Using cloud accounting to keep your finger on your business pulse

Increasing numbers of our clients are moving to cloud based accounting packages, and are asking us to assist with the rollout.   Others are approaching us for insight and information on why they should consider the change.  So this week we take a look at the benefits of cloud accounting systems and give you a snapshot of the major players in the industry. 

Existing methods of dealing with the transfer of data files between client and advisor all bring their own deficiencies – issues with file sizes, duplicate or out of date file versions, remote access limitations and restrictions on bank downloads. Cloud accounting software gives you accounting as it happens.  It streamlines the bookkeeping and allows for real time understanding of your business’ financial position.  It also makes the interaction with your external advisor far simpler.

Whether you choose one accounting system or another comes down to the level of sophistication of your business and the skill level of the team. Having worked with a range of businesses adopting cloud software, I urge you to take your time when considering the system you will use because every business’ requirements are unique and as you will see below, every system has slightly different capability and user interface design.

There are many measureable benefits in moving from a desktop program to the cloud.  Most systems interface with daily bank feeds that itemise your transactions, cutting down on data entry and vastly improving the reconciliation process.

[Above: Prosperity Director, Stephen Guthrie talks about Prosperity’s migration to Cloud Technology]

Dashboard views of key business metrics, such as profit and loss, accounts receivable, accounts payable and cash balances, give you a quick snapshot of real time performance. As web-based applications, many have interface capabilities with other applications such as CRMs, business productivity suites and online retailing systems giving you much more power than you may have had before in your desktop package.

In addition to this, accounting in the cloud makes managing your business remotely and collaborating with external advisers easier than ever.  Both you and your accountant can log into your portal through separate logins from anywhere with internet access and look directly at an invoice, report, process or issue.  Gone are the days of transferring large datafiles back and forth and trying to keep records in sync.

The current major players in the Australian cloud-based accounting software landscape are Saasu, Xero, MYOB, and Quickbooks.  We take a quick look at each:

Saasu
Saasu is a Sydney-based provider of cloud-based accounting solutions for small and medium businesses. The Saasu application includes capabilities that align with the desktop offerings of accounting suites including purchases, inventory management, sales, payroll, ecommerce, CRM, point of sale, document and workflow management.  Saasu includes full inventory and payroll functionality in its “medium” business package as well as including automatic bank feeds from most Australian banks directly within the application.

Saasu also goes beyond the basics by providing full tax and superannuation calculations for Australian businesses alongside complex inventory and a lightweight customer relationship manager (CRM) that should meet the needs of most small businesses.

Saasu is well known for its strong online accounting API that enables connection to hundreds of web applications, software products, payment services plus thousands of banks.

  • Cost: AUD $9 – $60 per month
  • Strengths: Strong online accounting API that allows online retail and other web applications to interface.
  • Weaknesses: More complex dashboard than Xero
  • Web: www.saasu.com

Xero
With an exponentially growing customer base, Xero must be doing something right.  A simple, browser-based accounting package, Xero doesn’t offer the complexity of Saasu.  It does however offer fully integrated payroll and bank feeds.

Xero is one of the larger cloud based accounting vendors. Publicly listed on the New Zealand stock exchange, they have invested heavily in both product design and marketing channels. Xero has 50,000 customers around the world and country-specific versions for the UK, Australia, New Zealand and the US.  All data is located in the US and Xero uses a content delivery network to overcome speed issues caused by geographic distance from users.

Last year, Xero purchased Australian payroll provider PayCycle providing complete financial/payroll functionality to customers. Xero has built in automatic bank feeds with over 5,000 banks internationally including all major Australian banks.

  • Cost: Xero costs between $29 and $64 per month.
  • Strengths: Automated bank feeds, integrated payroll, very intuitive user experience and dashboard.
  • Weaknesses: The lack of inventory is a barrier to product companies.
  • Website: www.xero.com.au

MYOB Live Accounts
MYOB LiveAccounts is a first generation cloud accounting software pitched at small businesses and individuals wanting a simple double entry system.  Similar to Xero and Saasu, MYOB LiveAccounts can be set up to pull bank feeds in automatically, and includes payroll functionality.

