QuickBooks Live: Standing room only

Earlier this year, Intuit started a kerfuffle in the QuickBooks accounting community by testing a new product with no forewarning: QuickBooks Live, an Uber-like service to connect small businesses to live bookkeepers on-demand. The concern was that QuickBooks would put itself in direct competition with its own certified ProAdvisors and QuickBooks accountants. Fast forward nine months, and every QuickBooks Live session (there were four) at QuickBooks’ annual user conference were so well attended they were standing-room only.

Once Intuit assured its community that it would be hiring certified ProAdvisors and only certified ProAdvisors for QuickBooks Live, accountants began to get a bit more excited about the new service. Intuit’s data shows that 40 percent of small businesses using QuickBooks in the U.S. do not have an accountant; as it turns out, there is a similarly significant number of ProAdvisors who want a flexible, remote work option, according to Alex Chriss, executive vice president and general manager of the small business and self-employed group at Intuit, during QuickBooks Connect 2019.

“What we know is our ProAdvisors love helping customers, but hate finding customers, and sales and marketing,” Chriss said during a conversation with media members. “With QuickBooks Live they get an opportunity to leverage our technology, a system they know and love, and just help customers. They can spend all day every day doing that rather than finding customers.”

Now live and fully active, QuickBooks Live works by connecting small business owners not just with a ProAdvisor who will perform bookkeeping services, but a whole team of ProAdvisors. One bookkeeper will be the “face” that interacts with the business owner, but behind the scenes, a team of accountants will be taking care of different services the customer may need, from tax help to expense organization.

Ted Callahan Shanna Gast QuickBooks Live QBConnect 2019
Ted Callahan and Shanna Gast demonstrate QuickBooks Live at QuickBooks Connect 2019.

And if you’re wondering — yes, just as with any on-demand service that leverages a middleman to connect users, the accountant can “take the business and run” if they want to continue working with a particular client off-platform. Intuit hopes they don’t do this, but it is a risk. But considering part of the attraction of QBL is the flexibility and relief from the full duties of running a firm, cut-and-runs will likely be rare.

But the packed meeting rooms at the San Jose Convention Center don’t tell the full story. Intuit isn’t releasing numbers on either clients or accountants, but Chriss said one of the challenges so far has been that there aren’t enough ProAdvisors signed up yet to meet the customer demand they’re already seeing. This would make sense, considering most certified ProAdvisors are already involved in thriving practices of their own.

“Among QuickBooks customers, only six out of 10 are connected to a ProAdvisor,” said global accountant segment leader for Intuit Ariege Misherghi. “There are way more people that need expert help than there are experts to help them. We need to scale to meet growing demand. Most small businesses need help, but only a fraction are looking for the expert help they need today. QuickBooks Live is an expansion into a new group that don’t get the help they need today. But there is no QuickBooks Live without the ProAdvisor community.”

On the other hand, without numbers, it’s hard to say whether Intuit is just trying to encourage more sign-ups by claiming a shortage of bookkeepers. But, as Chriss said, “Any two-sided network has chicken and egg challenges.”

QuickBooks Live for...lawyers?

The most interesting road QuickBooks Live is paving is one toward new verticals for Intuit outside of the accounting profession. Alex Chriss said the success of first TurboTax Live (the same concept as QBL, but for taxpayers and preparers) and now QBL is showing Intuit that it may have success building customer-to-service-provider connection platforms for a range of professionals like lawyers, marketers, PR professionals and more. There are no concrete plans for this yet, but it’s something to keep an eye on from the accounting software giant.

Also unexpectedly, Intuit managers were showing a bit of a yen at QBConnect 2019 for expanding into the midmarket space, where companies like Sage Intacct and NetSuite live. Intuit has an undeniable stronghold in the small business accounting space, and its nearest competitor is light years away in terms of name recognition, market share and revenue. But the success of its QuickBooks Online Advanced product, released last year, seems to be sparking interest in testing the outer capabilities of QuickBooks accounting for small businesses that are growing fast.

In the coming years, Intuit might be taking big steps into uncharted territory. But for now, it continues to test the boundaries bit by bit, assessing customer response as it goes.

“Help the profession by telling us what you want to see next,” Misherghi said to conference attendees. “These messages go directly to our engineers, scientists, developers and me. I start every day by reading through fresh feedback, and our team reads every single submission.”

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