by Ted Needleman
Client write-up remains a business staple for many accounting firms, so choosing the proper write-up software is critical.
Even businesses’ expanding use of accounting software for bookkeeping has not hurt the demand for write-up services, because bookkeeping is not accounting.
For example, while your clients can churn out financial statements, those statements aren’t accompanied by a compilation or review letter. Meanwhile, banks reviewing business loan applications want more than just some self-generated financials — they want something with an accounting firm’s signature on it.
All compilation and review engagements start with information “provided by the company’s management,” whether it is raw transaction data, or complex financial statements. It’s the analytical review and adjusting entries, which write-up software facilitates, that turn raw financials into an accountant’s report.
Further driving the demand for write-up software are the recent accounting scandals, which have created an era in which the compilation or review process receives greater attention. The right write-up software makes it easier for you to be thorough.
At its most basic, a write-up application is just an accounting program with some modifications that make it appropriate for use in an accounting practice. One of the most obvious is that write-up packages are designed to be used with multiple clients. They let you share charts of account structures among clients with similar structures, and usually provide strong links to additional applications, including fixed assets, tax prep and payroll.
Write-up software also usually includes features that make other aspects of an accountant’s job easier. It frequently provides lead sheets to help you manage an engagement, work paper templates to document procedures that you’ve performed, and a working trial balance report that lets you document and see the effect of adjusting entries. Some packages even include sophisticated calculators for performing on-screen computations and financial analysis capabilities.
Firms replace write-up software due to dissatisfaction with the software’s capabilities or the support from its vendor, or a combination of both. In making a change, look for a vendor that offers the level of support you desire or a package with the capabilities missing in your current package. Start your research with the features punch lists that almost all vendors provide in their marketing materials or on their Web sites.
Selecting your first write-up software can be more difficult. Start with a close look at your client list to determine if any have special reporting needs, such as nonprofits, or ones with unusual accounting practices. If they do, your software should be flexible enough to accommodate those clients.
Most packages have fairly standard sets of reports. With clients with not-so-standard requirements, you’ll want a package that lets you customize reports to your clients’ needs, or lets you generate completely ad hoc reports. You’ll want to look at how easy it is to set up charts of accounts, share existing charts, and accommodate the diverse account numbering structures that your clients may already be using.
Payroll is another area to consider. Some write-up applications incorporate after-the-fact payroll, while others make it easy to integrate with stand-alone payroll applications from the same or other software vendors. Regardless of which approach you take with a particular client, keep in mind that the payroll data is eventually going to have to find its way into the clients’ books. If you are going to be responsible for preparing W-2s, 1099s and the like, you’ll have to decide which application will need to have this capability.
Finally, pay attention to data entry. This area has greatly improved over the years, but is also the one place that presents the most potential bottlenecks. Data import and export are also important. After all, you can’t perform your accounting magic on the numbers until all the data has been entered into the system.
If the client is doing this part of the process with remote data entry, it’s going to be somewhat less important in your evaluation of software. If it’s your staff, though, that has to enter thousands of checks and other source documents every month, productivity is an important factor that directly impacts your profitability.
Another decision is where to base your software. Several of the vendors whose products are reviewed here also offer Internet-hosted application service provider versions. This can be a great platform for firms working from remote locations, but effective operations could require a high-speed connection to the Internet.
Dial-up modems simply don’t cut it, especially when you have hundreds or even thousands of entries to make for a client. In testing the Web-based Intacct Client Write-up, our high-speed cable modem connection provided about the same performance as if we were running the software on our own PC.
How we tested
As with most accounting applications, write-up does not need a powerhouse of a system to run well. We did our testing under Windows XP on a plain-vanilla Pentium IV with an optical disc drive, a 120GB hard disk drive, and a floppy disk drive. The floppy disk proved fortuitous, as the Creative Solutions Write-Up Solution requires a floppy-based licensing diskette to activate the software.
We looked at each package’s ease of installation, and how easy is it to set up a new client, either by copying a sample client or by using the included charts of accounts. We entered transactions, new accounts, vendors and customers, and used this and other sample data provided by vendors to generate various reports. Where report customization or editing were permitted, we made some changes and generated modified reports.
Most of the packages reviewed are similar at a basic level. The major difference lies in some vendors’ bundling of write-up into more ambitious practice systems that also include tax prep, fixed asset management, practice management and other tasks. Even the write-up packages that are not available in pre-bundled suites are designed to easily integrate with complementary applications.
