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REVIEW: Engagement, Trial Balance Software 2013

audit artAs we are knee deep in our busiest time of the year, we are very conscious of how we spend our time. So, when working on the engagement software review, I wanted to look at the software from a workflow standpoint and not just a way to automate an audit. All the programs in the review not only do the typical trial balance and audit software but also work on the byproduct of the process - the tax return. In the past small firms that don't do audit work but do a lot of tax and tax resolution work would not have consider an engagement product.

However, when you look at the process from a work flow stand point, it is just another necessary piece of the puzzle to automate your practice and allow you to provide quality services to your clients. In other words, simplified processes mean more revenue during tax season. Now I bet that woke you up!

All of the products in this review are very good choices. They all come from companies that have a long history of providing excellent software to CPAs and accountants. The difference is going to be in your personal preferences. The review will detail the workflow process for each product. Typically technology is a big part of the software reviews. The big talk in most articles is about the latest and greatest technology. How working in the cloud is the best for all firms. And typically, I would agree. I currently use my software on a Software as a Service (SaaS) option, and I love the ability to use my software from anywhere.

However, there are limitations and frustrations that go along with the technologies. For instance in an engagement type of software, you are more likely to be using the software at a clients office. If your staff is going out to a client's office they will need to access the internet. Do you ask to your client to allow you to access their internet connection or do you try to use a secure MIFI option? These are real issues we face. Thomson Reuters now has the ability to use your phone to take a picture of a document while you are out meeting with a client and then upload to Workpapers CS when you get back to the office. That is definitely a "cool" techy feature. But is it practical? I would be afraid to take a picture of a document I needed from my client. The risk of some kind of hiccup with either the phone or the software or the user would outweigh any benefit. Can you imagine having to call the client you just impressed with the new technology and ask for the document again? That is a risk I would not be willing to take.

CaseWare Working Papers
CaseWare International
Berkeley, Calif.
(800) 267-1317
This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
Price: Single user, $499; $1,399 (two to five users).

CaseWare Working Papers
Working Papers is software that is loaded locally yet with the use of Smart Sync you can still facilitate a system that allows staff to collaborate in real time. This software is the most versatile in allowing import from virtually any general ledger package. Working Papers allows the export to any tax product.

To start the engagement you can either import data from a general ledger package or enter it in the Working Papers program. Once the data is in and you are ready to start working you have access to all the wonderful features in the program. This product has had a loyal client base for many years due to the ease of use and the numerous features that make your life easier.

Here are some examples of the features. The system speeds up the file setup process for first-year engagements via the use of custom templates and it can scan documents directly to the Document Manager. You can also maintain clean client files by automatically purging unwanted documents, issues, history, milestones and annotation.

Working Papers offers a wide range of options to automate customized roll-forwards. It can organize all documents related to each engagement in one controlled area, regardless of whether they are Working Papers, Word, Excel, PDF or scanned documents using Working Papers' built-in Document Manager. Its drag-and-drop mapping system allows you to quickly assign your clients' accounts to your firm's standard map numbers.

Because map numbers are common to all clients, engagements can be standardized and completed more quickly and accurately.
All other properties of an account, such as lead sheet, ratio class, tax codes etc, are automatically completed. You can assign accounts to different groups for reporting, lead sheet and work paper preparation while lock-down allows easy compliance with the established standards governing the documentation an auditor should prepare, change and retain. Changes from that point forward are tracked and recorded.

The sophisticated protection system can be enabled to ensure the integrity of all client files and to determine the roles of users in completing the engagement. You can also globally track the status of all client files using Tracker. With a customizable interface, Tracker can identify engagements with pending lock-down dates to ensure engagement teams have sufficient notice to perform any file cleanup work.

Working Papers' Check Out/Check In feature allows a user to lock access or "check out" engagement documents. The Sign Out feature enables a user to lock access or "sign out" an entire client file. Working Papers can be installed over a local area network, centrally in your office or at a client location, with many users sharing one engagement file. There is robust document and record locking ensures file integrity when more than one person is working on a file.

Then once you have completed your working papers you can complete your binder. The really different and impressive feature is the SmartSync. This is the piece that allows for accountants to collaborate on their work.

With SmartSync, you can check out of checking in and out. Team members can now work on local copies of a client file in real-time, with each file synced automatically in the background. Projects are always moving and momentum is never lost. No longer do you have to wait until someone else checks in a file to proceed. If you are offline, your changes will be updated the next time you connect to the network.

Thanks to SyncSelect technology, only data that has changed will be updated, saving both time and bandwidth. Plus, each change is replicated to everyone at once, ensuring that each person is looking at the latest information. Also, using built-in PeerSync functionality, staff at the same client site can collaborate on a file without having to send changes back and forth to the master copy.

This is a very impressive product. It is worth taking a look at if you want to have a product that is versatile and doesn't tie you into one company for your entire workflow. It is a proven product at a reasonable price that will help you improve your processes.

