7 accounting packages for Australian small businesses compared: including MYOB, QuickBooks Online, Reckon, Xero

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7 accounting packages for Australian small businesses compared: including MYOB, QuickBooks Online, Reckon, Xero
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MYOB LiveAccounts

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MYOB LiveAccounts goes a long way towards making small business accounting straightforward and convenient, though it does have some shortcomings.

At the risk of stating the obvious, you need to take particular care with the initial setup of LiveAccounts: if you slip up (for example, mistakenly choosing ‘selling services’ instead of ‘selling services and goods’), setting things right seemed more time consuming to us than with any of the other programs we looked at.

The user interface here is generally easy on the eye. Invoices and other forms have a cleaner and more contemporary look than is typical.

On the other hand, while we understand why MYOB uses account and item numbers ‘under the bonnet’ we believe exposing them to ordinary users does not provide any useful information and just acts as visual clutter. After all, this product is supposed to be “purpose built for people new to accounting or accounting software” so why would they care about account numbers?

When it comes to performing our special test tasks, LiveAccounts seemed a mixed bag. Like the other products reviewed here it has its good and bad points.

Let's look at contacts and items. These can be imported, but it is up to the user to massage the data into the format required by LiveAccounts before uploading, which can be an issue for less technically savvy users unless the data is already in an acceptable format.

We liked the provision of ‘how to pay’ instructions on invoices, with bank details for direct deposits and/or a mailing address and payment slip. Cashflow is one of the most important considerations when running a business, and the easier you make it for your customers, the less excuse they have for not paying on time.

LiveAccounts doesn’t automatically allocate payments to invoices when you are manually entering them, but bank feed processing will normally take care of it unless one payment covers multiple invoices.

Another quibble of ours: if you need to create subcustomers (aka head office billing), neither LiveAccounts nor its desktop sibling is the product for you.

When it comes to BAS, we are happier. Unlike Reckon Accounts EasyStart, LiveAccounts can generate a GST report. While it is not a facsimile of the ATO form, it does show the item labels to aid accurate transcription.

Another observation: LiveAccounts encourages you to enter bills as they arrive so you’ll have a better view of your position and then pay them when they fall due. Something similar is available in most of the other programs, but the feature is particularly ‘in your face’ here. One note: we did find it somewhat confusing that to enter a purchase paid for in cash on the spot (such as buying coffee for a client while discussing business at a cafe), you do it under Banking rather than Expenses.

We also found LiveAccounts’ payroll to be well featured for an entry-level program, with provision for overtime, penalty rates, leave, superannuation and more. However the system lacks other major features including quoting [UPDATE: MYOB has contacted us to tell us this is coming soon], inventory, and time recording and billing. As we explain below, you can find these things in other MYOB products, such as AccountRight.

Unlike Saasu and Xero, LiveAccounts does not exploit the potential to connect with cloud applications like a web store or a cloud-based POS system.

An advantage of cloud software is that you can use it almost anywhere and on practically any device - though here, we noticed that while two people can login at the same time, we discovered that they need to have separate accounts - a minor thing, but adds to the level of fiddling. Also, when we tried using LiveAccounts on a mobile phone we were disappointed to see the normal site, which was very awkward to use on the small screen though probably acceptable on a 10in tablet.

Certain versions of the more advanced MYOB AccountRight software (see above) include features missing from LiveAccounts such as inventory and time recording and billing. If you are set on using cloud software though, keep in mind that AccountRight lets you access your accounts over the Internet (say, at work as well as from home on a laptop) but you need to install the software on each computer - you can't just log on with any computer that has a web browser. There's no phone or tablet app either, but we are told a mobile app for AccountRight Live is in the works.

With a strengthening of its invoicing features and some user interface improvements (especially in terms of mobile support) LiveAccounts would be even more deserving of attention from businesses that need the particular set of functionality that it delivers.

Intuit QuickBooks Online Simple Start

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QuickBooks Online is a well-featured cloud accounting system, but we found some rough edges.

