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Write-up Software: A Lot More Than a Necessary Evil

Back in 1994, when I started at a mid-sized CPA firm we didn’t offer write-up services, unless it was for a key client who begged for it. Write-up work was for new staffers and “bookkeepers”. While accounting software and technology has changed over the years, most accountants and CPAs still view write-up as a necessary evil. After starting my own practice in 2005, I no longer share this view and see all the work in my firm as being important. Each type of engagement is a way to ensure my clients are doing all they can to maximize profitability. This means enabling clients to focus on what they do best and what earns them the most revenue possible. The good news is that most accounting software now uses technology that embraces that philosophy and can provide the tools needed to change our focus to complement the new way of accounting for accounting professionals.

It is not helpful to give clients updated and accurate financial statements six months after the fact. They need to know accurately where they are financially today and what needs to stay the same and what needs to change to ensure their business success.

As technology has evolved, write-up software has also evolved. Yet all too often, accountants and CPAs still use general ledger packages instead of taking advantage of programs that would save them time. Since time is our main resource why not take steps to eliminate double-data entry, extra keystrokes and repetitive exporting to Excel to create financial statements? Now that the software has advanced, almost every package offers a conversion from your old G/L package to a real write-up product.
Here is a list of the write-up packages that were reviewed:

·         Accounting Relief, AccountantsWorld

·         Xpert Write-up, Micronetics

·         Intaact Accountant Edition

·         ProSystem fx Write-Up, CCH

·         ATX Write-Up, CCH Small Firm Services

·         QuickBooks Accountants Edition, Intuit

·         Write-Up CS, Thomson Reuters

·         Working Papers, CaseWare International

In this review, we will discuss what each company feels are the top three competitive advantages, what we felt were the best features and what were the weaknesses of the programs. All companies say their products are easy to use. Every program also had very flexible and fully customizable financial statements and had similar features overall. However, when you use the programs, how those feature worked is really where the difference is made. The only way for a firm to grow and be profitable is to maximize every process to eliminate extra steps and allow the least amount of time to accomplish your engagements.

Accounting Relief

Accounting Relief, marketed by AccountantsWorld as the only Web-based Accountant-centric accounting system, includes a comprehensive write-up and trial balance system for your firm and a full-featured bookkeeping

module for your clients.

The company believes its top attributes are the following:

1)  A complete set of tools. When you have Accounting Relief, you have the complete accounting and trial balance systems.

2)  Accountant/client collaboration. Clients can perform some data entry, which you can control through permissions thus limiting errors you need to correct. You then have time to be an advisor rather than just a bookkeeper. This should allow more billings and a happier, healthier (financially) customer. The accountant has at his fingertips a whole set of helpful tools, including alerts, ratios, notes and an accountant/client instant messaging system.

3)  Clients can grow into using the complete system. Standard trial balance features include tick marks, memos and drill-down functionality which allow the accountant to review financials and make corrections on the fly.

This program is impressive and has a dashboard look and feel. The components of the AccountantsWorld suite integrate and since this program is Web-based, you can collaborate at any time, not only with your staff but also with your clients. There is no need to pass files back and forth. A sophisticated set of permissions on each item controls what your client and staff can see and do. The working trial balance provides the ability to add notes, an excellent way to track work done for each client. There is no need to exit the program to communicate with clients as you can email them from inside the program. The program can offer truly up-to-the-minute financial updates.

Pricing is offered on a monthly or yearly basis and depends on what services you provide. Pricing for the Accounting Relief Professional Version is $69 per month or $695 per year. However, the time saved and the convenience to you and your client make this a very affordable package. You and your client can work from any place or time via the Internet. There is never any software to update, no files to transfer and no duplication of data entry.

The program’s drawback is that because it utilizes newer technology and is quite powerful it is not as easy to use and set up as others reviewed. However, if you are looking for a Web-based program and want to offer up-to-the-minute advice for clients anytime, anywhere, Accounting Relief is worth an in-depth look.

