Cloud accounting software review: Xero

The New Zealand-developed Xero accounting application has established itself as a serious contender in the UK market. Nigel Harris puts the latest version through its paces.

Xero.com had been well established for many years in New Zealand and Australia, where online banking is more advanced than in the UK. Having arrived in the UK a few years ago, it is now one of the leading online accounting services, due in particular to it unique automated bank feeds.

Xero is available in three sizes: Small (£12 per month for up to five sales and purchase invoices and 20 bank transactions); Medium (£19 per month for unlimited invoices and bank transaction); and Large (£24 per month, as Medium but with multi-currency).

Accountants can register for the free Partner Edition which enables them to manage multiple clients. Partner accountants can also supply a bare bones VAT Cashbook edition to clients who require only cashbook functionality and can either bundle the cost (£9 per month to the accountant) with their accounting fees or recharge it to the client at their chosen fee level. Accountants receive 25% off the standard price of the other Xero packages if they wish to resell them to clients and manage the accounting centrally.

Detailed review covers:

  • Getting started
  • Data entry
  • Reporting
  • Other features

Conclusion
Xero is a powerful and reasonably priced online solution for businesses looking for the standard accounting functions that most small businesses use. The absence of payroll and full stock control will not be an obstacle for most customers. The accountants' Partner Edition simplifies managing multiple Xero clients and creates a powerful platform for firms looking to standardise on a single SaaS service for their clients.

Continued...

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Comments
FirstTab's picture

Good review    1 thanks

FirstTab | | Permalink

Thanks for a good review. I was looking for an independent review. I have been considering Xero for some time now.

As you say bank feeds is one of the many  benefits of Xero. However, in UK there are still some banks that are not yet on Xero bank feeds.

One point I was a little disappointed is Xero is now charging £99 to become an authorised Xero adviser. Before it was free. 

Price rises concerns me about sofware providers. They start off low, build a loyal customer base and then start to  increase prices. Will Xero be the same?

 

 

XERO

Accountsetc | | Permalink

I am using XERO for my own business and that of my clients and I am contiually impressed with it. It is really easy to teach clients who have very little accounting knowlege how to use it. Once its set up its very easy to complete the monthly accounting cycle which saves me a lot of time especially when compared with clients using a desktop based accounting software.

FirstTab's picture

Accountsetc

FirstTab | | Permalink

Howmuch time did it take you learn Xero. Did you go through the training with Xero?

 

Monthly management reports on Xero are FANTASTIC

cne333 | | Permalink

Where Xero wins over pretty much any other packages that I have used is how it enables you to prepare fabulous, professional-looking management accounting packs in an exceptionally easy manner.

Plus, if you spot an error and correct it a simple click to "refresh" incorporates it seamlessly into the pack. Very quick and very slick

There are very few things that I don't like about the Xero system; one in particular is the search filtering needed on the SL and PL to review transactions on individual ledgers but this is certianly not insurmountable.

Watch out also for supplier invoices that are posted but not "authorised"as these are effectily suspened off-system, until they have been authorised!

Overall, Xero is tremendous ... I am continually looking for opportunities to recommend it to clients.

C

garyturner's picture

£99 is for certification training

garyturner | | Permalink

It actually doesn't cost anything to become a partner/adviser, the £99 pertains soley to optional certification training which covers three hours of web based training and entitles you to a listing on our directory of certified partners.

You're free to go without the training but most people find it good value and welcome the lead generation opportuntity by being listed. So, it is optional but in practice most people see the value.

As well as being just common sense, we have a duty of care to ensure that any users Xero directs to accountants and advisers can do so knowing the referred partners have attended at least basic training on the product.

Gary Turner
UK Managing Director, Xero
@garyturner
 

 

FirstTab's picture

garyturner

FirstTab | | Permalink

Certification training use to be free? I remember looking at this about a year or so go. It was also promoted a good point over Sage by Xero.

FirstTab's picture

Is this an independent review?

