bookkeeping on autopilot

Product and firm: Botkeeper

On record: Vice president of growth and success Byron Patrick

Background: Botkeeper is unique. Based in Boston, the firm-cum-technology company provides bookkeeping services driven by artificial intelligence, “with a human touch” — i.e., the firm employs a staff of accountants that bolster the AI service. But beyond providing these services directly to business clients, Botkeeper is also very focused on partnering with outside accountants and their firms, so they can outsource their bookkeeping to Botkeeper. The service is white-labeled.

“Partners aren’t really referring clients to us; it’s more that we put bookkeeping on autopilot for them,” Byron Patrick explained.

Implementation: When an accountant partners with Botkeeper, first, Botkeeper gets a portal up and running for them and trains them on it. Then Botkeeper plugs in the partner’s clients, and starts performing the bookkeeping process.

“There’s an initial kickoff to do partner-level training, and the second piece is, let’s start to gather information from clients that will help us serve them — plugging into the many apps they use, and into the accounting software they use, like QuickBooks, Xero, their point-of-sale system, and so on,” Patrick said. “There are thousands of different sources of data that drive bookkeeping. We assemble all those connections. If our technology doesn’t support a plugin, our human staff get involved in that piece.”

Following this, Botkeeper runs through a predefined series of steps to learn about and understand each client. This becomes the operating manual for the services that will be performed for that client. Ultimately, Botkeeper transitions each client to an ongoing service model.

Highlights: “One of challenges that we hear talking to firms all the time is half their time is spent chasing data,” Patrick said. “We do our best to relieve as much of that during the first phase of onboarding, plugging into the client and getting access to all those things. This is aggregation of data.”

Patrick also pointed out that continuity of service is a major advantage of bookkeeping driven by AI. Another challenge at firms, he said, is human capital — they go on vacation, they get sick, and there can be gaps in service. The AI-driven bookkeeping continues on autopilot, as it were.

“Finally, typically within firms there is an incredible underutilization of talent,” Patrick said. “You have seasoned CPAs and accounting staff doing data entry. Using Botkeeper, you can shift those individuals to leveraging their talent for much higher-level services, relationships, and what they’re more qualified to do.”

Challenges: Patrick, who has been with Botkeeper for a year, said that one challenge the company faces has been figuring out how to grow a solution that could scale effectively.

“In the early days of Botkeeper, there was a lot of doing direct-to-business sales,” he said. “In the last 12 months, we have shifted our focus to an accountant firm partner path of delivering services. This required a major shift. Oftentimes, business clients don’t have an accounting background, so they don’t know the questions to ask. Accounting firms obviously do. We’ve had to muscle up our systems for that type of relationship.”

Is there an “ideal partner” for Botkeeper to work with?

“This is a topic we discuss probably on a weekly basis,” Patrick said. “By and large, it helps if a firm already has an established bookkeeping practice, because that type of firm already has established processes and workflows for delivering those services, and then we can figure out how we step into those processes.”

Botkeeper’s motivation is to create a big community of firms that want to grow and scale, so Botkeeper can grow with them.

Future: While the fear is often expressed that AI is going to take jobs away, Patrick stressed that this fear is unwarranted.

“I’ve talked to hundreds of firms, and outside of two, specifically because they had individuals who were trying to retire and they needed to replace them, not one firm has said, ‘I want to bring in Botkeeper because I want to get rid of my staff,’” Patrick said. “Everybody’s looking to augment and create super accountants who have the capacity to do a lot more.”

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Bookkeeping Small business accounting software Accounting software QuickBooks Accounting firm services