by Wayne Schulz

The consolidation of the CPA software marketplace in recent years has resulted in a cream-of-the-crop selection of trial balance software products.

Nearly all of the independent vendors of trial balance packages have been purchased by larger companies, seeking to ultimately - and wisely - offer a full suite of software that firms can embrace to maximize efficiency. Nearly all of this year’s products are owned by large, stable and growing companies, with multiple product offerings that are often complementary to their trial balance applications.

All of the reviewed packages support tight integration with tax software, as well as seamless integration to a financial statement report writer. The packages are usable by virtually any size practice: Smaller firms can simply elect to omit some of the more advanced features, while larger firms can fully embrace them to perform more complex functions like audit sampling or risk analysis.

Issues in evaluating different trial balance systems are:

● Ease of integration to tax software. The two schools of thought here are: “I can re-key tax totals faster,” and, “Code everything with a financial balance to a tax line.” The method that you follow will likely be largely based on the number and types of tax returns that you produce.

Those with lots of returns and a desire to integrate each detail line might do well to focus entirely on the suite of products offered by CCH Inc. That suite includes a top-flight tax package - ProSystem fx - as well as ProSystem fx Engagement and Trial Balance - each guaranteed to integrate tightly due to the common product ownership.

Where tight integration is not the focus of your search, you’ll want to narrow down each package and evaluate the ability to create common account groupings for the easiest translation to the tax return during preparation time.

Almost all the packages reviewed here either belong to a family that includes a top tax system or they’ve already integrated for many years with industry-leading tax programs.

● Market leaders. Because of software vendor consolidation in recent years, well-capitalized corporate parents, who can afford to spend on future development, now own most of the products. Rooting for the underdog is fun in the movies, but not in the software market, where your livelihood could be at stake. Long ago, the small players wisely sold out to larger, better-capitalized companies that can make the product enhancements that your practice needs.

● Multi-product vendors. Sticking with a software vendor that also offers tax and other ancillary software ensures that you’ll have complimentary products to work with that offer tight integration to your trial balance. Perhaps the best example is when the trial balance software has a popular tax package as a sibling.

● Ease of use. If you are still struggling with a DOS interface, give up! The DOS-Windows war ended several years ago. If you’ve been holding out on an upgrade to Windows until they “get it right,” then this is the perfect time to jump in with both feet.

The products here are all mature and stable, and, when run on the latest operating systems such as Windows XP Pro, they crash less often than ever before.

● Data conversion. The abil-ity to link directly with a client’s general ledger is great if your firm does extensive testing of transactions. Bringing the data into your trial balance software could easily save you a day of field time on larger engagements.

The best systems have automatic links to different accounting systems - though you should always be sure to check which versions are supported. The different accounting software vendors are constantly upgrading systems, and support for data import can lag a version or two behind on occasion.

● Financial reporting. One of the goals of using trial balance is to get a financial statement that is able to go “out the door” without further massaging or handling by staff. Tight integration to desktop software like Microsoft Word and Excel brings this goal closer than ever before. Using a system with tight links to the Microsoft applications means that you can leverage workers’ existing skills in these applications to produce presentation-quality financial statements. In cases lacking the integration to Word or Excel, the packages have gotten much better at things like spell-checks and special formatting to make your statement creation easier than before.

CaseWare Working Papers
CaseWare International

CaseWare Working Papers makes great use of Windows’ graphical interface. Its nicely designed data entry screens present information in a smart format that emphasizes ease of use. Throughout the program you may use simple drag-and-drop procedures to group items together for presentation, leveraging your existing knowledge of the Windows interface.

The product also features capabilities that greatly speed your fieldwork at client sites. First, all of your work papers can be “checked in” and “checked out” to better aid in managing the accountability of each portion of the engagement. It doesn’t matter if some of your staff working on the engagement are in another location, because with the check-in and check-out ability in CaseWare, each portion of the engagement work papers is easily traced and assigned to a staff person.

More accounting firms are realizing that staff can work as well (or better) outside of the office. Software now can act as a traffic cop - directing the flow of who gets access to what audit work paper and managing the location of every piece of documentation. That is a nice change from paper-based workflow, and a great accountability and review tool.

