Write-up software is in the midst of major changes.
While that has not much changed, the manner in which it is performed has undergone a massive evolutionary step in the past two decades.
Consider just three points:
(c) Clients use accounting software. Accountants are not dealing with monthly boxes of scribbled notes, hand-written checks and printed bank statements. Instead, companies are increasingly using bookkeeping tools, electronic banking, automated payroll and other services to streamline their own operations and make life easier for accountants. Likewise, software vendors are stepping up with new tools to better integrate the two and eliminate unnecessary steps in the process.
(c) Client portals are proliferating. Collaborative accounting has come to the forefront, with businesses of every size able to interact with the accounting firm on their own schedules and in a way that allows multiple users to participate at any given time.
(c) Paper is disappearing. Financial statements today are transmitted electronically - or held in a secure space for shared viewing. The administrative process of printing and binding reports has given way to the more economical processes of document management.
These changes have slowly altered not only the way write-up services are performed, but how there are perceived by both accountants and their clients. Increasingly, the stand-along write-up package is disappearing, integrated into the core accounting package and streamlined. As this happens, a number of software vendors are advocating the idea that write-up should be less the heart of accounting services to clients than a stepping stone to more advanced - and more lucrative - services.
For a better view of this next evolutionary step, take a look at Intacct's Accountant Edition. Though they are the most direct in this approach to write-up, the rest of the marketplace is not far behind.
This year's roundup presents eight top-of-the-line write-up systems from leading vendors, and an interesting glimpse of the future of this accounting service.
Pricing: Starts at $2,900.
Accounting CS is the next-generation application for accountants that was released in the spring of 2010, combining write-up, trial balance, financials reporting, live and after-the-fact-payroll, and compliance.
Through the Accounting CS Client Access system, clients can perform daily bookkeeping from anywhere, making data immediately available on the secure online portal. Client Access allows clients and firms to collaborate online in real time using the same interface and a single set of data. No imports or exports are necessary, and there are no third-party applications or client-side software installs. Client Access is currently available for check-writing and calculating payroll, with additional functions to be added over the coming year.
Multiple users in the firm can access each client file simultaneously, and accountants can create an unlimited number of account groupings with up to 20 customizable account segments, set up vendor records for 1099 and trade vendors, and store accounting and payroll data going back an unlimited number of years.
Accounting CS provides reporting based on either an existing template or a custom design. Its spreadsheet-like editor offers virtually unlimited design and formatting capabilities and allows design templates to be saved for use with other clients. Accounting CS also allows accounting, payroll, management and transmittal letters to be edited. A report profile feature allows grouping of reports into an unlimited number of customizable report profiles that can be used to send pre-selected bundles of documents to multiple clients. Reports can be distributed as files, sent via e-mail, stored in FileCabinet CS, and more.
Recent enhancements to Accounting CS include a new spreadsheet import wizard that makes it easier to import general ledger balances and Tax Code information; a new split-screen view that makes it easier to add, edit and delete journal entries in the trial balance; new integration features that make it easier to share journal entries from Fixed Assets CS, Practice CS and UltraTax CS; and new support for and integration with Mobile CS, a mobile app that provides real-time access to key practice management data. The new features include the ability to enter time and expense data from mobile devices.
Pricing: Accounting Relief Pro - unlimited staff and clients, $99 per month, or $990 per year.
Write-up services are a core feature of the Web-based Accounting Relief Pro, which is also available as part of the Power Practice System from AccountantsWorld. It provides the full array of write-up services, including reconciliation, reporting, check writing and full GL, along with trial balance capabilities and options for after-the-fact payroll, live payroll, and a complete collaborative bookkeeping system for the firm's client.
Accounting Relief provides a complete set of financials including balance sheet, income statement and statement of cash flow; along with title page, table of contents, accountant's letter and notes. A professional set of financials can easily be generated using system defaults, with the additional ability to customize each statement to group accounts, create supplemental schedules and design multiple formats for various recipients. Accountants can also control which financials their clients can print.
Among the major features of Accounting Relief is streamlined data entry and its use of electronic communication. Banks and credit card statements can be downloaded for direct import into the system, simplifying bank reconciliation. The comprehensive trial balance system makes it easy to create a tax trial balance, which then can be exported to any tax system. Thirty essential financial ratios break down a company's financial activity into simple mathematical computations, allowing for tracking of unusual activities that may require intervention.