QuickBooks Online’s user interface is generally unremarkable, though we did encounter some quirks. For some reason clicking links in popup windows used for help and other functions sometimes had no effect. When that happened the best course of action seemed to be to close the window and start again.

We like the fact that if you're using a smartphone to access QuickBooks Online you automatically get a version designed for small screens. This makes it easy to use your phone for on-the-spot invoicing after you've performed a service or delivered goods, for instance. This works even if you’re still logged in back at the office.

If you decide to give QuickBooks Online a trial, be sure to work through the ‘Customise’ questionnaire (otherwise you won’t be able to enter invoice lines such as “3 hours at $100 per hour” or “10 widgets at 40c”) and also go through the GST setup process. That may seem obvious in retrospect, but neither is included in the QuickBooks Online "to-do" list, even although “Add your employee information” is. We feel this shows that new users may benefit from professional assistance setting up QuickBooks Online Simple Start - even more so than they might with the other products we've looked at. This is despite QuickBooks Online including a generally useful Getting Started guide that can be downloaded as a PDF file.

QuickBooks Online seems reasonably smart in operation. Let's look at our test tasks.

One good point is that your existing contact lists can be imported from Excel (and many programs can export data as an Excel file), Outlook, Gmail or Yahoo! Mail, making it in this regard one of the most flexible packages we reviewed.

Other strengths include provision for ‘subcustomers’ (QuickBooks’ equivalent of MoneyWorks’ head office billing) and the way payments are automatically allocated to the customer’s open invoices according to the amount received. This is a timesaver (doubly so when used in conjunction with bank feeds) when a customer pays multiple invoices without providing a detailed payment advice.

On the other hand, Quickbooks Online did fall down in another of our pet criteria: BAS reports. The BAS report is just a report, not a facsimile. We find the latter reduces the risk of making errors when transcribing numbers to the ATO form.

The accounting features are relatively comprehensive apart from the omission of payroll and time recording and billing. Quoting is disabled by default, but once activated works smoothly. If the customer proceeds with the work or purchase, quoted items are easily added to an invoice. This could be useful for trade businesses such as fencers.

The main limitations of Simple Start ($15 per month) are that it only does cash accounting not accruals, and you can only enter bills as you pay them. Essentials ($25) adds two more users, more reports, a graphical company snapshot, repeating items (for example, invoice each month), bill management (so you can see what payments are ahead), and multiple currencies. Plus ($35) includes five users, even more reports, inventory tracking, automatic expense recharging, month/quarter/year budgeting, and multiple locations. So to some extent you need only pay for the features you need, like most of the other products we looked at.

Payroll is not a feature of QuickBooks Online, but is available as an add-on from WebPayroll or KeyPay. Similarly, more advanced inventory functionality is available from SOS Inventory.

Again, we suspect that the Simple Start version is a little too simple for many small businesses, but QuickBooks Online overall has a decent feature set (though be aware that you have to go elsewhere for payroll), and we especially liked the mobile version of the site.

Saasu

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We found Saasu relatively weak in some fundamental areas - notably invoicing - but it does have its good points.

Our overall impression here is that the user interface has not been fully thought through. Things start out well, but in our opinion there is a lack of polish. For example, we like the way a purchase and the corresponding payment can be entered in one go and on the same screen if desired, but we were surprised to see error messages such as “You have entered an invalid number” that did not identify the field in which the error was detected. And while the Contacts section includes fields to store a contact’s Twitter and LinkedIn pages and then open them in a browser, unlike Xero Saasu does not provide click-to-call capability from the Skype ID field.

In our opinion, the way Saasu works results in more effort on the user’s part than should be necessary. For example, its invoicing capabilities are from our point of view the weakest of all the products tested here. The system will only remember things you sell (for example, 'on site consultation at $150 per hour’ or ‘three-rail PVC ranch fencing at $40 per metre’) as part of the inventory functionality, which is only included with the Medium (second most expensive) plan, along with payroll and multicurrency support. Otherwise, the closest alternative is to duplicate an existing and generally similar invoice. That is probably ok if you supply much the same products and services to the same customers each month (there is provision for recurring sales and purchases), but we’re not impressed.

