by Ted Needleman
Write-up software is basically an accounting program designed to streamline this process. Some clients require only that you perform data entry. Others expect sophisticated understanding of their industry and business processes in order to calculate adjustments and identify mis-postings.
Write Up Packages Visual Client Write-up
The Write-Up Solution
FMSI Client Ledger System
When selecting a system, first examine your client base to determine if any have unusual needs. For example, if you have a large number of non-profit or municipal clients, standard write-up packages may not be flexible enough to easily service their specialized needs.You should also discern how easy it is to set up new clients. Does the software provide enough boilerplate charts? Does its account numbering structure accommodate switch-over of clients from other vendors’ accounting software? Can you re-use custom charts of accounts with new clients?
Unless you anticipate having many new clients needing set-up, we recommend placing less importance on the ease of set-up, and more on productivity factors like data entry and import/export capabilities. For firms that enter thousands of client transactions monthly, speedy data entry is significant.
You may also want to review the types and numbers of reports a package generates. Ad hoc generation is often important, especially when clients frequently request special reports.
Payroll is also important . After-the-fact (ATF) payroll has become almost standard for write-up applications. Many clients expect you to track payroll checks and distributions so that you can make up payroll depositories for them .
Each package reviewed, other than Internet-based Intacct, was installed on the same platform - a generic 2.2-GHz Pentium 4 PC with an Intel motherboard, 1GB of RAM, and a 40GB hard disk drive. Windows XP Professional was installed, and a backup image created allowing us to start with a fresh install of Windows for each application.
For each package, we installed the software, created a new client by copying charts of accounts from either a sample client or from the templates provided by the vendor, and entered transactions, new vendors and customers, and new employees. We used the sample data sets provided by each vendor to test data entry and generate reports. Our reviews focused on ease of set-up and use and product features.
To a large extent, our testing didn’t uncover any surprises. All of the applications displayed a high degree of usability and are pretty much excellent values. Meanwhile, features such as boilerplate charts of accounts have become widespread.
The greatest difference is vendors’ concentration on providing comprehensive, highly integrated solutions for total office management and productivity. The market for stand-alone applications remains strong, but the future trend is toward integrated solutions that provide all of the applications accountants need to service clients.
Visual Client Write-up
CPASoftware, a longtime specialist in accounting practitioner tools, was recently acquired by Best Software, a vendor known for developing horizontal business applications such as MAS 90 accounting software and the FAS fixed asset software line. Best, an arm of the publicly traded international software company Sage Plc, has pledged to continue developing CPASoftware products and to expand their marketing.
CPASoftware has kept up with the times, and offers a suite of applications that includes practice management, tax preparation and the Visual Client Write-up application reviewed here. Other "Visual" suites of products include accounts payable and receivable, payroll and fixed assets, and ATF payroll. Data is integrated as you add applications, and does not require rekeying.
Although CPASoftware offers its own tax preparation applications, it has a rather small market share, so it provides easy interfacing to other vendors’ tax prep products.
Visual Client Write-up installs easily, and you can set up new clients by using either default chart of accounts templates or by copying information over from another client. It has a strong import facility, and easily brings in data from Quicken, QuickBooks or other accounting packages.
Mapping the input file to Visual Client Write-up is quick, and must be done only once for a particular application.
Navigating through the various screens is intuitive, and screens allow for fairly rapid data entry. The standard journals are available, with recurring and adjusting entries easy to add.
Visual Client Write-up also provides a comprehensive budgeting capability, and when it is used for a client, you can produce comparative financial statements with actual versus budgeted amounts. An included bank reconciliation tool makes it easier to balance clients’ checkbooks.
You can set up Visual Client Write-up as an Internet-based application service provider application, which enables your staff to use it from remote locations. The package’s reports are nicely laid out, and the selection should meet many users’ needs. Existing reports can be edited or new reports created by laying out row and column definitions on-screen. Customized reports can be saved and re-used with other clients.
Visual Client Write-up isn’t overly fancy, but provides the tools many accountants need. It’s a mature and good application to consider if you also want to add CPASoftware’s other accountant-oriented applications.
Creative Solutions Inc.
Creative Solutions, a Thomson business, was one of the first vendors to develop specifically for accountants. In addition to the write-up application reviewed here, CSI’s industry-centric solutions that share a common database include payroll, tax prep, fixed assets and practice management.
Each modular application integrates seamlessly when other CSI products are installed, or they also run very nicely stand-alone.
