Online accounting software: a buyer’s guide
Automatic bank feeds, live profit and loss reports – accounting makes more sense when you do it in the cloud.
Online accounting software gives you accounting in real time – instant, live updates of your business’ financial position. There are clear, quantifiable benefits in moving from a desktop program to the cloud, as shown by common features to all the programs.
Banks send an automatic, daily feed of transactions to most online accounting programs which cuts down on data entry and the hassle of downloading and uploading bank statements. It also makes reconciling your accounts a trivial affair that can be done in minutes.
Another common feature is a dashboard that shows at a glance key metrics such as profit and loss, accounts receivable and accounts payable and expense claims. Because they are internet-based, online accounting programs can share contacts and financial data with other cloud applications such as customer relationship managers, productivity suites like Google Apps and Office 365, and project management tools.
In short, accounting in the cloud gives small business owners a lot more information about the financial health of their businesses which makes it easier to work out how to increase revenue and profitability.
There are seven players in the Australasian online accounting market. This guide, written by cloud analyst Ben Kepes of Diversity Limited, is intended to give an overview of each program’s strengths and weaknesses and to suggest the type of business to which it is best suited.
The seven programs are CashBooks Online, FreshBooks, JCurve, MYOB, QuickBooks Hosted, Saasu and Xero.
CashBookOnline is a lightweight program that was launched in July by Reckon Software. Hosted in a data centre in Sydney, CashBook is primarily designed for the simple recording and tracking of payments and receipts. CashBook does not include reporting or budgeting tools and is not integrated with other applications.
CashBook currently supports live bank feeds from ANZ and St George. Other bank feeds can be uploaded to the application manually.
- Cost: $198 per year.
- Strengths: Simplicity, price.
- Weaknesses: Very limited functionality, no integrations with third party apps, automatic bank feeds from only two banks.
- Integrations: None as yet.
- Who should buy it: Micro business owners and sole traders.
Despite not being an accounting solution per se, FreshBooks provides much of the financial functionality that freelancers need. With two million customers around the world, FreshBooks has a massive user base which it uses to good effect. FreshBooks provides industry benchmarking reports that are very valuable as a self-assessment tool.
FreshBooks has 1,500 accountant partners around the world but as it is not an accounting application as such it tends to require much less set-up than other programs reviewed here. FreshBooks has secure backups of all customer data and a backup data centre. The company has a status page where customers can find out about any outages.
FreshBooks is integrated with over 80 different services and applications. These applications span a broad range from customer support to CRM and accounting.
- Cost: FreshBooks has a free version with paid plans starting at US$19.95 per month. FreshBooks data is located in the US and Canada.
- Strengths: Large number of integrations with other applications, ability to obtain benchmarking report comparing business performance with other similar operations.
- Weaknesses: FreshBooks is primarily an invoicing and expense tracking application. Some SMEs might be looking for a fully featured accounting solution instead.
- Integrations: Integrated with over 80 different applications – mobile, project management, customer support, CRM, accounting and many others.
- Who should buy it: Small businesses who invoice their clients.
Built on top of the NetSuite enterprise financial engine, JCurve is an ideal solution for businesses poised to outgrow other SMB solutions. JCurve offers an extensive product line that allows customers to scale the size and complexity of their operation over time.
JCurve is generally sold through accounting or IT partners who are able to assist businesses with the move from other accounting solutions.
By using the NetSuite platform, JCurve enjoys the efficiencies of NetSuite’s global footprint. Data is stored in a West Coast US data centre and is backed up to an East Coast facility. JCurve also offers customers the benefits of the NetSuite ecosystem with the large number of applications in the NetSuite application directory available to JCurve customers.
- Cost: Between $49 and $125 per month. Extra features include payroll ($600/annum/company) and user support (25% of the licence fee).
- Strengths: Payroll, inventory, e-commerce, CRM. High-growth businesses can increase features and flexibility by adding more modules. A large number of third-party applications via the application store.