Business owners looking for functionality akin to their existing desktop version of MYOB will need to wait for the new MYOB AccountRight Live which is expected to launch in the last two months of 2012.

  • Cost: Live Accounts costs $25 per month
  • Strengths: Automatically create and allocate transactions via bank feeds, integrated payroll, easy BAS preparation,
  • Weaknesses: No inventory management, time billing, or multi-currency
  • Website: www.myob.com.au

MYOB AccountRight Live
From November 8 this year, MYOB will make available AccountRight Live, which adopts a hybrid model – user access will be via a locally loaded MYOB application which will then access a cloud based data file. The data file can be used locally in periods without internet access and then synchronised later to the cloud. This product therefore differs from other cloud based systems, where all the necessary software is available via a web browser session.
AccountRight Live will allow your accountant, bookkeeper, or other members of your team to all connect to the same data file and receive automatic updates of all records in real time on their desktop record of accounts. 
 
It is not yet clear whether AccountRight Live will offer the connectivity to other applications promoted by Xero and Saasu. The ability to import automatic bank feeds is currently available in beta stage.

  • Cost: From $23 per month to $59 per month
  • Website: www.myob.com.au

Quickbooks – Hosted or Online
Quickbooks offer the opportunity to leverage their existing strong desktop products into the cloud using two alternate approaches.

Quickbooks Hosted
The hosted version of Quickbooks offers the same feature set that is available on the desktop application. The application itself, together with your datafile, is hosted on a remote server and is accessed via your web browser (in a similar manner to Saasu and Xero).

If you also own a desktop version of Quickbooks, you will be able to download a copy of the data file to work on offline and then re-sync it later.

Quickbooks Online
Quickbooks Online does not have the feature set of the desktop version or the hosted version and is therefore not suitable for all business types. It is a different product, designed specifically for internet access, which brings both benefits and disadvantages to the use experience.

  • Cost: Quickbooks Hosted is priced on a per user basis from $310 per annum. Quickbooks Online is priced from $25 – $55 per month.
  • Strengths: Bank feeds and multi-currency features can be handled within the package by the $40/month offering.
  • Weaknesses: The Online Australian edition does not at this stage offer payroll, time tracking and inventory tracking.  Payroll can be set up manually in the chart of accounts but is not as simple as Saasu and Xero.
  • Website: Hosted – www.reckon.com.au; Online – www.intuit.com.au

Our experience
The above outline is just a quick overview of the options available. Our team works with all of the systems in this lineup and is happy to give you further insight if you are thinking of moving from the desktop to the cloud.

Having migrated our own computer environment from locally based servers into a secure hosted cloud based system, we understand the concerns around data security and have also experienced the benefits such a move creates for the mobile business owner.

Article by Stephen Guthrie, Director, Prosperity Advisers. Stephen and our other Advisers provide Business, Tax and Family Office services to our clients from offices in Brisbane, Sydney and Newcastle. 

About Stephen Guthrie

Stephen has more than 20 years experience providing strategic business advice and taxation services to his clients.

He is a Director in the Business Services and Taxation division managing a team of professionals delivering business advisory, taxation, corporate assurance and financial services advice. Prior to joining Prosperity Stephen was a partner in a global accounting firm, where he advised business, corporate and personal clients and non-profit organisations. Stephen also works closely with our Prosperity Health clients that have Medical and Dental practices and has assisted numerous medical professionals over his career.

Stephens’s expertise includes advising business owners and private clients on their strategic planning and business development, restructuring, valuations, taxation and finance needs. He specialises in working with high net wealth family groups providing effective business and financial solutions.

He also has many years experience working with clients in the health, retail, manufacturing, financial and professional services industries. Stephen has also provided business valuations for a variety of business types, including his recent involvement in the environmental sector.

Stephen enjoys working with clients on complex and challenging business issues, using his proven technical and analytical skills to deliver good financial outcomes for his clients.

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