FirstTab | | Permalink

Nigel Harris on reflection I am not sure if this is an independent review. Can you please confirm? It is all positive. Any system is bound to have its weaknesses.

Chrispoman's picture

Online Bookkeeping Software

Chrispoman | | Permalink

Pleased to read the review.

 

Its good to know that Cloud Computing is taking over.

 

There is a new online bookkeeping package coming out soon, H A Bookkeeping Online.

It should be available in the next week or two. You will be able to find a link on my website, www.ha-bookkeeping.co.uk

Check it out!

garyturner's picture

Training is key for client on-boarding

garyturner | | Permalink

 @FirstTab - We introduced our formalised certifcation programme in May 2010, previously we helped partners on a rather more ad-hoc, make it up as you go along basis but while that worked when we had a handful of partners, it's not something we could scale over hundreds of partners and deliver sustainable quality. So, we formalised the training process and now run scheduled courses every week.

Training is a really interesting area and I've heard talk this week about the difficulty faced by practices in on-boarding clients. While our certification training is far from perfect, we have a great deal of feedback from partners who tell us that it is on the critical path towards not only providing accountants with a fundamental understanding of how Xero works as a software application, but also in sharing some of the new thinking and best practices around servicing and collaborating with clients online. Our principal trainer is a qualified accountant, himself having previously worked in practice with hundreds of clients online with Xero.

We certainly noted an improvement in client on-boarding after we introduced our certification training and we've had so much positive feedback about it, we're now working to extend it to cover even more of the the best practice elements on client collaboration and engagement.

Gary Turner
UK Managing Director, Xero
@garyturner

thacca's picture

VAT Reconciliation

thacca | | Permalink

I would like to see a VAT reconciliation feature so that the period doesn't have to be locked to prevent "backposting". I was told Xero would be introducing this; is this still the case? If so when?

 

nigel's picture

As independent as I can make it!

nigel | | Permalink

@FirstTab, OK I'm a happy Xero user both in my own company and as an accountant with a number of clients using it. It does mean that the review is based on my own use of the service for the last year or so, not just a quick demo by a salesman. I'm certianly not on the Xero payroll!!

Does it have any faults? The period locking isn't absolute, as it is in Sage 50, you can always over-ride it - but then you can in QuickBooks and many other popular accounting packages. Xero doesn't have a full Audit Trail report in the traditional sense, which some users might dislike since transactions can be edited or voided without leaving a trace, but it's certainly not unusual in that respect in either the desktop or SaaS market, and I don't lose sleep over it.

Annoyingly, Xero has had a picture of an iPhone on the home page for ages but the app still hasn't appeared - it's due out this month, so I'm looking forward to that. They also need to change from using Flash charts on the Dashboard so we can see them on an iPad! Apparently it's in hand.

I do however have several happy clients using KashFlow and don't feel any need to persuade them to move, it does what they need it to.

An area that Xero has been a bit coy over is the potential risk behind the bank feeds. Apart from HSBC, which provides its own direct feed (for a small monthly fee) these are provided in partnership with Yodlee (www.yodlee.com), a US company that provides online banking services to five of the top ten banks in the US (and hence has as robust a security setup as you can get). The apparent snag is that to use the Yodlee-provided bank fees you have to give them your online banking login and password, which puts you in breach of your banks t&cs so they would not cover you if your account was hacked following a breach of security. In reality the risk appears to be minimal - I'm happy using the Yodlee feed for my company, in my opinion the benefits hugely outweigh the risk, but I know some Xero users prefer to simply import bank statements monthly rather than using a live feed.

garyturner's picture

Mobile app

garyturner | | Permalink

@ Nigel - We have actually had a mobile version of Xero at http://m.xero.com that's optimised for small display devices for three years now, but it is pretty functionally restricted by today's standards.

Here are some clips of the existing Mobile Xero app's scope 

What we are about to launch is a completely new mobile app strategy (announced here) that will bring with it a much richer mobile implementation of Xero. The first cab off the rank is our iPhone app (which will be open for beta in the next few days) followed by an Android platform app.

