Marc Einbinder, a CPA and founder of his own accounting practice in Miami, believes that traditional write-up practice - where a client comes in with a shoebox full of receipts - is becoming a "thing of the past."

But that does not mean write-up services or software are becoming obsolete, he added.

"We're still doing some the old-fashioned way," said Einbinder. "But we use write-up software for those with their own controllers, too." Write-up services still account for about 12 percent of an accounting firm's income, according to a recent survey report from the American Institute of CPAs, even as clients become more technologically advanced.

"Write-up packages are never going to die," said Stuart Gill, product manager for accounting products at CCH Tax and Accounting. "They may find alternate uses for the packages, but they are never going to die."

As small business moves from paper and pen to accounting applications like QuickBooks and Peachtree, software developers are maturing their products for the accountants as well. Better integration, full application suites, remote access, e-filing capabilities and easier-to-use products are just some of the innovations in write-up software over the last few years.

"I've seen a lot improved," said Rhonda Negron, a paraprofessional at Einbinder's firm, who uses Creative Solutions' Write-Up CS. "In the last eight or nine years, they've made certain options available that made it easier to use."

Just five years ago, the write-up market looked small and fragile, with Creative Solutions buying out most of its competition. Today, big names like CCH Tax and Accounting, Sage Software, Intuit and TaxWise saturate the market alongside Creative Solutions, driving developers to compete with each other by adding new functionality and features each year.

This year alone, a number of developers have added or are adding tools, features and new releases, extending write-up from a mere bank reconciliation and after-the-fact payroll tool to a fully stocked system.

In July 2004, Intuit released its Financial Statement Designer, a free customizing feature. And Intuit is adding to their write-up product line - consisting of QuickBooks Premier Accountant Edition 2005 and EasyACCT - with a new Lacerte, a tax compliance product line and write-up program set to be released later this year.

Also planning a new release later this year is Sage, with an enhanced CPAClient Write-Up that lets accountants create schedules and workbooks similar to those found in Excel.

In May, two new features were released: CPAWorkpaper Manager, a document management tool, and Accounting Report Writer, a report customization tool for both CPAClient Write-Up and CPAPayroll.

CCH's Version 2.0 of their ProSystem fx Write-Up was just released in June. New features in 2.0 include greater flexibility, with the ability to start and stop bank reconciliations; more customizable financial statements; and more after-the-fact payroll options.

"What's driving the market is that the accounting firm is totally integrated," said Terry Gruters, president of PC Software Accounting Inc. "If not, they are not providing their clients with what they need year round."

Integration is a key concern. More small businesses are using an accounting application to do their journal entries and other basic processes. Most write-up programs have some sort of conversion or integration feature with products like QuickBooks and Peachtree, but all those interviewed agreed that better integration is a necessity in this field to continue its strong upward growth.

"[Accountants] need dynamite speed of entry, cloning accounts and ease of use," said Gruters. "It's a power tool versus a hammer and saw."

Intuit's write-up programs, however, do not integrate with any non-Intuit product except Microsoft Office products such as Excel. This could create a strain on the accountant whose clients use other applications, like Peachtree. The accountant has to manually enter all the financial information into his Intuit write-up service.

Beyond integration, Intuit looked toward the future by adding remote access to their write-up solutions with a free 12-month trial period, powered by Santa Clara, Calif.-based WebEx Communications Inc., an on-demand business applications provider.

Remote access, hosted applications and e-filing are all features for the future stressed by those interviewed.

"Everyone is remote today, on the Web in many different ways," said CPA software product manager Sheila Fallon at Sage. "Remote access to the Internet is becoming one of the most important things to any business software."

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