Comparison Guide: Basic accounting for 2019

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For many years, we used the description “entry-level accounting” to detail the vendor offerings in our comparison guide. These days, while we tend to use the description “basic” rather than “entry-level” accounting, it hardly adequately addresses just how far even inexpensive software has come.

For the 2019 Comparison Guide, we surveyed six of the major vendors, asking them about the features and capabilities that their software offers. And this time around, all of them indicated that their offerings were in the cloud. In fact, of the six vendors, the only ones still offering desktop products are Intuit and Sage, and neither included their in-house products in the replies.

The benefits of offering accounting as a cloud-based app have been detailed numerous times, but the most obvious one is affordability. All of the products detailed in the accompanying chart are subscription-based, allowing easy onboarding and a fixed reasonable monthly cost. What’s remarkable is that none of the functionality seems to have been lost moving to this revenue model. Vendors actually are able to slip-stream in improvements and updates in real-time, and without the need for clients to have to take active measures.

What might not be apparent on initial viewing of the comparison chart is just how in-depth the current offerings are. Vendors have responded to continual competition by offering more and more capabilities and features in their products. The result is that today’s “basic” application goes a long way toward being what used to be considered “mid-market” accounting. There are still differences, but where your client used to have to go to a mid-market or even ERP application in the past, the odds are fairly good that at least some of them will be able to get the capabilities and features, such as multiple languages, in a more affordable offering. Features such as dashboards, restricted just a few years ago to mid-market and ERP software, are now pretty much standard.

Still, there are limitations and areas where more expensive solutions are more appropriate. One is in the area of customization. While many of the vendors we surveyed offer some amount of customization, this is often in the inclusion or exclusion of fields in data entry screens or reports. None of the vendors we surveyed provide direct access to the underlying database, a feature that is fairly common in mid-market and ERP software and which allows users to create custom inquiries using SQL. In fact, while many of the vendors indicate that custom reports are available, few offer anything like a custom report writer, though most do provide for import and export to and from Excel, which lets you or your client create reports with a high degree of customization. Among our vendors, Sage offered Intacct as one of their “basic” accounting offerings (the other is Business Cloud Accounting), and Intacct does have a report writer available, but Intacct is at the very high end of what could be considered basic.

Another area where basic accounting often is lacking is payroll. Those vendors that offer it do so as an option or in conjunction with a third-party provider. The same is true in most cases for inventory. That’s not necessarily a bad thing. Third-party partnerships and APIs that allow integration with other vendors’ offerings allow your clients to build out a basic application to a solution that fits their needs better.

Some other things that might influence your decision on whether to recommend a particular vendor to your client include the availability of an “accountant’s edition;” whether it handles multiple currencies; if the application is available in a language other than English; and whether mobile access is available.

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