Accountants are lazy

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Accountants are lazy. There, I’ve said it. It’s something I have thought for a long time, certainly since I started my practice.

It was a key driver in starting my practice, the fact that there were so many accountants providing a really poor and inadequate service to clients. Yes, they kept them compliant but they weren’t really ‘helping’ them.

I’m talking about the accountants who provide the ‘traditional’ year-end only sausage machine compliance services – they are the ones who are inherently lazy and selfish.

Let’s face it, running this type of accountancy practice can be a very easy business. Clients come back to you year-after-year, many will refer new business to you and business continues to grow. No effort is needed with selling or marketing – just rely on referrals for a steady trickle of new clients.

And you don’t really need to provide a very good level of service. Most clients, unless they have changed accountants recently won’t know whether the service they receive is good, bad or indifferent.

But is this really the level of service clients deserve?

Yes, on the face of it, you submit their accounts and tax returns on time and tell them how much tax they need to pay – but it really is the bare minimum.

There’s no interest in how a client’s business is going, whether he’s struggling or if business is booming. How many times do we hear stories of clients exceeding the VAT threshold or directors loan accounts being massively overdrawn with insufficient profit available to clear with dividends – the accountant only finding out when they come to prepare the accounts months after the year-end?

It’s just a case of wait for the books to arrive after the year-end and prepare the accounts and tax return. It’s a reactive, backward looking service with little value to the business owner.

But it doesn’t need to be this way.

Accountants are in an ideal position to support business owners and to help them succeed. They need to care and show an interest.

But this requires effort – to learn new skills, use new technology which will take them out of their sedentary comfort zone of desktop software, spreadsheets, and paper records.

How many accountants have never been to an accountancy trade fare, conference or institute meeting to learn about new developments in the profession and share experiences and ideas with other practitioners? You can’t rely on AccountingWEB for everything…

There are often murmurings of pressure on fees, but this is pressure on compliance fees, not on business support, advice and development services – AKA advisory.

Accountants only need to talk to their clients and show an interest to identify ways in which they can help, do additional work which has real value and will help clients achieve more.

Business plans, cash flow forecasts, management accounts, quarterly business reviews are just the start.

And do you know what? This work is actually interesting and adds real value.

End result the client is happy and the accountant has more enjoyable work. Tell people about this and show them what you can do and more will naturally follow.

If you’re the type of accountant who is moaning about being “too busy in January” and “stressed out” because of work, with clients leaving everything until the last minute. The reality is you only have yourself to blame.

Most of the problem is down to poor client education, a lack of communication and outdated work practices.

Just make the effort to embrace a little bit of the changing landscape in the professional and take yourself outside of your comfort zone.

Maybe you’ve been thinking about taking the first steps to make the move towards business support and advisory services.

Well now is the ideal time, leave it too long and you may get left behind.

So which accountant are you? The lazy compliance sausage machine accountant? Or are you the empathetic, resourceful accountant who adds real value to a client’s business?

You may not think it’s this black and white, cut and dried – but it is.

About Mark Telford

Mark Telford Chartered Accountant

I am an Award Winning Chartered Accountant and work with ambitious business owners to help them achieve their goals. 

I do this not by submitting accounts and tax returns on time  - that's the bare minimum, but by helping them achieve more. This can be business growth, business sale, succession or retirement planning, business improvement and most importantly personal goals. 

All businesses should have a plan and its important to measure performance and make sure you are on track to achieve your goals. I will work with you to achieve this.

I founded Telfords Chartered Accountants as I could see that many small businesses were not getting the business support and advice they needed from their accountant. Regular financial and commercial support throughout the year is essential to help a business achieve the results the owners want.

By using cloud software from the very start we have been able to provide a year round service which helps businesses be the best they can. 

We have been using Xero since 2010 and encourage all clients to use it as we believe it is the best accounting software to help them run their businesses. 

I have now started working with other accountants to help them run a more profitable, efficient and enjoyable practice, providing a higher level of service to their clients - not just accounts and tax returns.