Micronetics Accounting XPert

Micronetics markets Accounting XPert as easy-to-use, fast, and efficient and its data- and journal-entry screens provide users with a powerful write-up tool. XPert can accommodate virtually any type of client and satisfy the needs of any size practice. The company believes its advantages over competing products are as follows:

Micronetics logo1. Product integration. XPert automatically integrates with Microsoft Word for compilation letters and Excel for charting and graphics. Journal transactions can be imported from Quicken or QuickBooks and export functions allow data to be downloaded to your business tax software package. XPert can also import GL transactions from a variety of accounting programs through flexible ASCII import.

2. After-the-fact payroll. XPert's ATF Payroll is an automatic by-product of journal entry compiling payroll history and generating W-2, 1099, 940 and 941 forms as well as various state unemployment forms. W-2/1099 Processing fully integrates with XPert Write-up or may be run as a stand-alone module. This module provides extensive W-2/1099 reporting capabilities for laser and dot matrix printers.

3. Bank reconciliation. XPert's Bank Reconciliation fully integrates with XPert Write-up or may be run as a stand-alone module. Bank transactions are an automatic by-product of journal entries or may be entered directly into the bank reconciliation. Unlimited bank accounts and separate reconciliations may be processed for each account.

The new version of the software is very nice and comfortable to use. Since it has the familiar Windows look and feel, if you know how to use Outlook, you can get this product up and running in no time. Since the company has been in business for many years and has listened to its customers' needs, you will find a very efficient program. Every keystroke and every function is thought out and provides you with the best processes available. There is virtually no learning curve. You can set up groups and users of the groups and then control who can do what. The program is data sensitive and all transactions go to the proper period.

The trial balance has features typically available only in pricier products. For example, if a quarterly client gives you year-to-date information, the program will automatically calculate quarterly information. This feature alone can recoup the product’s cost. Also, you can print to email and the system automatically fills in the client’s email address. It can print watermarks and you can print for binding paper with or without borders. You can easily customize financial statements and then set up reports and profiles. One bonus is that the program has a very robust inventory module which functioned well and was easy to use.

The product’s major drawback is the lack of links to other programs and not being able to securely pass information through the Web. However, if you are not ready for the Web and are price conscious, Xpert Write-up could be the product for you. It has one of the best price-to-benefit ratios of any product on the market. Right now, the company offers a $1,495 credit for anyone trading up from a competing program. But the benchmark is the $495 renewal price.

Intacct Accountant Edition

Intacct markets its Accountant Edition with the following claims: A better way to run your business. Superior financial applications. Real-time business visibility. An open on-demand platform. Easy administration and configuration without programming. You can have all these things and the highest rate of customer success and satisfaction with the lowest total cost of ownership. The company believes its advantages over competitors are as follows:Intacct logo

1. Facilitate seamless collaboration between clients and staff, delivering better, faster service.

2. Provide proactive financial guidance with real-time access to critical client information, differentiating your firm as an insightful, trusted business advisor.

3. Increase efficiency and productivity by standardizing processes on one financial platform, reducing the headaches of managing multiple software versions and data.

When you open the program you really feel its impact. Like Accounting Relief, this is a fully Web-based program that eliminates the need for importing and exporting. Intacct really focuses on being client centric. Collaboration between the accounting firm and your client is top priority.

Since this package is designed for small and large businesses, it enables you to handle accounting work for almost any client that you could conceive of. Intacct charges you on a per-client, per-month basis, which makes it easy for you to get into the program whether you have a new practice or one that has been around for awhile with a new client that needs this type of service. Product pricing starts at $20 per month, per client.

Like all the programs in the article, it offers the same basic functions. But this package is about the flow and the process. It is very impressive. Its drawback is that it will take more time for you to process a new client who brings you a bag of receipts. Since Intacct does not have a full software suite, you would need to rekey accounting data into your tax program. But if your goal is to become a virtual controller or CFO, you need to take a closer look at this product.

ProSystem fx Write-Up

ProSystem fx Write-Up is marketed as a way to efficiently provide quality and profitable write-up services. The top three areas in which the company believes it surpasses competing products are as follows:

1. Integrated suite of products. With ProSystem fx Write-Up, your firm can take advantage of integration with ProSystem fx Tax, Engagement and Document to minimize data entry. The powerful, easy-to-use financial statement and reporting options can help you gain a competitive edge and deliver the professional quality your clients expect.