Nor is there a way to require the entry of a purchase order number when generating an invoice, or to automatically make sales to export customers GST-free (the closest workaround suggested by Saasu is to have separate income accounts for GST-free and GST-liable sales).

On the positive side, there are some useful time-saving features. Arbitrary files (for example, scanned receipts or PDF invoices) can be attached to transactions, keeping related information together and reducing the amount of paper that must be retained.

Another useful feature is that contacts and other items such as purchases can be tagged (marked with an arbitrary label), and then these tags can be used to isolate a particular subset of records from longer lists. This could be used to get a list of expenses associated with a certain project, for instance.

In our opinion, Saasu fell behind some of the other products when it came to our test involving reports. The BAS report displays item labels rather than being a facsimile of the ATO form, and while there is a reasonable selection of other reports we did not have much success with them. For example, we saw blank sales and purchases reports even though there were transactions of both types in the system within the relevant time periods. That may be an example of PBCAK (‘problem between chair and keyboard’ - ie. we were doing something wrong), but if that was the case we suggest that says something about the useability of this aspect of Saasu.

Saasu has most of the accounting bases covered, though like the other cloud products we looked at, it lacks time recording and billing. We find that surprising, as cloud software makes it relatively easy to collect activity data from workers’ smartphones, tablets or computers. And if your workforce is generally on a casual or part-time footing, you may find it necessary to move up to the most expensive plan just to get round the limit on the number of employees even though your FTE (full time equivalent) headcount is well under it.

Saasu provides some interesting and potentially very useful integrations with other products and services, including PayPal, eBay, Magento (e-commerce), SprintPOS and Amicus POS. Saasu and Xero are the standouts in this regard.

The Extra Small ($9 per month) plan is limited to 50 transactions per month. Small ($20) boosts that to 200 transactions, plus three bank feeds rather than one. Then there is Medium ($35; described above) and Large ($60), which expands payroll to more than 25 employees and adds advanced inventory reports, consolidated profit and loss reports, and a KPI custom report builder.

Saasu didn’t especially impress us from the perspective of our hypothetical photographer, but it does have its raving fans (such as online retailer Shoes of Prey) and we suggest that underlines the importance of picking accounting software that suits the requirements of your particular business rather than following a generic recommendation.

Xero

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Xero had us flip-flopping between “wow!” and “huh?”

Let’s start with the good stuff: it feels like a modern piece of software that was designed with the cloud in mind. A prime example is the Xero Network, which allows Xero users to send invoices and to each other within the system. Your invoice becomes a bill in your customer’s accounts, or vice versa. This speeds things up and eliminates data entry. If your customer doesn’t use Xero, you can email an invoice as attachment or a web link, and in both cases there’s a link for paying via PayPal. Furthermore, such customers can set up a login so they can see all their outstanding bills from Xero users.

In some respects, Xero works in a pretty smart way and actively takes advantage of the fact that you are working online. We particularly like the way that when you enter a customer’s address, Xero uses the White Pages TotalCheck address service to confirm its validity and automatically parse it into separate fields such as street, state and postcode. If you’re a Skype user, Xero provides click-to-call when you need to phone or Skype a contact. This could be very useful if you use Skype a lot.

We also like the way Xero allows files to be attached to records, for instance to keep scanned receipts with expenses claims. Very few of these features are found in the other programs. Like Saasu, Xero provides good support for mobile devices.

If you have some overseas customers you can set their default GST rate to ‘GST Free Export’, overriding the normal rate applied to domestic customers. That’s much better than the hoops that Saasu and some of the other programs we reviewed put you though.

As for usability, some routine tasks seemed surprisingly cumbersome. It takes five clicks to get from the ‘dashboard’ (home screen) to entering a payment, compared with two in MYOB. Yet you can get an aged receivables report in two clicks from almost anywhere. Which of these do you do more often?

