Three years ago accountants and bookkeepers had to pay for their practice management software. Today they can choose between two competing programs, if still maturing, which will cost them nothing.
In a move that has caught rivals by surprise, US accounting software giant Intuit announced yesterday it had bought Australian cloud-based practice management cloud app Fifo. Even more astonishing is the decision to make the software free to Intuit accounting partners.
Digital First asked Rich Walker, director of accountant and bookkeeper strategy for Intuit Australia, about Intuit’s intentions.
(Walker is also director of global accountant strategy and programs for Intuit.)
Digital First: What does this acquisition mean?
Walker: It’s an additional commitment that we are building out our critical mass of employees in Australia but also building the business that will serve the ecosystem of small businesses, accountants and bookkeepers. We view Fifo as critical to helping accountants and bookkeepers.
The Fifo team will also provide additional product management resources in Australia.
Digital First: What role will Fifo play?
Walker: Their product management team joins intuit and will be an integral part of Intuit’s global product management team.
We’re very excited Shane Macfarlane is on board. He is an innovator and an executor in addition. We’ve tasked him with a great deal of responsibility for Australia.
Digital First: Did Intuit buy Fifo just for the Australian market or will it be sold overseas?
Walker: Fifo is built as a worldwide platform just as QuickBooks Online is built as an online platform. We are concentrating first for Australia but the way Fifo is built is quickly adaptable to other markets.
Digital First: Some have criticised Fifo for focusing too heavily on workpapers and not the full practice management suite.
Walker: Workpapers is only one element of Fifo. It has document management, client management tools and full-on practice management. You can stay tuned for more developments there.
Digital First: Why did you pick Fifo – was it the best practice management software globally or the best for Australia?
Walker: We focused first on Australia. It was a bonus that it was a platform that was extensible and could be used worldwide. Intuit has many offerings and we’re looking at all of those becoming worldwide products.
Digital First: Why have you decided to make Fifo free of charge?
Walker: We believe that it is a way that accounting firms today can take advantage of QuickBooks Online and it becomes an ecosystem of apps that work together. QuickBooks Online is an open platform with published APIs (application programming interfaces, which allow it to connect to other programs). Fifio is an open platofrm and works with many practice management and financial applications.
We felt “free” was a bold move and let accountants and bookkeepers in Australia understand the commitment to the customer base and to them as partners.
Digital First: Xero gives away practice management software for free too. Are you emulating Xero’s strategy?
Walker: We innovate, not replicate. We have used this model successfully in other markets so that we provide accountants with an array of practice management tools to help him or her run their practice and service their client. For us it’s important that small business owners recognise the efficiencies they get from QuickBooks Online.
We bring efficiencies to the small business owner and the accountant, we help the accountant by driving new business to them, and we help the small business owner have clarity in their business.
Digital First: Intuit sells practice management software in the US and elsewhere. Is “free” the future for all practice management software or is this just an Australian future?
Walker: We monetise different offerings in different geographies in different ways. Free practice management is how we’re doing it for Australia. I can’t speak for other countries.
Digital First: What’s next in product development for Fifo?
Walker: There will be continued emphasis of the product set so it meets the needs of accountants and bookkeepers in Australia and beyond the borders. They are part of our product management team based all over the world so they will have additional resources to develop that.
Digital First: What specific features?
Walker: I can talk to what you see in Fifo today with workpapers, workflow management, job register, document management, client communications – these are universal needs for accountants across the globe and we will start using those in our other offerings globally.
And the things that we start offering in North America, in tax preparation and payroll, you’ll start seeing us expand into Australia in those areas as well.
Digital First: So you can just import a tax program?
Walker: No, tax is local. That said, the way our products are built, you can have tax calculation engines that are applied in multiple ways for local regulations.
Digital First: Xero’s sales in Australia took off after it integrated payroll. Is that next?
Walker: Today in Australia we integrate with two payroll offerings, Web Payroll and Keypay. We just recently announced with Web Payroll we allow 10 free employees with QuickBooks Online.
Digital First: Will Fifo remain an open platform and integrate with competing cloud accounting programs?
Walker: Both QuickBooks Online and Fifo use the Intuit Partner Platform with a set of APIs and tools so they’re integrated with any other practice management software or other financial management apps as well. We encourage software developers who have complementary apps to use QuickBooks Online to use our platform and integrate with our APIs.
Digital First: How many people does Intuit have in Australia?
Walker: We are hiring every day. We have 15 right now and will have about 20-25 staff by Christmas. I’m living here too.