Accountant’s Relief Plus version 6.0
Accountant’s Relief Plus is part of an integrated suite called Accountant’s Office. The suite’s other applications include fixed assets, personal financial planning, a client data entry module and after-the-fact payroll.
While some editions of Accountant’s Relief do not offer ATF payroll built in, the Plus version we tested does, offering both ATF payroll capabilities and check writing with integrated MICR check encoding capabilities. The Plus version also incorporates W-2, 9940/941, and 1099 printing capabilities, and is well worth considering, especially as the price remains under $1,000.
AccountantsWorld no longer provides a tax prep component with Accountant’s Office. Its former Tax Relief product was discontinued upon sale of that business to Creative Solutions Inc., a Thomson business that also offers its own write-up application, Write-Up Solution.
Accountant’s Relief Plus provides well-thought-out write-up capabilities at a very reasonable price. In addition to the easy-to-navigate user interface and screens, it provides excellent reports, which can be easily customized. Financial ratios from many of the major industries are included, making analytical review that much easier. Also included are work papers and lead sheet tracking.
Set up is easy, with boilerplate charts of accounts. You can even copy a chart of accounts from a different accounting program, if your client uses one. Import and export capabilities are excellent, so you can mix and match applications in your office.
AccountantsWorld may be a new name, but the company has been in business for two decades — long enough to know what its clients want and need. When it comes to write-up, Accountant’s Relief Plus provides just that.
Visual Client Write-up
As with several of the vendors whose applications were included in this roundup, CPASoftware offers a full suite of accountant-oriented applications that very nicely integrate with Visual Write-up. These include AP, AR, payroll, fixed assets, tax prep and a full ATF payroll.
If a client is using QuickBooks or Quicken, you can easily import their data directly into Visual Client Write-up. Import from other packages requires that you map fields, which is not difficult. CPASoftware is part of Best Software, whose other units include the developers of MAS 90/200, BusinessWorks and Peachtree accounting products.
You can output data to CPASoftware’s own tax prep packages, or to other tax prep products, including Intuit Inc.’s Lacerte and Pro Series.
Set up is easy, and the package includes boilerplate charts of accounts. The screens are nicely designed, easy to navigate, and allow for fast heads-down data entry for transactions, or one of two different check register entry screens. Its trial balance lets you make adjusting entries directly on-screen and it offers most of the utility of a stand-alone trial balance application.
Visual Client Write-up’s reports are clean and easy to use. You can customize them to a large degree, and, when viewing them on-screen, drill down to see greater detail. The application offers excellent budgeting capabilities, and budget data can be incorporated into comparative financial statements.
As with other write-up packages that are parts of suites, Visual Client Write-up is probably a good choice if you’re interested in the other applications offered by CPASoftware. Even if you’re not, the product’s under-$1,000 price makes Visual Client Write-up an attractive consideration.
Write-up Solution version 7
Creative Solutions, a Thomson business, has specialized in software specifically for accountants for a long time. It was one of the first vendors to develop a system of integrated applications that share a common database, an approach it still embraces.
Write-up Solution is one of a series of “Solutions” products for accountants. Others in the suite include payroll, fixed assets, practice management and tax prep. While all work together nicely, you can run Write-up Solution in stand-alone mode.
Write-up Solution is the most expensive package in this roundup, starting at $1,800. A Payroll Compliance Solution, which costs another $250, is needed if you prepare W-2s, 1099s, and 940/941s or other ATF payroll reports.
Write-up Solution is the most polished product reviewed here. Its printed manuals are high-quality, well-organized and easy to follow.
Write-Up software vendorsAccountant's Relief Plus v. 6
Visual Client Write-up
FMSI Client Ledger System
Intacct Client Write-up
Intuit EasyACCT Professional Series
You need a floppy disk drive to actually install the Write-up Solution, as Creative Solutions’ license files are provided on a floppy diskette. Unfortunately, many of the new PCs now come without floppy drives.Write-up Solution’s set up is straightforward, and there are a variety of entity types to choose from for a boilerplate chart of accounts. Data import and export capabilities are extensive. If your clients’ banks can provide an online statement in XML, OFX, QIF or OFC format, you can directly import the statement into Write-up Solution, making bank reconciliation very easy.
Write-up Solution’s screens are attractive and easy to use. One nice plus is that you can reorganize the fields on-screen to suit your particular data entry needs. If you use custom worksheets or other unusual source documents, for example, this feature provides a big productivity boost. You can also use auto-fill in most fields, which saves even more time.
