Cloud accounting software firm Xero is planning to expand its offering for practitioners with payroll and accounts production applications. Rachael Power reports.
Xero's plans to expand its practice offerings is being mapped out at a series of roadshows this month to launch its new Practice Manager module. AccountingWEB attended its Bristol event last week.
During a product update session, Xero gave an update of its roadmap, which included:
- A payroll product planned to go live in April 2015
- Two new bank feeds for Natwest and RBS customers (it already has an HSBC feed)
- An overhaul for its dedicated smartphone app and a new version for Android users
- The launch of Smart Lists, a CRM system for small businesses.
In addition to these forthcoming product announcements, Xero said it had "finally nailed VAT" in the UK. Managers also hinted that Xero was working its way slowly but surely towards delivering online accounts production software.
Funded through a listing on the New Zealand stock exchange, Xero has been growing rapidly around the world as a bookkeeping challenger to market leaders such as Sage and Intuit. Since 2012, the developer has shifted its focus from small business customers to practitioners who can themselves become an influential channel to the wider SME market. By making it clear that it's going to move into payroll and accounts production, Xero is now stepping up to take on the UK practice software giants Sage and IRIS in their own back yard.
A new "build your own" reporting engine will provide the foundation for Xero's final accounts mechanism. This report generator is expected to be released by the end of 2014. In addition to the usual UK report packs it could be configured to produce a set of final accounts, but won't be iXBRL-ready until next year.
Accountant Olly Evans, from Bristol-based Evans & Partners, said the Xero roadmap included some real "game changers".
"Adding UK payroll and accounts production will really shake up the accounting software market – often seemingly driven by slow and complacent software providers. The Xero approach is engaging and collaborative where Sage seem to just continually put the price up and never ever speak to me.
"How about allowing businesses to press their own accounts production button? This means that accountants will have to stop relying on the compliance workload, but focus on more useful advice and help services for clients. An exciting challenge I think," he said.
Xero indicated it has no plans to provide a personal tax product to the UK at the moment as it would be a "huge task". But a solution for corporation tax is on the horizon, which pleased several attendees including partner panel member Paul Miller of Cornish Accountants.
Turning to what's available now, Xero's Practice Manager system brings new workflow management capabilities to its Practice Studio. The main user dashboard includes a 'time summary', daily and weekly to-do lists and a productivity wheel. Time can be measured any way you like or not at all - it's fully customisable.
The day's jobs can be opened using the 'plus' symbol. which presents a breakdown of how long tasks are expected to take, completion boxes, and space for any notes.
Other interesting features include:
- The ability to collaborate - Users can assign jobs to staff and include a partner and manager to oversee them
- Custom filters - to allow users to view whatever segments they choose, for example completed quotes
- A Leads section that includes graphs on current leads by staff, month category and won. This module lets you create a new lead, attach quotes to leads and follow up on the 'activities' section underneath
- Quotes and estimates are easily created - select a template from a drop-down menu, which auto-fills the text box with a description of the service. You can then set budgets and dates. When you click 'next' it brings you to a screen including a task menu which allows you to select which services you'll provide i.e. if it's annual accounts, you can select that you will finalise them, hold a client meeting, etc. You can add and customise tasks to suit you. You can also add costs or apply mark up. When you're happy with this, you can either save a draft or issue and print, which allows you to customise what parts you want to print out
- You can then click either 'lost' or 'won' depending on the outcome. When you click 'won', a message congratulates you and you then need to turn a lead into a job.
- Creating jobs entails stating its progress (planned, on hold, cancelled) and its start/due date, partner, manager and staff. When you save this, it will then get added to the job manager
- The Job manager holds job and schedule information, milestones and tasks. Other tabs on the menu include timesheet, notes, documents, costs and financial, which covers billable rates, invoices and purchase orders.
- A report builder that lets you create custom reports
- Work in progress manager gives you an overview of work in progress by month, and a breakdown of time, estimated billings and disbursements.