2. Time-saving data-entry options. Enjoy the flexibility of check-writing functionality, uncover transactional details through drill-down features, provide clients with a complete bank reconciliation service, enter adjusting, reversing and recurring journal entries for any period using the working trial balance.

3.  Easily generate financial statements and reports. And you can accurately analyze and advise your clients with a flexible and intuitive reporting tool that includes 25 different listing and history reports via the Report Wizard, reports that display only the information you want to see. There are also dynamic payroll and tax liability reports and flexible reporting periods. And it’s easy to create such staples as balance sheets, income statements, statements of cash flow and equity, charts of accounts, customer lists, general ledgers, trial balances and vendor lists. The system also provides letters and notes to accompany financial statements and offers an export for further customizations.

One of the higher-priced products reviewed, starting at $2,240, CCH ProSystem fx Write-Up ends up being one of the most cost-effective and most complete and more fully integrated programs on the market. There are some very cool features that make your processes smooth and very quick. Whatever your preference or whatever your processes, there is a method for you. There are wizards everywhere and if you don't want wizards you never have to see them. The system allows you to control access of who can do what. Data entry is very efficient. In addition, you can pull outstanding invoices, print the checks and have it update the program. It is very nice and an added feature that fully takes advantage of the technology out there to help accountants be more efficient.

When working on a client you can turn on the clock and start working. If you need to move to another client, you can stop that timer and start another one. There is also a lock-out date so that when you have completed a month, you can lock down the dates and data cannot be changed. To make the initial start up easier, you can import data from the clients’ software programs. Furthermore, you can import from clients monthly. You can have simultaneous multiple sessions and you can even have multiple people working on the same client at once. You will get a message that tells you in multi-user mode and you can see the other users. A real nice feature in the payroll program is the ability to use an employee as a template and copy that across the clients and the company.

ProFx has a full suite of products on one platform for all the services you provide. Still you need to use the company’s DynaLink, a bridging interface, to get the data into each program. That means that while you can push your write-up data into tax, you can’t push that data back into write-up. However, compared to most competitors, the company is way ahead of the curve on productivity and efficiency.

ATX Client Write-Up

ATX Client Write-Up, as a comprehensive, easy-to-use and affordable application, is designed to improve your firm's productivity, help grow your practice and increase your bottom line. The company believes its three competitive strengths areATX logo as follows:

1. Speed of data entry. Speed your work with heads-down data entry, one entry point for payroll and check information and entry daily sales and cash deposit entry through a simple Day Sheet Journal.

2. Flexibility and customization of financial statements. Quickly create professional and powerful financial statements using templates or customized layouts. You control statement appearance, including orientation, number of columns, placement of underlines and dollar signs, and custom headers and footers. The program offers professional client letters and GAAP-required statements.

3. Unique Spanish feature. Better serve your Spanish-speaking customers by providing industry charts of accounts with account descriptions and Global Financial Statements in Spanish.

ATX is a very nice program that is designed for efficient data entry. The look and feel is a standard Windows program. There is a very good after-the-fact payroll portion of the program. And you can not only reconcile bank accounts but also credit cards accounts or any other type of account you need to reconcile. Financial statements are very easy to use and fully customizable. A nice statement can be set up that is fully unique to your firm. In addition, ATX can translate English financial statements turn into Spanish ones with the click of a button.

You also have a full accounts payable and receivable module. For the price you pay you receive a complete write-up package that offers an answer for all the clients that you may have. Whether you have a client on QuickBooks or Peachtree or want to put your client on a product similar to yours, CCH Small Firm Services has an answer that is easy to use and affordable. The working trial balance in the program is very nice and easy to use. The system is designed for speed of data entry, flexibility and fully customizable financial statements.

The drawback of this program is that in data entry, you have to balance each entry. I feel that slows down data entry and eliminates some of efficiency you gain from a system that allows you to enter all transactions and dates in one area and that balances out to an account. However, if you need to have Spanish financial statements and/or you are looking for a "bang for your buck" you need to give this product a good test run.