In the most current update, financials have been enhanced to provide a more flexible level of customization. This includes user-definable fonts for a wide variety of report elements, and the addition of user-definable classes for the expenses section of the income statement. An unlimited number of formats can be created, and accountants can decide which formats can be printed by each of their clients.
Client Accounting Suite
CCH Small Firm Services, a Wolters Kluwer business
Pricing: Unlimited users on a network - Client Accounting Suite, $520; with Payroll, $795.
CCH has re-branded and updated its client write-up solution. CCH Small Firm Services now produces the Client Accounting Suite for its ATX and TaxWise customers, and a Client Accounting Suite Premier that contains all the same tool sets and features as Client Accounting Suite, but includes a specific integration with ProSystem fx Tax and Practice Management.
Client Accounting Suite includes general ledger, accounts receivable and accounts payable modules. It also has live and after-the-fact payroll, trial balance, and financial reporting. The Premier version contains the same capabilities as the former ProSystem fx Write-Up and Client Accounting System, but has additional features such as credit-card entry and credit card reconciliation, a set-up wizard called client set-up assistance, and a backup-and-restore feature. Users are also able to move to different modules from within the system. For example, someone working in the general ledger will now be able to access payroll and accounts receivable.
Key features of the Client Account Suite are its unique Spanish-language capabilities; integration with Small Firm Services' line of accounting and workflow products; and the flexibility of its financial statements. Users can create statements using templates or customized layouts. The user can control the statement appearance, including orientation, number of columns, placement of underlines and dollar signs, and custom headers and footers. The program offers professional client letters and GAAP-required statements.
Enhancements to the Client Accounting Suite for 2011 include an entity chart of accounts with tax-line mapping; the ability to export journal entries to QuickBooks and Peachtree software; a draft watermark for financial statements; the ability to change account length on industry chart of accounts; a redesigned payroll posting account set-up; the addition of state withholding forms, and the ability to print a client list and search the check register.
CaseWare Working Papers 2011
Pricing: Single-user license - $500; 5 users - $1,500, $290 per additional. SmartSync is an optional add-on to Working Papers. SmartSync - $100 per user. Connector - $60 per user. License renewal - 50 percent annually.
CaseWare Working Papers is a flexible solution designed for use by accountants tasked with financial reporting and compliance. That includes write-up for the preparation of year-end financial packages or presentation of statements to management.
Data can be directly imported with point-and-click reading of native files from most accounting software packages. The review process is automated with history tracking, milestone creation, issue/review notes, diagnostics, a full annotation system and online sign-offs, with no need for paper. Reports are created via "smart technologies" that automate formatting, rounding, diagnostics, account amounts, text, account balances and even financial notes based on set preferences.
Working Papers has strongly embraced the electronic data age, with features for document management, real-time collaboration, direct scanning, online review, efficient clean-up, sophisticated lockdown and advanced roll-forward. Financial statements can be easily turned into client-ready reports that automatically link to the client data using either the built-in report writer or by linking information to Microsoft Word and Excel. Documents can be converted to PDF format for communication with clients.
New for the 2011 version are calculated adjusting journal entries, which save time by not having to take into account changes in other accounts values; the CaseWare Connector that allows users to quickly and easily link data between the engagement file and Microsoft Word and Excel documents; and SmartSync, a collaboration tool for workflow management.
Client Write-Up 2011
Pricing: Free for Drake Tax Software Full Package customers - $1,495 (early season discounts available). Client Write-Up only - $445.
Drake Client Write-Up is a multi-company package that integrates payroll, receivables and payables with bookkeeping, financial reporting, and after-the-fact payroll for filing of federal and state forms.
The payroll portion supports live and after-the-fact payroll for employees (W-2) and contractors (1099-MISC), MICR check printing, direct deposit, e-filing of quarterly and yearly employment tax forms, and e-filing of Forms W-2 and 1099-MISC. Employee payroll supports direct and indirect tips, and up to 10 additional payroll benefits and 12 additional payroll deductions per check. Forms 940, 941, 941SS, 943, 944 and 944SS are supported, as well as all state quarterly unemployment forms. Payroll journal entries can be created from payroll checks entered to save keystrokes.
Web-based portals streamline payroll processing, with data keyed online by the employer using a secure portal. The data can then be downloaded directly into Client Write-Up by the accountant for processing, check printing or direct deposit.