Workpapers CS
Thomson Reuters
Dexter, Mich.
(800) 968-8900
Price: Starts at $1,250 for a bundle of four seats

WorkPapers CS
Workpapers CS is the only product in this review that has the ability to use the newer technologies available. If you are SaaS user, you will have access to the product as part of your software. However, you can also access it locally on your computer in the traditional manner.

You can either import account balances from another general ledger program. Unlike WorkingPapers, there are not as many specific general ledger links. There is a QuickBooks import or a general import or a spreadsheet import. If you have been using Accounting CS, you will have the balances in the program.

From here you have some the good features such as the ability to process all types of live workpapers and link the balances to the trial balance and share workpapers, comments, and with staff in real time. Workpapers CS can also  accommodate a variety of document types including Microsoft Word, Microsoft Excel, and Adobe Acrobat  The system lets you simplify organization, assignment, and routing instructions of workpapers with a simple, sophisticated binder system and manage workpapers more easily with a convenient tree structure that offers dynamic folder, subfolders, signoff notations, review notes, and a recycle bin

Your firm can get real-time, dynamically updated work status and information with active dashboard portlets and simultaneously view balances, workpapers, reports, and more with support for multiple monitors. Linking Word and Excel to the trial balance provides real-time, dynamic balance updates for spreadsheets and financial statements and the system can expedite your engagements through roll forward (pro forma) of prior-year workpapers with automated retrieval of current-year balances

The nice thing about using Workpapers CS is that if you are already using Accounting CS you can export data to Excel and make adjustments there. Moreover, you can save your changes and continue to use them. This is a very robust product that has many features that make your life easier.

One downside is that while you can complete your engagement binder and then save to FileCabinet Solution (FCS), you have to download your current documents from FCS and upload in the binder to get the documents you already added to FCS. Workpapers is the easiest product in the suite to use and get up and running. Further, once you have completed the binder you can then have the information flow right into UltraTax. If you don't use UltraTax you can export the information to most other tax programs.

This product is worth taking a look at it especially if you already use other Thomson Reuters products. Even if you don't, there are many features that help increase your productivity and make it worth the time to investigate.

ProSystem fx Engagement and Trial Balance
Riverwoods, Ill.
(800) 739-9998
Price: Initial purchase of Engagement, starts at $1,790 (one license);

CCH ProSystem fx Engagement
Here is how one of CCH's smaller firms uses ProSystem fx Engagement in their office. When beginning work on a new individual or business return, the company starts out in ProSystem fx Engagement. Engagement enables the firm to gather, synchronize and store all client information in a central location for easy access. Seamlessly linked to ProSystem fx Tax and ProSystem fx Portal, Engagement helps the company streamline their return preparation process while ensuring highly-competent work.

For example, when a new client comes to the firm, they scan their data and create a designated electronic binder, which serves as the repository for all backup, work, correspondence and billing records. Using dual monitors, the firm runs Engagement on one screen and Tax on the other, enabling faster and more accurate data entry. In addition, they take advantage of Engagement's QuickBooks and Microsoft Excel integration, which allows the firm to import data and make the necessary adjustments directly from the client's financial records, saving time and ensuring consistency. In addition, the roll-forward feature in Engagement saves the firm data-entry time and enables the preparer to compare different years quickly and easily.

Once the client's data is imported or entered in engagement, the firm completes client returns in ProSystem fx Tax, which provides the industry's most comprehensive tax preparation and diagnostic solution. ProSystem fx Tax verifies work and tests for omissions and inconsistencies. The firm then electronically files completed returns for their clients and pushes the work back into Engagement, where it is immediately placed in the appropriate online Engagement binder. From there, they upload the completed return to ProSystem fx Portal, where clients can access it safely and securely for signatures and approvals. In addition, all billing is automatically pushed through ProSystem fx Practice and the firm uploads all invoices to Portal as well, accelerating the billing and payment process.

Here are some of the highlighted features: Engagement can back up all of your files so they are free from the perils of fire or water damage and provides the risk mitigation you need for document storage and retention to help you follow Sarbanes-Oxley and other regulatory compliance rules. It also allows you to synchronize work from any location and e-mail an entire binder with one click and store engagement-related emails via Outlook.

Because it lets you roll forward an entire engagement with a single mouse click, you can start first-year engagements with customized binder templates. The systems also incorporates your Word and Excel workpapers and financial statements into electronic binders and automating them with links to client, engagement and trial balance data and can send scanned documents directly to the correct engagement binder.

Engagement automatically creates PDF files from any application and seamlessly storing them in paperless binders, stores all of your engagement binders in an intuitive file room for later access and enables you to share documents simultaneously and only check out the workpapers you need.

This is a great solution for small and large firms alike. The products are solid and well thought out. It is worth taking a look at this product to see if it would meet your needs.

Julie Lepper, EA

Julie S. Lepper, EA, MBA is the Principal of Julie S. Lepper, Accounting & Tax Service, LLC, a small local accounting firm in Pinckney, MI. She earned her Master's of Business from Eastern Michigan University and her Bachelor's of Accountancy from Walsh College in Michigan. Julie has over 16 years in consulting with client not only accounting and tax issues , but also on software and sales engagements. She specializes in focusing on start-up businesses and small to medium client needs.

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