Write-up Solution is mature and polished. It’s easy to set up, with templates available for a variety of entities. Users can roll over charts of accounts from existing clients, and import information from other CSI applications or from other vendors’ programs.
Data-entry screens are easy to navigate through, and you can move entry fields around to correspond with the order that they appear on your clients’ source documents. This can save a considerable amount of staff time.
Write-up Solution does not post in real-time as you make the entries, but you can set up the application to automatically post as soon as you exit data entry. Given the level of performance from most PCs, this is probably a good idea, ensuring that totals are up to date and that you don’t lose data in the event of a power failure or crash.
The set of reports provided is comprehensive. You can also do a lot of editing and customizing of reports, and store them for re-use with a different client. The File Cabinet Solution, which lets you capture reports and documents, is an option, but the Write-up Solution has a very complete ATF payroll and provides the requisite forms for all state payrolls likely to be encountered.
Executive Data Systems
In addition to the LedgerMaster client write-up system reviewed here, Executive Data Systems develops accounting and management products for nonprofits. If you are able to send EDS a nonprofit client referral, they’ll give you a free copy of LedgerMaster.
Regardless of the give-away, LedgerMaster is a good deal. It’s not the fanciest software tested, but it’s solid, mature and performs as advertised.
Set-up is easy. You can create and copy a standard chart of accounts that can be edited for a particular new client.
You can make distribution on a transaction to as many as 36 different GL accounts, and LedgerMaster supports true divisional reporting and over 1,000 divisions. The application supports budgeting, and with Microsoft Word 97 or a later version installed, you can send all reports directly to Word for reformatting.
You can also customize standard reports to some extent without needing to export them to Word. Import capabilities, especially from Quicken and QuickBooks, are very good, but export capabilities require an optional export module.
LedgerMaster also provides a character-based transaction entry option. This runs under Windows as a DOS-based application, but can speed up data entry when there are many similar transactions to input.
Even at its very reasonable price, LedgerMaster provides a complete ATF payroll. There’s also a comprehensive depreciation module included.Client Ledger System 5.2
Financial MicroSystems Client Ledger System is the only DOS-based system reviewed. However the current version runs well under Windows XP Professional, which is how we tested it.
We had to do only slightly more work on the installation than with the other programs. Screens are very simple.
Data entry is straightforward and fast, which would be expected from a DOS-based system. There’s a full ATF payroll, a pop-up calculator, and the ability to capture and bill time. Reports are rather simple in design, but you can output any report to an ASCII file and polish it with a word processor.
Client Ledger System also provides a comprehensive depreciation subsystem Ñ a big help in making up adjustments. Import and export capabilities are pretty good for what is essentially a DOS program, with import from Quicken and QuickBooks, as well as Peachtree, BASS Payroll, and Insta-Pay Payroll.
In outputting, only ASCII and Lotus spreadsheet formats are supported. FMSI has companion products for the Client Ledger System including magnetic media filing, an interface to tax prep software, and MICR check writing.
The single user software we tested is installed on a single machine, and is used by only a single user. It will support up to 30 different clients. A "full" version of this software, which retails for $1,295, is also single user, but can be installed on every PC in your firm and used simultaneously by as many users as you have PCs. If networked, data is kept on each workstation. The vendor also has a server version of the software, where all client data files are maintained on the server.
Financial Micro Systems said it’s working on a true Windows version of Client Ledger System, in order to take advantage of the additional functionality, such as right-button mouse support and easier report customization, that comes with being true Windows.
In the interim, the current version runs nicely on hardware that would make the Windows installation CD shrivel up and cry. If you keep putting that hardware upgrade off into the future, take a hard look at the Client Ledger System. It doesn’t need much hardware horsepower and is reliable and very workable.
Intacct’s Internet base makes it different from the other vendors reviewed. While for the most part the ASP model has not met with enormous success, Intacct has been steadily enhancing its offering and recruiting accountants as partners.
The Intacct version reviewed is not just a write-up system, but rather a comprehensive accounting application that can be used, or administered by the accountant. Intacct was scheduled to release a write-up product in mid-October, after our testing and press deadline, so this review covers Intacct’s pre-existing accounting application and several of its ancillary services.
These add-on services in many respects closely mirror the enhanced features in many dedicated write-up applications. For example, the Audit and Assurance, and Review and Compilation, both of which were co-developed with Deloitte & Touche, provide analysis, questionnaires and workpapers for conducting the appropriate engagement.
And since Intacct is entirely Web-based, you can easily perform these types of engagements anywhere you can plug a laptop into a phone line or Internet broadband connection.
