Online accounting software enables accountants to elevate their proactive advisory services and provide new models of outsourced financial services.

And as more CPAs and their clients are clamoring for the real-time collaboration of the cloud, a range of accounting solutions are emerging to suit business owners of various sizes and industry verticals.

From large accounting firms offering a variety of accounting and bookkeeping solutions for their varied customer bases, to specialized practices building their service offerings on a single platform, accountants are embracing these online accounting solutions to the benefit of their and their clients’ businesses.

 

Anywhere access

Firm: Bright Bookkeeping

Users: 1-2

No. of clients served: 24-25

Product: QuickBooks Online/QuickBooks Online Accountant

Commencement date: 2013

On record: Owner Cindy Schroeder

Process: In business for eight years, Schroeder “completely transformed” her bookkeeping practice three years ago, transferring and onboarding new clients to QuickBooks Online. The switch from QuickBooks desktop to the cloud cut down on the stress of client visits and travel so Schroeder could devote more time to her clients’ books.

When bringing on new clients, Schroeder matches them with the appropriate accounting solution, recognizing that “sometimes if they’re not tech-savvy at all, [QBO] might not be the best, but for the most part clients are pretty open to trying QuickBooks Online.” Their technical proficiency is really secondary, however, “as long as they get the information they need.” Schroeder reports that “the clients that have moved from desktop to Online like it much better.”

There is a learning curve, which Schroeder helps clients navigate with a short training session on QBO.

Advantages: Even initially reluctant clients have found perks in the cloud. One Bright Bookkeeping client in particular would mistakenly grab the wrong files when exchanging multiple documents with Schroeder, so although initially hesitant to put her data on QBO, “when I explained that we were both logging into one screen” and thus avoiding working on the wrong or incomplete files, the client was convinced.

For her part, Schroeder likes the dashboard in QBOA. The screen keeps her informed on all her clients, whether she works with them weekly, quarterly or annually. In the dashboard, Schroeder can quickly see any problems, like a failed download in the banking column, and call that client to offer help, which also “adds to a new sales opportunity.” QBOA is “a great tool to prioritize what I’m doing for the day,” she added.

Challenges: Schroeder would like to see more customization in the dashboard, with the ability to add other columns, like the work she does for clients on Intuit Online Payroll, to keep abreast of deadlines and other urgent information.

Next steps: Schroeder will continue to grow her business, taking advantage of her ability to “truthfully work from anywhere” with QuickBooks Online and QBOA. The anytime, anywhere access of the cloud “has been huge, and makes life easier.”

 

Not your parents’ system

Firm: Withum

Users: 5 Xero-certified advisors

No. of clients served: Hundreds

Product: Xero

Commencement date: 2013

On record: Technology partner Jim Bourke

Process: When Bourke was introduced to Xero in the early days of the New Zealand-based company opening its first U.S. office, “It was the first time I came across a cloud-based accounting system that didn’t carry legacy baggage with it. It had really cool dashboards that pushed financial metrics to our clients.”

The clients in Bourke’s practice, specifically, are in the technology sector, so they appreciate Xero’s delivery of quick metrics in a very graphical format.

Xero is one of several accounting systems that Top 100 Firm Withum provides clients, though it is well-suited to the firm’s technology entrepreneur clientele, who really “get the Internet, the value of SaaS and Web-based solutions,” Bourke said. Those business owners don’t want to read balance sheets and P&Ls, he explained, preferring revenue and growth numbers.

For Withum clients that aren’t in the technology space, it is “a harder sell to transition someone from legacy accounting systems,” Bourke explained, so most of those clients use QuickBooks. “I don’t push an accounting system on anyone. I let the clients know what’s out there in the marketplace, and let them make their own decision.”

Advantages: “Xero is not like your mom and dad’s accounting system, but an accounting system for running today’s businesses, in my view, that want financial information as quickly as they get digital information,” Bourke explained. “Xero monitors your business as it’s happening, looking at real-time information.”

Bourke also touts Xero’s low price point, which is particularly attractive for bootstrapped start-ups.

Challenges: On the other hand, more complicated businesses, like those in manufacturing, might not find Xero to be the best fit. But that’s why “no one [system] is right for everyone across the board, and why [Withum] partners with a few different vendors.”