@ thacca - Improvements and enhancements to Xero's VAT reporting are due around June.

Gary Turner
UK Managing Director, Xero
@garyturner
 

Independent review

Hans Hupje | | Permalink

Not sure if this is an independent review. Here is my independent input:

Xero is a good tool for accountants as mentioned above. The only comment I would have is that some UK banks do not yet support automatic feeds into Xero. It may not come as a surprise that these banks in my opinion are also the ones whose general IT offering to (larger) businesses in not as advanced as the HSBC's of this world.

More importantly Xero is great for businesses who do not have dedicated bookeepers as most of the real book keeping is done by the software and invisable  to the users. Some of the out of the box reporting is better and certainly cheaper than the really big boys in the software market. Try to deliver this when you use SAP for example! With all the easy to link-in partner programs the day a small business has a SAAS ERP system at a fraction of the costs of SAP, Oracle and SAGE (rather basic config in the background) is very close if not there for certain industries.

One critical feedback to Xero would be that they favour larger practises who can bring more clients on board and therefore rank higher. Perhaps allowing users to search for more different types of practises such as online accountants, sole practitioners and "big practises" would enhance the user experience?

Must say that as an xero certified accountant the Xero certification has not been of any benefit to me, but did appreciate I could follow the course online while abroad many hours ahead. However, would you want to support any clients if you done understand the basics yourself?

FirstTab's picture

Nigel

FirstTab | | Permalink

Thanks for further comments Nigel. I am now a lot clearer about strengths and weaknesses of Xero.

ian lucey's picture

the green zone

ian lucey | | Permalink

why do accountingweb constantly put the needs of advertisers first instead of the readers. (DISCLOSURE: i have advertised in the past on the site)

i would have read this article in full however i twice accidently clicked outside the article when scrolling down and i get redirected to a sage ad. in the end i gave up.

silly site design again by accountingweb.

i wont even go into the fact that most of the content on the site and in the ewires is an ad in some sense. it is such a shame because accountants are genuinely interested in reading good content.

cut down on the ads and people will spend more time on the site. that is the first ewire i have opened in a month and it just pushes people away.

 

 

 

Becky Midgley's picture

@Ian

Becky Midgley | | Permalink

Thanks for your feedback, Ian. 

The fact is that quality content costs money, so we could investigate charging members a fee, but research shows that not enough members would be willing to pay the fee we would need to charge to keep the site going without advertising.

I did take the feedback from members to the sales team the last time the issue of page takeovers was raised by members, they have agreed to look into alternatives and work with our advertisers to find solutions that suit everyone, but sadly this particular ad had already been booked and we have to honour our commitments.

You would be shocked to learn the amount we would need to charge members in order to cover our costs, and I'm sure if you ask the majority of our members they prefer to keep their membership free and deal with occasional inconvenience of adverts. 

FirstTab's picture

Don't mind adverts

FirstTab | | Permalink

Every time I read comments on adverts on AW, I think to myself would people who comaplain pay for no adverts? I very much doubt it.

Siftmedia is a business to make money and pay its costs. I only click a few adverts that interest me. Others I i just ignore. The occassional accidental click is not a problem for me, as long as I get access to excellent free information.

I thought TaxCalc advert in the background looked good. So does Sage though I have very low opinion of Sage.

nogammonsinanundoubledgame's picture

I could not see in the review ...

nogammonsinanun... | | Permalink

... what procedures are in place, in the event that HMRC decide to audit a specific accounting period, to provide HMRC with the information to which they have a statutory right, and (importantly), ONLY that information (or such additional information as the taxpayer chooses to release but under the taxpayer's absolute control).

One of the gripes that I had with Sage One, when I got to see a demo, is that this issue really had not been thought about by Sage in any depth at all.  In the event of an audit, in order to satisfy the statutory right of access to the data for the period under enquiry, the taxpayer had to allow HMRC full access to run rampant over all accounting periods that were on the system.  I consider that to be unsatisfactory, and I would like reassurance that Xero is not in the same boat.