Onto our payment test: receiving a payment involves opening the corresponding invoice and entering the payment details. This is clumsy if your customers routinely make single payments covering multiple invoices. And there’s no sub-customer support, though it may be added in the future.

Also, we have mixed feelings about the way Xero separates the entry, approval and payment of bills. It makes sense if a junior employee performs data entry, but if you’re a sole trader it just slows you down.

Most of the accounting functions we expect are included, with time tracking and billing as the main exception. But Xero provides integration with various third-party products and services, including Harvest (time tracking and billing), Vend (POS), and Debtor Daddy (invoice chasing).

The difference between the three Xero plans is more about the number of transactions allowed per month than features, though the Large plan does add multi-currency support and automated superannuation payments.

Overall, Xero is one of the stronger offerings in terms of the invoicing features we like to see. It also takes good advantage of other cloud-based services. However, there are some user interface issues that in our opinion make routine operations more time-consuming than necessary.

Feature matrix: comparing the features of the products we looked at

Y=Yes, y=Yes, but only in more expensive version(s) than we tested
Primary source: vendors' materials

 
  Product Moneyworks Express MYOB AccountRight Basics MYOB LiveAccounts QuickBooks Online Simple Start Reckon Accounts EasyStart 2013 Saasu Xero
Feature Subfeature              
Quoting   y Y N [UPDATE: MYOB says this is coming soon] Y y Y Y (via a manual process)
Invoicing   Y Y Y Y Y Y Y
Purchases   Y Y Y Y Y Y Y
Inventory   y y N y y y N (Xero's 'Inventory' function is a list of items sold or purchased; it does not track quantities in stock, etc)
Bank statement import   Y N Y [CORRECTON: This was previously marked incorrectly as N] N y Y Y
Bank feed   N Y Y Y N Y Y
Multi-currency   y y N y y y Y
Payroll   N Y (basic only; more advanced in Plus version) Y N y y Y
Time recording and billing   y y N N y N N
Contacts   Y Y Y Y Y Y Y
Budgets   Y Y N y y Y Y
Reports                
  Balance sheet Y Y Y Y Y Y Y
  Profit and loss Y Y Y Y Y Y Y
  BAS Y Y Y Y N (tax liability report is not mapped to BAS fields, but the information is there) Y Y
  Sales Y Y Y Y Y Y Y
  Purchases Y Y (but only as a customisation of the account transaction report) Y Y Y Y Y
                 
                 
SBR lodgement   N N N N y N N
Mobile access   y N Y (but not mobile-specific) Y (mobile-specific version delivered automatically) N Y Y (via mobile-specific site or iOS/Android app)
Tagging   Y N N [UPDATE: MYOB tell us you can create notes against a bank transaction, which can then be searched, sorted.] N N Y N
Integration with other services/programs   Y Y N Y y Y Y
Multi-user   y Y N Y y Y Y
Data import and/or export   Y Y Y Y y Y Y

CORRECTIONS AND UPDATES:

The feature table above originally marked MYOB LiveAccounts as not having a Bank Statement Import feature. This is incorrect - MYOB tells us LiveAccounts does have Bank Statement Import. We apologise for the error - this has been corrected.

MYOB also tells us that Quoting is coming soon for MYOB LiveAccounts and that in terms of Tagging, you can create notes against a bank transaction in LiveAccounts. The table has been updated with this information. MYOB also points out that both AccountRight and LiveAccounts support taxable payments for the building industry.

Looking for up-to-date reviews? We've compared the latest accounting applications in our new 2017 feature.

 

Want more info? The 44-page Australian small business accounting software guide includes info from this article, plus a guide to the range of different products from MYOB, Xero and others, as well as important info for setting up. Click here to register for free and download it.

MYOB AccountRight Basics, MYOB LiveAccounts, Reckon Accounts EasyStart, QuickBooks Online Simple Start, Saasu , Moneyworks Express, Xero
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Shopping for a small business accounting package like MYOB, Quickbooks Online, Xero or Reckon? Here is our special guide to making the right choice with this important business software.
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