- Weaknesses: No automatic bank feeds, starting price higher than other SME applications.
- Integrations: JCurve is integrated via the NetSuite engine to a host of third-party applications.
- Who should buy it: Small and mid-sized businesses between 1 and 100 employees who are focused on growth.
The first online solution from MYOB, LiveAccounts is a lightweight application targeted at those who need a simple accounting program with no IT hassles. Sold both online and through MYOB’s network of over 3,000 advisers, LiveAccounts is integrated with over 100 banks and financial institutions in Australia and new Zealand with automatic bank feeds updated daily directly within the application. For businesses with employees, LiveAccounts includes an integrated payroll solution.
LiveAccounts data is stored in Sydney, a benefit for businesses worried about data stored offshore. LiveAccount data is backed up on a revolving basis, and has off-site backup and redundancy measures.
At present LiveAccounts is not integrated with other applications however in the next few months MYOB is promising integration with other MYOB products and advises that the ability to connect with third-party programs will be developed some time in 2012, alongside native mobile applications.
- Cost: $25 per month
- Strengths: Automatic bank feeds, integrated payroll, large network of resellers/implemeters.
- Weaknesses: No inventory, no integration with other programs, limited functionality around reporting.
- Integrations: None yet.
- Who should buy it: Sole traders or very small businesses needing anytime access.
Rather than a purpose designed cloud computing product, QuickBooks Hosted also by Reckon Software takes the standard QuickBooks desktop program and delivers it across the internet to customers. Backups and software updates are handled by the provider so customers don’t need to worry about doing it themselves.
Enjoying the broad functionality and rich ecosystem of add-on applications that comes with QuickBooks, the hosted version also performs many functions out of the box including inventory, payroll, multi-currency and more.
As a hosted application it doesn’t enjoy the benefits that true web applications offer such as the ability to work on all operating systems and browsers. Many claim that hosted applications are significantly slower than “native” web apps.
QuickBooks Hosted currently does not support automatic bank feeds.
- Cost: $295 per user per year
- Strengths: Inventory, payroll, mulit-currency, large network of resellers/implementers, large ecosystem.
- Weaknesses: Speed, not a true web application, no automatic bank feeds.
- Integrations: Reckon tools, PayPal, Microsoft Office.
- Who should buy it: QuickBooks customers who want to stay with the same program but outsource the delivery of the application.
Saasu is a Sydney-based provider of cloud-based accounting solutions for small and mid size businesses. Saasu is currently the SaaS vendor that most closely covers the functional range of desktop software. The Saasu application includes full inventory and payroll functionality 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 has signed up around 1,000 accountants and bookkeepers as partners across Australasia and has around 20,000 customers across the two countries.
Customer data is stored in multiple sites in the US, Hong Kong and Australia and replicates data between geographies to ensure data security.
- Cost: $16.50 (maximum 200 transactions per month) to $89 (enterprise) per month. The free version is limited to 20 transactions per month.
- Strengths: Automatic bank feeds, integrated payroll and inventory. Saasu is a very economically priced, fully featured application.
- Weaknesses: Saasu has fewer customers than competitors and has less revenue to protect it from changes in the market.
- Integrations: Saasu is integrated with approximately 40 different applications, including Connect2Field, Google Apps, Zoho and Freshbooks.
- Who should buy it: SMBs with moderate turnover that require payroll and inventory.
Xero is one of the larger cloud based accounting vendors. Publicly listed on the New Zealand stock exchange, Xero has invested heavily in both product design and marketing channels. It 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.
Xero recently purchased Australian payroll provider PayCycle and will soon integrate it into its own application to give 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 coming soon, very intuitive user experience.
- Weaknesses: The lack of inventory is a barrier to product companies.
- Integrations: Xero is integrated with over 90 applications.
- Who should buy it: Small businesses who do not require an inventory function.