Reports are really attractive and usable, and the package offers an advanced report editor that lets you do a large amount of customization.
Write-up Solution costs more than many other products that do essentially the same thing, but it’s a top-notch application that many accounting practices will find worth every penny of its price.
Executive Data Systems
Executive Data Systems makes a distinctive offer. If you send them a nonprofit organization referral for their Fund Accounting and Donor Management software, you will receive a copy of LedgerMaster write-up for free.
Still, it won’t break the bank to actually buy a copy. At $500, it’s the least expensive in-house product in this roundup.
That reasonable price doesn’t mean that you sacrifice functionality. The positive aspects of LedgerMaster far outweigh its negatives.
It features a nice collection of reports, ATF payroll and W-2/ 940/941/1099 printing, as well as a full depreciation module. You can import from QuickBooks and Quicken easily, and from other applications with a bit more effort. Exporting requires that you move data to an Excel spreadsheet using OLE.
One interesting feature is the availability of a character-based data entry screen, which emulates a DOS entry screen. It’s not very pretty, but it can be faster for entering large numbers of transactions, and you can also use a more graphical entry screen if you wish.
However, LedgerMaster isn’t as pretty as many of the other applications tested. Reports are rather plain, and there are no boilerplate charts of accounts, so set up is a bit more time consuming. Once you’ve created a chart of accounts, however, you can copy it to another client and edit it to accommodate the new client’s needs.
LedgerMaster may not win any beauty contests, but if your firm is on a tight budget and still wants a full-featured client write-up solution, this product can be just right.
Financial Micro Systems
Client Ledger System 5.3
Financial Microsystems is tenacious. Client Ledger System, now in release 5.3, is still very much a DOS product.
The vendor is paying heed to its large installed user base, but its write-up product is unlikely to appeal very much to any firm that is currently running an updated version of Windows, at least as far as a new installation goes.
That doesn’t mean that you have to be mired in DOS; CLS 5.3 ran just fine on our Windows XP Professional-based test PC. It required just slight tweaking, including manually creating a folder during installation, but that really wasn’t much of a problem. The documentation gives you all the information you’ll need to run CLS under Windows.
However, you won’t be able to use most of the Windows features. The mouse doesn’t work, and printer support is minimal and restricted to an HP-compatible laser printer.
If you can live with these limitations, you won’t be disappointed in the product’s capabilities. Screens are crude and very basic compared to what’s in most of today’s Windows-based software, but they’re fine for selecting tasks, quickly inputting data and printing the requisite reports.
Import and export capabilities are good, considering that this application is still running in DOS. You can import data from QuickBooks and Peachtree, and output reports into ASCII and edit them with a word processor. The other output format, Lotus spreadsheet, may seem way behind the times, but it is appropriate when you consider CLS’s DOS orientation.
Client Ledger System includes a full ATF payroll, and add-ons for W-2s, SUTA and a tax package interface are available as extra-cost options.
Many firms want to continue running DOS and DOS-based applications. Client Ledger System 5.3 is a perfect choice for them. But it can be difficult to get newer printers to work with the software, as few printers these days are available with DOS drivers.
If you are firmly entrenched in DOS, this software will do the job for you, and do it well. If you have moved on to Windows, though, you will probably want a write-up application that lets you take advantage of the mouse, Windows printer drivers and other upgraded operating system capabilities.
EasyACCT Professional Solutions Write-up
Intuit acquired EasyACCT with the product’s original developer, the former Tax and Accounting Software Co., in 2001. It has modified the product and now markets and supports it from its Lacerte tax compliance software operations in Texas.
EasyACCT is not very fancy, but it is functional. Reports are clean, and you can do a small amount of customization when setting up individual reports. The financial statements, however, offer a much higher degree of formatting options.
One interesting feature is built-in MICR check printing, which is in the payroll module that’s included as part of the EasyACCT system. You can also prepare ATF payrolls, W-2s, W-3s, 940s and 941s, and EasyACCT includes SUTA for 14 different states. Also included are modules for creating amortization schedules, maintaining fixed asset depreciation, and performing bank reconciliation.
EasyACCT offers excellent integration with other Intuit products, including Lacerte and Pro Series tax prep and QuickBooks. Integration with other vendor’s applications, however, is only marginal.
EastACCT lives up to its name during installation and use. Several boilerplate charts of account are provided, and data entry screens are straightforward and easy to navigate.