With kind regards

Clint Westwood

Xero partner solutions

Rmfran | | Permalink

We were an early adopter of Xero and now have 80 clients in NZ and Australia using the product (happily). What is particularly impressive about Xero in my view is the massive and ongoing development across a range of features, functionalities etc. Sure, there are gaps - what software doesn't have these - but if you compare the slow, unresponsive incumbency if Sage, MYOB etc - then Xero are really pushing hard.

Here in Australasia there are some great solution partners that are filling gaps like stock, job costing, performance reporting etc. Some are or will be available in the UK shortly.

I've actually added a performance reporting/KPI monitoring tool that imports data from Xero to the options for accountants who use Xero. Next month we'll add Cashflow Forecasting to our feature-set, something that can't be done in Xero. :)

Check out http://www.spotlightreporting.com.

It's a great time to be in the Xero network using "the cloud" to be accessible, transparent and nimble. (I'm posting this from my iPhone from a cafe in Cambridge, NZ. And I've just been using my laptop and datastick to access, export and send some client Xero reports to a bank in Wellington. Nice!

wbs's picture

Xero Review

wbs | | Permalink

 

Great to see a good summary of Xero on the site!  We have adopted Xero as part of our strategy to grow our business, albeit in a very understated manner so far!

When looking around for an online offering, the reason we chose Xero is because of its user friendly and professional interface, multi user functionality and downright progressive way of working!  

As an audit trained accountant, who has worked with several different systems over the years whilst in industry, there are ways of doing things that are most definitely different from what I am conditioned to expect - but that's for me to remain open minded about!For me the biggest differentiator is the bank transaction driven entry. 

When we are looking to see if Xero is a good fit for our client, we are looking to see if it is going to help make their life easier.  Where there are a lot of bank transactions in the book keeping, I would say this saves time for both us and the client, regardless of whether we are able to use bank feeds or statement imports - the latter is still a good option for those concerned about a security risk. 

I have been encouraged by the number of clients who have been very receptive to Xero’s cloud based accounting, and the feedback we have received from those who have been converted is all good. 

Whether you choose to pay the £99 for certification, I still think it’s a good investment compared to lots of other options on the market at the moment - names I do not even need to mention!

Happy to speak to anyone considering Xero

DonaSkaife

@wbs_accountants

any response from Xero?

finegana | | Permalink

Xero, please can you respond to the point raised by Clint - I agree, this is a fundamental.  I want to move to cloud computing, I look forward to your reply...

Hang on .......

JC | | Permalink

@FirstTab

Why do members of the profession always want something for free - £99 is not a lot to be charged for certification & 3 hrs of training, especially when it may benefit a future sales pitch to clients. The trouble with some of us here is that we percieve other peoples time as of no value and yet we have threads here with £150+/ph charge out rates.

@nigel

'.. Xero has been a bit coy over is the potential risk behind the bank feeds ..'

'.. use the Yodlee-provided bank fees you have to give them your online banking login and password, which puts you in breach of your banks t&cs so they would not cover you if your account was hacked following a breach of security ..'

Perhaps @garyturner needs to address this issue because quite frankly to dismiss a potential security matter as '.. the risk appears to be minimal ..' is not a good way forward

Yodlee - T&C

'... [The third-party] AND YODLEE MAKE NO WARRANTY THAT (i) THE SERVICE WILL MEET YOUR REQUIREMENTS, (ii) THE SERVICE WILL BE UNINTERRUPTED, TIMELY, SECURE, OR ERROR-FREE ...'

'... And a boilerplate 'we accept absolutely no responsibility and may not be held liable for anything, any type of damages, for any reason, including but not limited to':

... (iii) UNAUTHORIZED ACCESS TO OR ALTERATION OF YOUR TRANSMISSIONS OR DATA; ...'

OK - so if things go wrong then you have relinquished you recourse to the bank and Yodlee disclaim all responsibility - excellent!