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02nd Feb 2019 09:52

I prefer to read about your weakness and your struggles. Reading about how great you are compared to others offer no learning opportunities for me.

Be humble.

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02nd Feb 2019 11:40

By insisting on use of certain software, you are self selecting clients on engagement. Thats fine, its your business model, but accountants who do not follow that model are not necessarily lazy.

Indeed, many clients who have run their sole trade businesses for decades know exactly how well they are doing without software. They feel it, naturally. Others struggle with technology and need a different type of help.

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02nd Feb 2019 17:35

I think this progressive approach is the way forward. The same goes for providing additional tax services over and above the general compliance. There’s a lot of pretence out there with many firms claiming they can solve a clients tax woes and ‘minimise their tax’. The fact is many accountants are under qualified and inept to provide many tax services. The big elephant in the room is that being an ACA or ACCA no longer means you are qualified to do tax. Lots of businesses are being let down by firms who make big claims about their tax prowess simply on the basis that they are Chartered Accountants. I see people moving away from ‘traditional’ accounting firms for tax advice to tax specialist firms simply because the traditional accountants don’t have the tax skills and are not proactive enough.

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05th Feb 2019 10:41

Sounds good Mark but how many £300 clients have you got? These micro-businesses need accountants to do their accounts and tax returns and, if we accountants have to nag the hell out of them to get their returns done in time, then that is what I call a service.
A huge proportion of my clientele in over 50 years as an accountant are just trying to make a living and whilst concerned about how much tax they pay, they do not have the time to be "ambitious".
Such clients can only afford low fees and I am proud to say that my service to them includes advice, perhaps not too sophisticated, at minimum cost given in a friendly and supportive manner.
Some may say "why take on such low fee-paying clients?" Because they need accounts done for HMRC just the same as those with larger businesses.
I take great offence as being classed as lazy. I, and my fellow professionals with similar practices, care for our clients and if that means having a mad January then so be it.

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to Terry Hyman
05th Feb 2019 16:52

Terry, yes not all clients will want or need additional services.

A lot of the time its just letting them know that you can do more if needed.

Nothing worse than a client leaving because he needs help with 'X'. Only for you to say that you could help with that, and he says 'I never knew'.

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05th Feb 2019 11:07

Really, Mark. I don't think you have a clue what being an Accountant is all about. You might well be a good marketing person but certainly not an Accountant.

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to johnjenkins
05th Feb 2019 16:53

Yes really.

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to Mark Telford
06th Feb 2019 09:45

What "yes really" you don't have a clue about what an Accountant is? Your reply about a client might not know what sort of service you deliver and leaves, beggars belief. You really do live on planet "cloud" with all the other marketeers.

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05th Feb 2019 11:09

Mmmm controversial.

What I see a fair bit from the older, traditional firms is a fear of change.

For instance I was asked to quote on a job where the firm would send out 2 juniors with a laptop who would sit for 2 days manually entering sales and purchase invoices into Sage, then they would go back and send him his VAt to pay figure with nothing of any use left on site. The fees were a fortune, as they were charging hourly rates but the guy was use to paying them. Their was no incentive for the accountant to work smarter, as he feared it would reduce his fees.

For me the firm was getting away with it as the guy knew no different. I suppose they had failed to recommend change for fear of losing their fees.

I think a lot of firms run with so much compliance work that they rarely raise their heads out of the day to day until they are called out on it.

My quote for Xero+RB plus some management reporting and still couldn't get near to the current fee.

When the current accountant saw my proposal, they said "we can do all of that you should have just asked".

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By Bluffer
05th Feb 2019 11:14

This article is quite interesting. I do see myself in some of what is written.

However, I would say that 95% of my clients want nothing more than compliance and will be reluctant to pay for "fancy" advice. They are one-person businesses who don't want the hassle of expanding/growing etc. Think of all the extra compliance problems that might bring for them. They just want to earn a living.

No offence taken by me but to suggest that those sorts of clients by their very nature are destined somehow to receive a LAZY service might offend a few out there.

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05th Feb 2019 11:24

Best thing I have read in a long time, thank you for sharing!