Bookkeeping customers can set up a custom chart of accounts, import from an existing client or use a template. Account numbers are flexible and can be changed on the fly. Financial reports can be formatted using account levels and the transaction entry is extremely fast and easy to use. The accounts receivable module enables creation and printing of invoices, and printing reports for account aging, sales tax and invoices. The accounts payable capabilities include an unlimited number of vendors, with an unlimited number of invoices per vendor.
Financial statements offer multi-column profit and loss statements, comparative and monthly balance sheets, payroll reporting, GL reports by account and/or date, and division reports. All financial reports are automatically stored in TXT and RTF formats for viewing and further customizing in most word processors. An end-of-year trial balance export to Drake Tax eliminates unnecessary data entry. Customers who also purchase Drake Tax Software can print all reports to PDF and store them in the Drake Document Manager.
CYMA Systems Inc.
Pricing: Single user - $1,685; annual renewal - 18 percent. Add-on module for existing CYMA clients - $395. Pervasive database - single-user version starts at $75.
CYMA After-the-Fact is an optional integrated part of the general ledger module within the CYMA Financial Management System, and contains capabilities for after-the-fact payroll processing and compliance, as well as features designed for other write-up processes, including bank reconciliation, full GL, AR and AP, inventory control, check writing, sales order management and other areas.
Through After-The-Fact, vendor details like demographics can be stored and used in detailed reports, or custom screens can easily be created to track nearly any vendor information. Full integration with other CYMA modules eases integration with other modules of the Financial Management System. After-The-Fact supports an unlimited number of companies, each with an unlimited number of accounts and the ability to use a 24-digit alphanumeric account mask with 10 segments. Vendor information such as demographics can be stored, as can custom information like beginning 1099 amounts, notes or any other data. Selection lists for clients can display various sets of client information and offer the ability to search or filter by additional fields. Selection lists for employees and vendors offer the same customization and filtering.
Write-up services are accessed by selecting the appropriate module: AP, AR, GL, reconciliation, etc. Within these modules, users can select specific tasks from the pull-down menus, such as entering invoices in AR or AP, working with journal entries in the GL or performing reconciliations. Reports are created using hundreds of templates or from scratch using Crystal Reports. Reports presented onscreen offer drill-down capabilities from data fields in the income, profit and loss, balance sheet or other reports. These other reports include ledgers, radio analyses, account activities, summaries and period comparisons.
Intacct Accountant Edition
Pricing: Per client - starts at $20 per month or $60 per year.
Intacct Accountant Edition is a unified, cloud-computing based accounting system that provides CPA firms with a wide variety of accounting services that includes client write-up. But it seeks to use the power of Web-based, on-demand services to elevate the client relationship to more strategic and higher-margin services like collaborative accounting, outsourced controllership and CFO services.
The user can automatically generate compilations of financial statements, charts, graphs, key performance indicators, benchmarks and compilation letters for their clients. These documents can be printed or e-mailed to the client, or the client can access them securely online. Firm staff can access and manage all of their clients from centralized Web-based consoles.
Intacct's write-up capabilities are designed to offer more than just financial statements, with services that include personalized metrics, benchmarks, CPA- and client-focused dashboards, and interactive reports. It also enables the firm to standardize on a single platform across their accounting services practice, which delivers higher productivity and decreased costs for the firm, while simultaneously providing better financial visibility and improved financial advice for clients.
QuickBooks Accountant 2011
Pricing: Intuit QuickBooks Accountant - $249.95; Intuit Statement Writer - $119.
Intuit QuickBooks Accountant 2011 is Intuit's bookkeeping, write-up and financial reporting solution for accounting professionals supporting multiple QuickBooks clients. The 2011 solution provides expanded tools for productivity and collaboration.
Key enhancements in the 2011 version include the ability to work in two different company files at the same time, reducing time needed to enter inter-company transactions and fielding questions from multiple clients. A new file manager handles client files, user names and passwords in a single file - and automates the process of updating client QuickBooks files in batch to the latest version year.
The Client Data Review, used to rapidly correct data entry and other errors, now has a multi-user mode. Invoices can be written off and transactions reclassified in batch (versus individually), while multiple users can access the same file. QuickBooks Accountant 2011 includes current-year editions of QuickBooks Pro, Premier and Industry Editions for Windows, enabling the accountant to view client files in whichever version they use, allowing for easier collaboration. And a separate Statement Writer creates customizable financial statements without additional manual data transfers.
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