@ian lucey & @Becky Midgley - a fuller explanation/question; clicking on 'white space'
http://www.accountingweb.co.uk/anyanswers/aweb-still-issues-background-ads/494153
 

FirstTab's picture

JC - £99 charge

FirstTab | | Permalink

I was merely questioning the change of tact by Xero to charge £99 now. This is the only proper way to question software providers-  when their reputation is at stake.

Their response did not say much.

I go back my orginial point software start of with low price, hook you in, then start to increase prices. By this stage the inconvenience of change is just too much.

garyturner's picture

Xero responses to queries

garyturner | | Permalink

Thanks for the questions - I'll do my best to answer them...

@ Clint - there is a GL Export facility which extracts all general ledger transactions for a date range to an Excel file, however this is unlikely to be sufficient in every case where the HMRC audit is wider ranging and no paper documentation is retained warranting a deeper dive into electronic records. Our user privilege parameters don't provide for restricting users to free enquiry but bound by date range and I've never heard of something like that in any accounting system. An HMRC auditor could be setup with restricted system access to permit them to only view the published reports archive so, in theory, you could run various transaction reports for a date range you select and choose to publish that to the internal reports library in Xero where the auditor could then review the date-bound system generated reports in the system. That may satisfy them that they are looking at system data without the need for full access across everything, but I'm not an HMRC auditor however I guess if I was, then that might make me even more curious!

But frankly, it's very hard to make allowances for audit scenarios and I don't imagine Xero is any different to any other electronic records system in this respect. While the HMRC have said they intend to conduct more audits than before, while some of these will be random I imagine most will be prompted by some evidence of bad recordkeeping practice; this might sound like a cop-out but I would imagine that manual records clients might be more supceptible to this risk than those running on a structured system like Xero where the accountant and bookkeeper is free to check in, and check-up on the client at any time, daily if necessary, thus working mitigate the likelihood that the client's affairs get out of hand, whereas traditional periodic compliance behaviour exposes bad record keeping after the fact, and often when it's too late.

However, if you've got any suggestions how we might improve or provide better control around data accesibility in audit situations, we'd be interested to hear them.

@ Nigel, @JC - A point that sometimes gets lost when people talk about Xero and its integration of Yodlee is that Xero users have three choices to bulk feed transacations into Xero's bank reconciliation - it's not Yodlee or nothing;

  1. Xero accepts a broad range of formatted bank statement export files where the user manually downloads a statement from their online banking system, and then manually uploads that file into Xero at a timing of their choosing or convenience.
  2. We have direct Partner Bank feeds with around 15 banks internationally; HSBC in the UK, where we have direct, secure connection with the banks' own computer systems and services. We'd love to see that list extend in the UK and where we can we will push the banks to accelerate this.
  3. Last November we launched our integration with Yodlee which has sinced enabled over 2,000 additional different global banks and credit cards (around 60 in the UK with more to follow) to be connected with Xero's bank reconciliation process.

A quick search online will show that the Yodlee feed method is not everyone's cup of tea, but we now have thousands of Xero users now feeding their bank-rec daily with it and there are over 27 million accounts serviced on the Yodlee network globally, in many cases where the Yodlee service has been actively advocated and employed by some of the world's largest banks such as the HSBC EasyView and American Express BillPay services.

Our customers tell us that while a manual import is fine, automated bank feeds are so revolutionary in changing the way they manage their finances. Embedding automated bank feeds is a nascent development in accounting software and so we are continuing to work with banking community and other solution providers like Yodlee to help it broaden and maturefor everyone's benefit, even if it means ultimately losing what is a unique selling point in Xero.

@FirstTab - Always happy to take questions and try to answer them, but I'm going to respectfully push back on that one; your original point implied that we were charging to become partners and I said that we were not, but are now offering optional formalised training that carries a small fee.

On your point about getting you hooked and then raising prices - this is classic behaviour in traditional software where you pay everything up front and are then charged abritrary prices increases on maintenance. 

Given that online accounting apps like Xero are paid for on a monthly subscription and not up-front like traditional software, the balance of power has shifted hugely to the customer who is now free to assess the value they obtain from their software provider every month.