Meanwhile, Xero continues to enhance its software and services based on customer feedback, adding payroll processing in more states and partnering with third-party vendors to offer new capabilities.

Next steps: Bourke plans to continue educating his staff on Xero, both its use and identifying ideal clients for the solution. He will also be monitoring new relationships that Xero forges with third-party vendors and value-added resellers.

 

Higher expectations

Firm: Rehmann

Users: 10-12

No. of clients served: 12

Product: Intacct

Commencement date: 2011

On record: Manager Angela Harvey

Process: While Top 100 Firm Rehmann added Intacct into the firm’s portfolio of solutions, which includes a significant QuickBooks Online practice, more than four years ago, the firm only really ramped up the offering two years ago, according to Harvey.

The firm leverages Intacct to provide full outsourced accounting services, whether repurposing a whole accounting department or taking over for an administrator in a growing business where the books have gotten too complicated.

The firm found Intacct to be a “great way to provide a more powerful tool to our consultants” who serve clients in the health care services industry. “Practitioners that have unique, interesting compensation calculation structures tend to be the best fit for us,” Harvey explained.

Advantages: “One of the things we like, being a part of it, is the opportunity to present on a dashboard basis,” Harvey said. “We are more involved in understanding the questions asked by clients on a regular basis instead of quarterly or annually — we are more proactive on what we bring to the table … it brings the level of consulting even higher.”

Challenges: That higher level can be overwhelming to some clients, Harvey acknowledged, so part of the firm’s job is also “getting people to think outside of the box and [trying] to focus on new business instead of the existing business.”

Offering clients more consistent and higher-visibility services does create a “higher expectation of reaching out more often,” Harvey explained, adding that Intacct “gives me the tools to be very strategic.”

Next steps: While Rehmann will continue to drive the message of Intacct internally, Harvey is also looking forward to some new features from the company, including a bank and credit card feed. She has also reaped the advantages of the solution’s newer social component, Collaborate, which is “changing the way we communicate with clients and the internal team, with the information on hand.”

 

Investing in outsourcing

Firm: CFO Incorporated

Users: 27

No. of clients served: 34

Product: Acumatica

Commencement date: 2012

On record: President and partner Pam Sahsi

Process: CFO Inc., which provides businesses with custom-designed financial service packages, “tried to do something different with accounting,” according to Sahsi. “We have a franchise accounting model. There are a lot of businesses going to India because of talent. What we did differently from companies outsourcing bookkeeping and accounting to India, is that rather than outsourcing to a firm there, we hired our own staff and opened our own office in India.”

CFO Inc. has a staff of 20 in India that provides accounting services mostly to franchise restaurant clients in Canada. Sahsi sought a single accounting platform to streamline the company’s accounting processes and eventually “stumbled across Acumatica, which worked out perfect.”

With the software, Sahsi could put all clients in one database to offer them full-cycle accounting and bookkeeping services in Acumatica’s multi-tenancy environment. The solution is also scalable, with CFO Inc. able to add an unlimited number of users “as we grow and my staff grows — we started off as a staff of 10 and we are now over 20, as we continue adding customers and spreading across Canada and with staff around the world.”

Advantages: “We found Acumatica to have more seamless architecture, as it was built for the cloud initially,” Sahsi explained. “It didn’t seem to have legacy issues and had the latest technology. It gives the customer a really good experience, with good dashboards.”

Acumatica is also responsive to feedback. After Sahsi approached the head programmer at the company’s user conference, his team was able to customize some of the solution’s reporting capabilities for her company. And because CFO Inc. has been using Acumatica for a number of years and hosts the solution on a private cloud, the cost is relatively low.

Challenges: Sahsi recognizes her business is “not using the full force of the software — there’s a lot more in there,” though most clients rarely log into the system. A few of the more sophisticated clients will be more hands-on, like one accountant client who prefers to log in and access, send and print checks himself.

Next steps: Acumatica offers a greater business intelligence capability that CFO Inc. is starting to work with, pulling reports from the system right into Excel. And, again, “We need to utilize a lot of the dashboards that are already there,” Sahsi added.

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