QuickBooks is one of the most popular software accounting packages available. We examine the pros and cons of this particular package so that you can decide if it's right for your business.
This is the first in an ongoing series of articles that will profile accounting software available in Australia. You can read the rest of the series in our technology section.
Intuit, the undisputed champion of small business accounting software in the US, with more than 80 per cent of the market, has set its sights on global conquest. The company’s ambitions have expanded along with the rise of online accounting software, and it’s investing in several overseas markets including India, Singapore, Canada, the UK and Australia.
Why Australia? The most obvious answer is it’s taking the fight to Xero in its home territory, just as New Zealand-headquartered Xero slowly ramps up its assault on the US. Intuit has hired a senior executive from eBay to run the Australian operations and built up a local team of more than 50.
Intuit’s QuickBooks Online software may have been around since 2000, predating the Xero cloud product by seven years, but it received little interest Down Under until it was relaunched in 2013 for global markets.
Taking on the local champ
QuickBooks Online arrived in Australia in 2013 with an already well-rounded product. It included quotes and inventory functions – two areas which were then conspicuously absent from Xero’s software. But while mature in features, the software had some annoying quirks in its bank feeds and GST. The interface also wasn’t as attractive or as easy to use as Xero’s. Last year the company addressed most of these issues. Bank reconciliation now works more smoothly and Intuit has overhauled the interface for the international version of QuickBooks Online.
While its software product is good, Intuit’s biggest problem in Australia is its lack of customers and accounting partners. Despite an aggressive marketing campaign, it only managed to rack up 7000 sales by October last year.
The QuickBooks Online software comes in three editions: Simple Start (A$12/month), Essentials (A$17.50/month) and Plus (A$21/month). Intuit has been discounting its prices to attract sales, with up to 40 per cent off the Plus subscription. Accountants and bookkeepers who sign up to Intuit’s partner program can access the Plus subscription for A$4.99 a month, a deal which has been extended several times. Another incentive is a free data migration service for businesses moving from QuickBooks Desktop, MYOB or Xero software to the top two QuickBooks plans.
Where Xero limits users on its entry-level Starter plan to a maximum of five invoices and five bills per month, QuickBooks’ Simple Start plan allows a single user to send an unlimited number of invoices. (An accountant or bookkeeper can also access all plans.)
A long list of features are reserved for the top two plans including managing or paying bills, multi-currency, user access controls, sending remittance notices and creating expense receipts, and so on. The Essentials plan can be used by up to three people simultaneously and is suitable for a services business. It also adds more reports (40 compared to 20).
While its software product is good, Intuit’s biggest problem in Australia is its lack of customers and accounting partners.
The Plus plan is recommended for a retail or project-based business such as construction. It adds inventory, purchase orders, budgeting, online time sheets for employees and subcontractors, billable hours per customer and tracking sales by office location for multi-site businesses. The number of reports jumps to 65 and it can be used by up to five people simultaneously.
In December 2014 QuickBooks Online added ABA files, which schedule electronic bank payments. This means a business can enter bills and schedule payments for later by downloading an ABA file and uploading it to their online banking screen for approval.
QuickBooks Online has the most powerful payroll of all the online accounting apps thanks to a special relationship with KeyPay, a specialist payroll app. Unlike a standard add-on integration where the user is redirected to another online program, Intuit includes KeyPay’s features within QuickBooks Online itself.
QuickBooks Online users can also pay an extra fee per employee to access a sophisticated wage calculator that takes into account award rates, time of day or night, weekday or weekend. It’s worth noting that users are in effect billed by two companies. Intuit includes free payroll for up to 10 employees and passes on KeyPay’s charge of A$4 per additional employee each month. QuickBooks’ terms note that KeyPay may change its pricing.
What about apps?
QuickBooks Online has a well-developed app ecosystem in the US but is still building up its international partners. The Australian QuickBooks add-ons number just under 50 apps in sales and marketing, operations, productivity and finance and accounting. E-commerce apps such as Shopify, Bigcommerce, VirtueMart, PrestaShop and OpenCart automatically create invoices in QuickBooks Online for sales made through an online store. A range of time tracking and mileage apps add more detail to billing in QuickBooks Online through custom time sheets, location and customer tracking.
The finance and accounting category includes reporting and forecasting tools such as Fathom and Spotlight Reporting, receipt processing apps including Shoeboxed and Receipt Bank, and a range of debt collection aids.
QuickBooks Online is a strong contender for Australian businesses. Expect to hear a lot more from Intuit as it ramps up its marketing effort in 2015.
Sholto Macpherson is a journalist and author of the Beginner’s Guide to Online Accounting.