Trial Balance software vendorsCaseWare Working Papers
CaseWare International
145 King St. E, 2nd Floor
Toronto, Ont. M5C2Y8
(800) 267-1317
www.caseware.com
Pricing: Single user - $499; up to five users - $1,199; over five - $230 per additional user.

GoSystem Audit, GoSystem Fund, Trial Balance
Creative Solutions Inc.
7322 Newman Blvd.
Dexter, Mich. 48130
(800) 968-8900
www.creativesolutions.com
Pricing: Audit - one to five non-network users, $1,750; network, $1,830. Fund - one to five non-network users, $1,375; network, $1,945; Trial Balance starts at $600.

PPC - Engagement Manager
Practitioners Publishing Co.
801 Cherry St., Suite 1300
Fort Worth, Texas 76102
(800) 323-8724
www.ppcnet.com
Pricing: Single user - $495; call for multi-user pricing.

CCH ProSystem fx Engagement and ProSystem fx Trial Balance
CCH Inc.
21250 Hawthorne Blvd.
Torrance, Calif. 90503
(800) 739-9998
www.prosystemfx.com
Pricing: Engagement - $1,045; additional licenses, $425 each. Balance - first user, $1,045; concurrent network users, $150 each; additional stand-alone users, $150 each (non-networked computers and laptops).

Second, forget about re-keying client year-end data into Working Papers, because the software can read the information for you. The most popular accounting software products, like QuickBooks, Peachtree and MAS90, are all available for data import. And you can select to have either the totals imported or the transaction detail. This can be an invaluable tool to firms with stringent audit sampling and documentation requirements.Several interesting add-on products that you can use with the core CaseWare Working Papers include their Template Series. It allows tight standardization of firms’ financial statements by drawing upon a pool of standardized footnotes, has style sheets to tweak statement layouts, and easily drills down to the charts and graphs of source document detail.

The Template Series is a must for firms of more than one or two people. It can get your finished financial products into a much more tightly sequenced order than the haphazard manner that you may presently follow without an integrated checklist.

Missing from Working Papers is a native integrated tax preparation package. Several competing products offer their own tax software with tight integration and the ability to transfer data. CaseWare has the ability to export to most popular tax software. This will be significantly less of a problem for firms that complete fewer tax returns or those that find it faster to re-key financial totals into the tax data entry screens.

CaseWare is a powerhouse trial balance system. Whether your firm is thinking of making a major upgrade from an early DOS package or simply switching to become more efficient, you won’t be disappointed. The smooth interface is a snap to learn and there’s tight integration to add-on modules for standardization.

GoSystem Audit, GoSystem Fund and Trial Balance
Creative Solutions Inc.

Creative Solutions, a Thomson business, has one of the most complete suites of product offerings. CSI has worked with CPAs and their clients for 25 years and has a large and loyal following of accountants.

Their software products span the entire spectrum of what a typical CPA firm could ever require, from tax prep to trial balance to engagement management, and even depreciation and client write-up offerings.

CSI’s GoSystem Audit and Fund series are marketed as separate products. The software integrates with Practitioner Publishing Co.’s PPC Engagement Manager so that you can track and organize each client engagement - moving one step closer to paperless audit engagements. Fort Worth, Texas-based PPC is also a Thomson business.

You may also move closer to the paperless audit by making use of the FileCabinet Solution to store electronic copies of workpapers in one common area. These work papers can also be e-mailed, greatly facilitating communication between remote workers and offices.

Financial statements can be prepared within Microsoft Word or Excel and make use of links back to the GoSystem package to pick up the financial amounts and eliminate tedious re-keying of any data to your software.

Lead sheets and other audit documents can also be put through a check-in and check-out process where accountabil-ity is centralized. This is especially valuable when you have remote workers or part-timers contributing to portions of different engagements. Coupled with the integration to FileCabinet Solution, this gets you as close to paperless as may be practical.

As with most of the other top trial balance systems, your financial information can be linked to a tax package to reduce or eliminate data re-keying. Where manual entry of tax information is desired you can code each individual financial line to a grouping schedule and use that for subsequent entry to the tax software of your choice.

GoSystem Fund is particularly good for firms that audit nonprofit organizations. It’s been enhanced to allow for the tracking of fund balances that are common in nonprofits, and features built-in tax linking to common 990 tax preparation software.

