by John M. Covaleski

Plano, Texas -- Slightly more than a year after launching Professional Accounting Solutions as the um­brella organization for all its accounting-foc­used operations, Intuit Inc. has eliminated that unit in a restructuring of its approach to the profession.

Intuit split what was PAS into two distinct organizations: Pro Tax, consisting of the company’s professional tax compliance software business units -- Pro Series and Lacerte -- and Accountant Central, which is responsible for “driving the overall accountant strategy across all Intuit business units.” Both units are based here.

Pro Tax will be led by vice president and general manager Karl Grass, while vice president and general manager Brad Smith will helm Accountant Central. Both re­port directly to Intuit president and chief executive Steve Bennett.

Dan Manack, who had led PAS since its inception in October of 2002, is slated to remain with Intuit through January to aid the transition. Manack, who headed Intuit’s Professional Products group for about 10 months before taking over PAS, acquired a large block of Intuit stock shortly after the re­structuring was an­nounced, and then sold it at a $400,000 profit, ac­cord­ing to federal filings.

Intuit launched PAS as an umbrella organization for its professional tax preparation software group and its advisor organization, which includes QuickBooks Pro Advisor consultants and members of its payroll services referral program. The group was charged with helping Intuit develop strategies for product development by collectively communicating with individual accountants who are either Intuit advisors, use one of its tax prep products or QuickBooks, or work with clients who use QuickBooks.

  “We are going from a business unit created to understand what is important to accountants to an approach that gets the whole company committed to the profession,” said Smith. He joined Intuit last summer as vice president and general manager of accountant relations, reporting to Manack.

Grass is a former business development vice president with CCH Tax Compliance, developer of the Pro System fx suite of tax preparation and accounting firm practice management software. Intuit said that Grass is responsible for “the entire end-to-end experience” that users have with Intuit’s tax products.

In addition to reaching out to all Intuit business units to coordinate the development of accounting profession solutions, Smith continues his responsibility for Intuit’s overall ac­countant relations and for the company’s non-tax ac­counting solutions. However, he cannot be involved with payroll operations because of a non-compete understanding he has with payroll services company, Automatic Data Processing, where he worked immediately prior to joining Intuit.

Smith’s new role with Intuit covers a big chunk of the accounting market.

Intuit estimates that some 235,000 accounting professionals use its products or work with clients that use them, which is up from the 185,000 that Intuit estimated were in its universe when PAS was created. An Intuit spokesman said that the company’s better understanding of the market has made it realize its base is larger than originally thought.

Exactly how Pro Tax and Accountant Central will operate is a work in progress. However, Smith and Grass already report several new initiatives.

Those efforts include continued development of what they expect will be a broad suite of accounting practice applications and expanded outreach to practitioners seeking education on Intuit products they are considering and service for products they already use.

In November, Intuit began a three-month program to visit 50 cities where it will provide training on all its accounting profession products at the same location. It said that the program reached 3,000 accountants in November alone.

On the support side, for this tax season, Intuit will increase its 200 full-time equivalent support staff by at least 10 percent and will have dedicated service/sales managers for each of its “large” accounting firm customers, those with at least five accountants on staff.

Smith expects the company to also offer a number of new perks for accountants along the lines of its recent decision to make the Accountants edition of its QuickBooks Enterprise and Premier lines available free to all Pro Advisor members. The products retail for $499.85 and $849, respectively.

On plans to build out an accounting firm suite, Grass said, “This is what Accountant Central is all about. When you look at Intuit, there are many applications, but the issue is putting the pieces together in the right way.”

The now-defunct PAS began that suite process.

  Last summer Intuit launched a Client Manager customer relationship management tool and financial statement report writer, each for use with the Accountants Edition of QuickBooks, and it launched several vertical editions of Quickbooks for industries that are vital to many CPAs’ practices.

Additional suite applications that Intuit has under development include a document management system, to be included in the 2003 tax season edition of Lacerte, a time and billing application, and different client write-up applications tailored for different types of accounting firms. Intuit already markets one write-up application.

Smith and Grass said that PAS accomplished its mission, citing new products and several new communications initiatives launched in the past year. However, some accountants disagree.

Harold Brueckner, a sole practitioner and Lacerte user in Marble Falls, Texas, said that an electronic client organizer that Lacerte provided him last tax season caused his computer to crash. Merrily Whalen, a Lacerte user and operator of a two-person practice in Las Vegas, said customer service from Intuit has faded for her in the past year. Both practitioners have switched from Lacerte to other tax packages.

Grass said that the interview for this story was the first he heard of Brueckner’s problem. He plans to determine if there have been similar problems and, if so, to remedy them.

Carlton Collins, president of Accounting Software Adviser, an Atlanta-based accounting software industry consulting firm, said that the biggest complaint he hears is that accountants “get very few leads from the Pro Advisor program.”

To be sure, Intuit also gets a sizable share of compliments. Bruce T. Andersen, a Los Angeles-area QuickBooks Pro Advisor and CPA who uses Lacerte for tax work, praised that Intuit operation for being “very customer-service oriented.”

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