There are also two "consoles" or control screens that make Intacct easier to use. The E-Practice Console is designed for the accountant, and lets you switch between clients and tasks, while the M-Console lets your multi-divisional clients switch between divisions and locations. Other accountant-oriented features include a tax export capability to let you drop client data into tax prep software, and time and billing to help in practice management.
The actual write-up application that Intacct was scheduled to release shortly after this review was completed builds upon the accounting system tested. There are 40 templates for creating new clients, and as with the PC-based write-up packages we tested, you can also create a new client from an existing client structure. A heads-down data entry mode lets staff enter data without taking their hands off the keyboard, and there will be an offline data-entry mode to save connect time or place less of a load on your office Internet connection.
Many of the features of the write-up system simply would extend those already available in the accounting system and current CPA options. Pricing on the write-up application was not available in time for this review.
For the most part, Intacct Accounting is an impressive offering. It’s comprehensive and nicely laid out. Just how easy you find it to work with, however, depends upon your Internet access.
XPert Write-up 7.3
XPert Write-up is a subset of the more elaborate XPert Financials accounting package, and is optimized for use by multiple client accounting practices. Several sample charts of accounts are included, and you can easily clone a chart of accounts for a new client from an existing client.
We did not experience any problems with set-up, but the documentation reflects the fact that XPert Write-up is available for Linux and the AS/400 operating systems as well as Windows.
The design sometimes does not follow Windows standard look or notation. For example, reports can be displayed on the screen, but to do so, you will have to print them to the "console." This may confuse users accustomed to Windows. Unsophisticated users may also find the discussion of chart of accounts set-up and numbering conventions confusing.
This should not discourage you from considering this product. Micronetics simply takes a somewhat different tack in its presentation of information. Offsetting this is a very nicely done multimedia tutorial which covers a lot of the basics.
XPert Write-up provides pretty much all of the features needed. There’s a full ATF payroll, bank reconciliation and W-2/1099 printing. A "Time Tracker" lets you keep totals of billable hours spent on a client, though the capability is somewhat less comprehensive than a full time and billing application.
However, this is the system reviewed that does not provide for depreciation. If your clients have complex depreciation issues, you may want to look to a stand-alone depreciation application or another vendor’s write-up which includes this capability.
Some rival vendors sell fixed asset or depreciation packages that interface with their write-up. In most respects, though, Micronetics’ 20-plus years of providing accounting and accountant-oriented software comes through clearly in Xpert Write-up’s clean design and smooth operation.
Accountant’s Relief is the write-up module available for Accountants Office, a suite of multiple software tools designed to meet all the needs of accounting practices. The vendor, Accountants World, recently changed its name from MicroVision Inc.
Individual components of Accountants Office are available as stand-alone products, but as part of the suite, they integrate nicely with each other.
The basic Accountant’s Relief module provides excellent write-up capabilities, but requires additional modules to extend its features to after-the-fact payroll and check-writing. Also an option at the basic level is the link to the tax preparation applications.
Accountants World offers the Accountant’s Relief Plus package for $995 that provides these options, check writing, and three-user licenses. Other optional modules, such as sales tax, fixed assets, and even personal financial planning are also available. There’s even an optional module Client’s Relief module which lets your clients make entries and forward them for incorporation into their books. The complete Accountant’s Office, which includes all of the Accountants World modules, sells for $3,995.
As a write-up package, Accountant’s Relief provides a very compelling approach. Some may want the more expensive "Plus" version that supplies the ATF payroll, or they can add this option to the basic Accountant’s Relief.
In addition to very complete trial balance capabilities and worksheets, Accountant’s Relief provides a comprehensive set of lead sheets and workpapers. These allow you to organize adjustments into relevant areas, and easily backtrack to specific types of adjustments should it be necessary in the future. Reports are also very comprehensive, and there are over 30 financial ratios available.
Accountant’s Relief is easy to set up. You can create a client chart of accounts from scratch, use one of the included boilerplate charts, copy from an existing chart or import a chart from a different accounting program that the client may currently be set up on.
The software has excellent import and export capabilities, but with the features provided, including easy customization of reports, you probably won’t find much need to export client information elsewhere. With the capability of using up to 14-digit account numbers, you shouldn’t have any trouble accommodating clients with complex account code structures.
Accountants World has always been cognizant of the need for speedy input, and Accountant’s Relief’s data-Áentry screens are easy to use and navigate. This write-up application is a very good value and an excellent introduction to Accountants World’s full suite.
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