The Trial Balance Solution integrates quite nicely with a sister product from Creative Solutions called Write-up Solution. With Write-up you can capture some of the transaction details that are commonly associated with smaller write-up clients and transfer the information into Trial Balance for further analysis. Any special financial statement formatting done within Write-up transfers as well.

As such, Trial Balance Solution is ideal for a broad range of engagements ranging from the smallest write-up client on up to larger, more sophisticated clients. There is a built-in financial statement editor, as well as support for integration to an MS Excel-like ratio editor that compiles and presents user-defined statistical information.

The glue that can greatly aid your organization in holding all of the different work paper information together is a separate system called Engagement Manager. Within this system you again approach the paperless audit. The software supports full integration with the popular PPC Practice Aids that many firms already standardize their engagements on.

CSI’s breadth, depth and experience make its products one of the few “must review” systems on the market.

PPC - Engagement Manager
Practitioners Publishing Co.

The paperless audit engagement may, in fact, be the single biggest goal that firms strive for. By cutting down on the paper, storage costs are reduced and (theoretically) the efficiency of each year-end engagement goes up. PPC Engagement Manager software allows you to track all of your audit work papers and fully integrate your engagement with the vendor’s popular Practice Aids.

Fully integrated with CSI’s GoSystem line of audit software (both Audit and Fund), you can have one central gathering place for your audit programs (PPC), software lead schedules (GoSystem) and extra analysis (Microsoft Word and Excel documents). The program will also allow you to scan in paper documents for safekeeping in the central engagement manager portfolio.

PPC has replaced the previous tedious method of manual signoffs with an electronic on-screen version. You can review all of the PPC guides and select the applicable sections for inclusion in your final audit working paper file.

Because of the high degree of customizability, you’ll have no problem customizing each audit program to your specific engagement. Say goodbye to the copy-machine method of creating an audit program. With a few simple clicks of the Practice Aids, you can have a fully tailored and professional audit program placed into each client’s annual working paper file.

Researching different issues is made easier because many of the audit programs contain electronic links between different sections in the online guides. Not sure of a definition or audit program step? One click takes you there - electronically!

Excel-based templates that are included with the Practice Aids provide excellent guidance in such areas as materiality determination and sampling. They also provide summarized score sheets that can hold all of the adjustments that are proposed during an audit for subsequent determination of materiality. The high degree of customization that is achieved with these electronic tools greatly adds to the utility that has always been derived from the paper PPC Guides.

PPC Engagement Manager is an excellent tool that helps any firm achieve their goal of a paperless audit. Combined with the industry-leading PPC Audit programs and the GoSystem Audit or Fund software, you’ll have a very efficient year-end toolkit for performing audits, reviews or compilations.

CCH ProSystem fx Engagement and ProSystem fx Trial Balance
CCH Inc.

CCH’s Engagement software smartly allows CPAs to reach paperless audit engagements with very little effort. The extensive line of Miller Engagement Series Practice Aids can all be integrated into the CCH Engagement package to provide an electronic roadmap.

You can build upon your staff’s Excel and Word skills by integrating schedules and documents that are created within them directly to CCH Engagement, in a central repository for all engagement data.

CCH Trial Balance software can automatically convert data from the following rival trial balance systems: ACE, ATB DOS and ATB for Windows, FAST! and GoSystem. Up to 11 prior years of detailed data is maintained in order to allow for a more advanced level of analytic review during the trend and ratio analysis portion of your engagements. The system allows for up to 40 characters in chart-of-account structures - enough for all but the largest client engagements.

Firms specializing in nonprofit clients can automatically account for fund accounting within their systems. CCH Trial Balance also comes complete with the ability to establish several different types of funds to match most nonprofit types. All of the features of the system can be equally applied to your nonprofit client base.

Of course, CCH is well known for its popular ProSystem fx line of tax software, and the CCH Trial Balance package will integrate into the tax preparation line via a DynaLink program. This allows you to code individual schedules to their corresponding lines on the final tax return. This can be a big timesaver in future years’ tax preparation.

CCH delivers a one-two-three punch with the Engagement, Trial Balance and ProSystem fx Tax products. Using a best-of-breed approach, you may find yourself throwing away those paper-based filing cabinets years ahead of plan!

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