QuickBooks Premier Accountant Edition 2009

QuickBooks Premier Accountant Edition 2009 integrates bookkeeping, write-up, and financial reporting to help accounting professionals work efficiently with multiple QuickBooks clients. The top three items Intuit believes make this program the best choice are the following:  Support clients with one program. Premier Accountant 2009 contains all QuickBooks 2009 accounting programs: Simple Start, Pro, Premier and the Premier industry-specific editions, so you can access the same screens and features as your clients.

Intuit Logo

When looking at the screens your clients sees, you'll be able to quickly answer their questions. Simply use the Toggle feature to switch between the different editions

Client Data Review. Save time finding and correcting client entry errors all in one screen.Troubleshoot and adjust beginning account balances. Review changes and correct errors made by client to key QuickBooks lists: chart of accounts, fixed assets and payroll. Clear open items in A/P and A/R. Clean-up sales and payroll tax accounts. See how others are using Client Data Review.

Multi-currency. Premier Accountant now supports all global currencies, making it easier for you to support clients, who conduct business with international customers and vendors. Track sales and expenses abroad just as you do for U.S. customers and vendors. QuickBooks automatically converts foreign transactions into the home currency designated by the user. Use reports, like "Realized and Unrealized Gains & Losses," to analyze the effect of currency fluctuations on your clients' businesses.

When reviewing QuickBooks the old Virginia Slims slogan comes to mind, "You've come a long way, baby." It’s still inexpensive at $399.95 for one user and $1,099.95 for three users.

But while QuickBooks started out as a G/L package, the company has done a lot to make this product work for accountants. The software has the ability to pull in online bank statement, making bank reconciliations very quick and easy. When you start a new client you can use the wizard that queries you, helping automate what you need to do with that particular type of client. To enter the data you can go into the check register.

The 2009 program has the new Client Data Review. This is a great feature that lets clients do all kinds of stuff that we prefer they do not do and can show you quickly what clients have done and what needs to be fixed to ensure the validity of the numbers. It is a huge time saver. Furthermore, clients can send the file while you continue to work using the accountant’s copy. The financial statements are also very nice and if you don’t want the add-on program you can always just export the file to Excel. In addition, the financial statements can easily handle different foreign currency rates, pulling in the most current rates available. The working trial balance works as well as any other write-up package on the market.

The drawback to the package is that you have to manage several versions of the software, your clients have too much flexibility which allows them to mess things up and if you do not have good processes in place you your data may not accurate.

Write-Up CS

Write-Up CS, the leading write-up program since 1989, is marketed as positioning your firm for the future with the No. 1 write-up software package. Thomson Reuters believes the top three items making this the best choice are the following:

1. A foundation for expanding client services. Write-Up CS is an ideal foundation for growing your practice. Since it shares demographic data and balances with the compathomson reuters logony’s UltraTax CS tax software, you can complete more returns in less time. By integrating data with Payroll CS, you can provide lucrative payroll services; and by comparing data in Financial Analysis CS, you can provide clients with value-added comparative analysis. And when you use Write-Up CS with the Client Bookkeeping Solution, you can use the Accountant's Assistant feature to import CBS client data as well as client data from QuickBooks and Peachtree.

2. Standard and custom reports and financial statements. Transform high-level financial data into easy-to-understand information for your clients with the easy-to-use Financial Statement Editor. Quickly generate high-quality reports and financial statements using the built-in sample templates. Modify templates for your specific client needs, or design custom presentation-quality financials with full-color graphs.

3. Complete after-the-fact payroll processing. The Payroll Compliance module, included with Write-Up CS, makes payroll tax reporting quick and easy and enables you to process W-2, 1099, 940, 941, 943, 944 and 945 forms in record time.

Write-Up Solution CS has one of the highest prices of the products in the review at $1,800 for an annual license. However, given the time you can save by using this product, it is without a doubt one of the best investments you can make.

Thomson Reuters has the most complete product suite which includes automated data transfer between programs so that if clients move during tax season, you can update addresses in UltraTax CS and the information will be pulled into the other programs automatically. A prompt allows you to accept or decline the update. You can standardize all processes and eliminate many extra steps from the write-up process.