The day Xero ceases to exceed the expectations of its customers on quality, reliability, customer service, innovation, new feature development or price is the day Xero loses all its customers.

That's a pretty big motivation for us not to abuse our customers the way traditional vendors do.

Gary Turner
UK Managing Director, Xero
@garyturner

But the issue of Yodlee still remains ..

JC | | Permalink

@garyturner

I am afraid that your response has not really addressed the Yodlee security concerns in respect of Xero - all that has been said is that it is not the only approach on offer

I suppose this really raises the fundamental question of responsibility by the provider

Security is potentially an issue and with this in mind, if things go wrong, is it sufficient for a provider to say - we offered you 3 choices and the one you selected went wrong

Or

is the onus on the provider not to place the user in this position in the first place

Furthemore, if there are questions on security should the 3rd party product in question be included in ones offering or avoided because of a risk, however, small? Yes including Yodlee does give traction in more areas and better sales copy, but is this correct when there are unanswered potential security issues?

Finally whose responsibility would it be if the data was 'hacked'? Is the liability with the bank, Yodlee or Xero - all of whom I am sure have their own disclaimers, so ultimately where does the customer go for recompense; or are they on their own?
 

garyturner's picture

Bank feeds

garyturner | | Permalink

@ JC - I can't really add any more than has been said at length elsewhere on AccountingWeb and our own blog about Yodlee and security.

Ultimately customers have the choice to become a Xero customer and then choose which bank feed methodology they later employ. We advocate any method we offer, obviously, but we recognise that different users have different levels of confidence and attitude towards risk and security online.

We're happy to be the first, but there are more online accounting solutions coming to market this year with Yodlee feeds, so I'm looking forwards to checking back in a year or so to see where things stand.

Gary Turner
UK Managing Director, Xero
@garyturner

Bank feeds - 4 years on

Rmfran | | Permalink

My CA practice has been using automated bank feeds for Xero clients for 4 years without incident. This includes 10 Australasian banks plus in more recent times Yodlee feeds too. This has revolutionised how clients do their accounting and how we interact with them.

I am not aware of any data breaches at all. The level of security encryption etc is high - in fact these orgs have multiple layers of security. But is anything in life 100% guaranteed 100% of the time? No. But then the sky might fall on our heads tomorrow. At some stage even accountants need to make a rational judgment on risk.

Interestingly the only time I can recall client data getting in to the wrong hands relates to desktop software - disks being lost, data files being sent to the wrong email recipient.

Oh - and what's with these UK banks? Do they think it's still 1992? C'mon!

Bank feeds

bocsta | | Permalink

Do the HSBC bank feeds include any foreign currency accounts held (visible within HSBC net) ?

futureb00ks's picture

Cloud computing and Xero

futureb00ks | | Permalink

There are a plethora of robust cloud computing products available. QuickBooks Online and Xero are the two most popular small business accounting applications in the cloud in Singapore and Hong Kong.

We like using Xero for our e-commerce customers, because of its PayPal integration. It grabs sales data in real time, and reduces the cost of accounting.

However, our last count we discovered over a dozen high-end cloud solutions for small businesses. We have compared over 150 here.  http://futurebooks.com.sg/blog/150-accounting-applications-compared-freeware-cloud-and-licensed/3140

online bookkeeping software review

BarnabyFreeRange | | Permalink

We have been using online bookkeeping software from Xero for a few months now and are extremely happy.

We were advised to go with Xero by our accountants http://www.kissaccounts.co.uk and have not looked back.

We are all over the place and often travelling, so to be able to get into our accounts anywhere and work collaboratively with the accountant from anywhere, plus bank reconciliation and photo upload of expenses receipts is extremely useful.

We can see when the money has gone into out account instantly and can start work, knowing we have been paid, which has eliminated working with bad payers completely.

Would definitely recommend it.

Barnaby Kirsen

Director

http:www.freerangewebsites.co.uk

payroll software

e07mary | | Permalink

please check my payroll software rating page http://usemyreviews.com/payroll-software-reviews/