One of Intuit’s big surprises at last week’s QuickBooks Connect conference in San Francisco was a big update to QuickBooks Online Accountant (QBOA), a warning shot across the bows of practice management vendors.
Until now QBOA has been a simple customer list that accountants used to access their clients’ QuickBooks Online accounts. An accountant who logged into a client’s QuickBooks Online file through QBOA would also see accountant-only tools to help them reconcile and report on figures.
US accountants use practice management tools by Thomson Reuters, CCH, Commercial Logic and others. Despite Intuit’s almost total grip on the US small business market, these programs are loosely integrated (if at all) with QuickBooks Online.
The new QBOA, on the other hand, is built on the same technology platform as QuickBooks Online. This gives it a far greater integration than other programs and follows the model established by Xero with Xero Practice Manager. QuickBooks Online Accountant is even included for free in the ProAdvisor program (Xero’s version is free to partners with a minimum number of Xero clients).
“When we talk about (building) operating systems for small businesses, you can look at QBOA as the first instance for an integrated operating system for a particular small business,” says Terry Hicks, vice president and general manager, Quickbooks Online at Intuit.
The new QBOA looks nothing like the version it replaced. Accountants can attach documents to clients’ files and send messages through an online portal for clients that uses the enterprise-grade collaboration platform, Box. (Watch the Box announcement here.)
A customizable dashboard provides a snapshot of action items and deliverables. The accountant toolbox has been redesigned for one-click access to any client from anywhere within QuickBooks Online Accountant. Accountants can push bookkeeping data seamlessly to Intuit Tax Online.
It can give employees access to client files with a fine level of control so that one employee can only view and work on one set of clients. And certification for QuickBooks is tied into QBOA, including ratings.
“It is now an instance of cloud practice management,” Hicks says.
Intuit initially planned to restrict QBOA to working only with QuickBooks Online, however this was overturned after internal discussion. Intuit now wants accountants to use QBOA with all accounting software used by their clients, especially those who still use Microsoft Excel spreadsheets or pen and paper to track their finances.
“Most of a firm’s clients are on desktop accounting software. A significant number are not on anything at all,” Hicks says. “We have created an experience to get their information into QuickBooks Online. It’s not a complete set of books but it allows the accountant to do the work they need to do on tax.”
The open-house philosophy fits well with Intuit’s plan to target the 12 million businesses in the US that don’t use any accounting software. When an accountant adds one of these “shoebox” clients to QBOA, it will automatically create a QuickBooks Online account to collate and process the information once it has been entered manually.
Of course, the accountant will most likely share access to the QuickBooks Online file and encourage the client to start paying a subscription. After all, there is little margin in data entry for the accountant.
In Australia Intuit has conversion tools for every competitor’s program.
Intuit runs rolling education programs for its 100,000 Pro Advisors to update them on new features. Intuit ploughed a lot of money and effort into promoting its cloud agenda and in the past 90 days sales of its online accounting software overtook desktop software sales for the first time.
While QBOA lacks quite a few features of server-based practice management systems – workflow is an obvious omission – it’s clear that Intuit is tempting Pro Advisors with higher productivity through integrated systems, another Xero strategy.
“Last year everything was about QuickBooks Online. This year it’s about QuickBooks Online Accountant,” Hicks says.
Disclosure: Sholto Macpherson travelled to QuickBooks Connect in San Francisco as a guest of Intuit.