Write-Up CS performs the same functions as the other products. But it is how these work that provides the time savings. For instance, if you spend time setting up the software, you can virtually automate all processes. In entering data, you enter monthly transactions from one screen that automatically posts to your checking account. You can type “r” and payment fills in all fields. You can then move to a payroll transaction by hitting a key stroke, add those items and then toggle back. In bank reconciliation, you can pull in an online bank statement and have a bank rec completed in less than three minutes. The program not only integrates with the CheckBook Solution but also has an import and export to QuickBooks and other GLs. The system can pull in data from QuickBooks. You can then update the data, go back into QuickBooks and update the file in that program. Furthermore, the process to get the data is nice. The client can visit a secure portal, browse and upload the QuickBooks file which you can then access pull into Write-Up CS. No more email issues and the files are secure.

Financial statements are fully customizable and you can create any kind you need. You also have the ability to create memo accounts for specialty analysis. . For example, if you dealing with a client who operates a nursing home you can use memo accounts to calculate profit per bed or per room.

The drawback of this program is that in order to have to payables and receivables for your client you have to go into the Client Bookkeeping Solution for processing those. While the program can handle almost any client, including 13-period clients, clients with inventory must be handled by another program.

All in all, the CS Professional Suite is the most complete suite of products on the market. If you do a side-by-side comparison with the other products you will be able to tell first hand, how much efficiency can be gain by using this Write-Up CS.

CaseWare Working Papers

CaseWare Working Papers, marketed as "highly flexible engagement software, provides you with everything you would expect from an assurance and reporting tool plus much more! Engagements are planned, performed and reviewed entirely on screen, completely eliminating paper. The top three areas that CaseWare believes tops the competition are as follows:
Caseware logo
1. Firm standardization. Working Papers' built-in drag-and-drop mapping system can assign client accounts to standard map numbers quickly. As map numbers are common to all clients and independent of the client's chart of accounts, the process is standardized and the speed and accuracy with which you can complete the engagement is significantly increased.

2. Work more efficiently and effectively. With powerful document management, real-time collaboration, direct scanning, online review, efficient clean-up, sophisticated lockdown and advanced roll-forward, Working Papers lets you work smarter and faster than ever before.

3. Optimize review and audit process. With history tracking, milestone creation, issue/review notes, diagnostics, a full annotation system and online sign-offs, the review and audit process is achieved entirely on-screen, with no need for paper.

CaseWare has a strong audit engagement foundation which makes using the software very comfortable for anyone with a public accounting background. It has one of the best ways to limit and control who has access to program elements that I have seen. The program is designed to allow collaboration between members of the firm and utilizes what CaseWare calls “smart think”. Staffers can work on the same client and the software synchronizes files to update only changes and not cause them to override each other's work. Since the software is very affordable, you can also give a client a copy and then you and your client can collaborate in real time. The package has a very comfortable look and feel. It is powerful, full featured and yet still easy to use.

A mapping system assigns out the chart of accounts, making it easy to import from QuickBooks. A document manager easily keeps track of your documents. The system is date sensitive but you can also enter month by month. And if you need to ask a client about data, you no longer need to stop your process and contact the client.

CaseWare has a great way to handle this time-consuming issue via an issue tracking area. You can type in what you need to ask and then email it to your client. Returned answers can be entered into the program and you can cross off questions as they are answered. While other systems may have similar features, this is only one I saw that works in a way that would increase your productivity.

In addition, CaseWare is in the process of implementing technology to utilize the Internet. The first phase involves communicating with clients. The second phase would allow users to consolidate all items related to an engagement in one place, including tracking the status. In the fall, you will be able to export a file back to QuickBooks to post and update what was updated.

The product itself is very impressive and is priced very well for all that you receive. A single-user package is $499 with a $250 annual renewal, while for up to five users the cost is $1,399. The drawback is that you would have to use other products for services like payroll and tax processing. And while the mapping in the program will make the import and export of the data easy to accomplish, it still is an extra step.

In conclusion, after reading this you hopefully have been able to narrow your write-up software choices. Get a demo and put up your easiest client first. You should be able to tell what will work for your firm. Do not decide until you know that the software will handle your most complex current or future client. Enjoy your new software and hopefully your new profits as well.

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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