Intuit plans to make several key enhancements to EasyACCT. The most notable is the addition of new modules for accounts receivable and payable. Also scheduled are improvements to several financial statements and reports, additional states added for SUTA, 401(k) employer matching calculations, and extended data import from QuickBooks.
XPert Write-up 7.5a
Considering that in many areas of the software market there’s been a tremendous amount of consolidation, it’s nice to see companies, such as Micronetics, that have been around as independents for more than 20 years.
The Xpert Write-up package reviewed here has been extracted from Micronetics’ high-end Xpert Financials accounting application and is very similar to that package if you want a compatible accounting application to install at a client site. We tested the Windows version of the software, and there are additional versions available that run under Linux and IBM’s AS400 operating system.
This multi-operating system heritage also shows up in a couple of areas. For example, most Windows-based applications have an option to print to the screen. Xpert Write-up calls this printing to the “console,” a more generic appellation.
Set up is not difficult, but we experienced a problem in trying to install sample company data. This data was not installed in the right directory/folder, and we received an error message when we tried to open any of the sample companies. We were easily able to troubleshoot the problem, creating the necessary folders and moving the sample data files into them.
If you are setting up clients from scratch, Xpert Write-up provides sample charts of accounts. Xpert Write-up was a fairly complete application when we looked at it last year. It contains a full ATF payroll, bank reconciliation, W-2/1099 printing, and time-tracking capabilities for billing and invoicing client work. Full client billing and payroll processing are available as an upgrade to the basic software.
This latest release has a number of enhancements, including an upgraded adjusted trial balance report, G/L conversions for a variety of other vendors’ client write-up programs, improved tax interface export, and MICR check printing in the software’s Premium edition.
The most significant upgrade is the addition of FinePrint, a print utility that lets you use any Windows printer with Xpert Write-up. You can not only adjust fonts, but also print multiple-up reports on a page, add watermarks, and even print reports in booklet form.
Xpert Write-up is not getting older, it’s getting better.
Intacct Client Write-up
While the Internet-based software model has not taken off in quite the way that some vendors had prophesied, it still remains a valid one for some firms. In particular, if your firm has a lot of staff constantly out of the office, but still must perform write-ups, it might make a lot of sense to use a Web-based platform. That saves you the trouble of running a remote access server, but still makes it easy for your staff to get the work done whether they are in or out of the office.
The Intacct Accounting System is comprehensive and robust. It allows complex charts of accounts and easy multi-divisional set up. There are over three dozen templates for creating new clients, and it’s also easy to use a current client as the basis for creating a chart of accounts for a new client.
While the system was already an attractive offering to accountants last year, the addition of a new formal client write-up capability has since made it even more attractive.
The write-up system is an extension to the E-Practice Console that lets you switch between clients and tasks. Accountant-oriented features include a heads-down batch data entry mode for fast entry.
Import and export capabilities are excellent, and you can upload client data from QuickBooks, and download adjusted client data directly to many of the popular tax preparation packages. Intacct Write-up does not have its own tax prep module, but it does seem to work well with other vendors’ tax prep applications.
While the application has its own ATF payroll, if your client wants you to run the full live payroll, you can integrate the client ledgers with Intuit’s Payroll Service, and either run the payroll for the client or have them run it themselves, with the data flowing directly into their ledgers.
Intacct also offers some other accountant-oriented services that supplement the write-up system. These were developed in cooperation with Deloitte & Touche and are extra-cost features that provide tools for conducting audits and compilations. These provide you with some of the ratio analysis and analytical review tools that several of the other packages offer, as well as worksheets and other tools for keeping track and organizing engagements.
However, with Intacct, there is a minimum number of clients that you have to be willing to put up on the system, and a monthly fee that needs to be paid for each client that’s being serviced. You’ll also need fast Internet access from wherever you use the Intacct system.
Trying to use Intaact Write-up over a standard modem dial-up line will likely prove a frustrating experience. To assist you in the event that you do have to use a dial-up line, there is a desktop utility that lets you enter transactions off-line, then transmit the file at a later time. This is also useful if you simply want to work off-line, perhaps on a plane, train or bus.
If the Net-based model appeals to you, Intacct is definitely worth considering. It provides the benefits of write-up, without the hassles of maintaining a remote server or software updates.
Ted Needleman, the former editor of Accounting Technology, is a consultant and freelance writer based in Stony Point, N.Y.
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