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to williamsaccounts
05th Feb 2019 11:34

You've obviously not read "Bean Counters".

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By RogerMT
05th Feb 2019 11:33

All of us will see something of ourselves in that article, no matter how little. The article is a classic piece of "button pushing" journalism to get a reaction. Well, done, it worked!
As for the criticisms raised in the piece, I can only echo what others have said - most low-end clients, who are the majority of small practices' bread and butter, cannot afford constant advice, have no interest in cloud accounting until MTD will make it virtually essential (a good money making scheme for software firms, methinks), and are simply interested in making a living and paying their tax on time, and use our services to avoid falling into, and sometimes getting out of, compliance traps.
If you are lucky enough to have a majority of clients who can afford the advisory role, then well done you. It certainly isn't the case for most of us.

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to RogerMT
05th Feb 2019 16:56

Roger - it doesn't need to be a majority of clients. Just having the support and advice available and telling them how you can help.

And I've certainly found that you can't pre-judge what all clients will want or need as some who have agreed to additional services were not the one's I expected to.

And, nothing wrong with compliance - its our bread and butter. But if its delivered in complete isolation to any other contact or support then that is a failing.

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By hfc1875
05th Feb 2019 11:33

zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz.............lunchtime soon.......can't wait for Friday............

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By RogerMT
to hfc1875
05th Feb 2019 11:35

Haha! :)

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By Peter-S
05th Feb 2019 11:40

It would be nice if some of these kinds of articles acknowledged that that if you are dealing with the local engineering firm, for example, there could be some mileage in the advice but for your local taxi driver, bricklayer, window cleaner etc offering them reviews, cash flows, cloud tech and the like is not going to garner a favourable response in many cases. I suspect that a lot of smaller accountancy practices have many clients at this end of the scale, we certainly do and suggesting the accountant could be lazy for going out of their way to deal with these clients, hmm, I don't really see that.

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to Peter-S
05th Feb 2019 16:59

Peter, I completely agree, not every client will want additional services.

Making them available and letting clients know how you can help is the start.

Then have more conversations with the clients you think would benefit from more support/advice.

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05th Feb 2019 11:42

What a load on nonsense Mark! And very arrogant!

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05th Feb 2019 11:52

Recommending Xero to clients would be the last thing I would do. The support is dreadful, often taking 24 hours to give a wrong answer and only e-mail support, so if the answer is wrong you have to ask again and wait another 24 hours. Reporting is also inferior in many instances to QBO.

I must be an abnormal accountant because I do offer advice and tax planning to those clients that can afford to pay me (and a few that can't)!

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to BryanS1958
05th Feb 2019 12:15

Being Devils advocate here, one could argue, only offering Xero is a lazy option.

By offering all legal options for recording and adapting the solution to each individuals abilities and needs is not a lazy attitude.

Can I add my biggest client does use Xero and I encouraged them to use the system when it was in its infancy in the UK market. I like it, but it is far from perfect and other options are better for other clients.

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to BryanS1958
05th Feb 2019 13:02

Interesting that you would not recommend the market leading solution, with the biggest user group to your clients. I find Xero far more robust and clients make less errors on it, bank feeds etc work far better. I also find the support adequate but as the software is easy to use, can usually work the problem out.

Having just blown my fee fixing someones QBO that he bought "off the telly" I would much sooner they stayed clear of QBO, find and recode in Xero is like the patron saint for [***] clients.

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05th Feb 2019 12:19

Ho ho ho.

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05th Feb 2019 12:48

I think Xero is a very good product better than most, but that is not the point. I am an INDEPENDENT accountant not a Xero reseller and so will also keep an eye on the market rather than tying my mast to one supplier. While Xero is a good bookkeeping system it's payroll module is awful and it's not great for everything or everyone. Yes I agree it is a lazy option if you are an independent accountant to tie yourself to one supplier

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to indomitable
05th Feb 2019 12:55

Not sure how picking one software could be classed as a lazy choice. As a small firm with minimal resources surely it would make sense to pick one product and become the goto expert/specialist on that product as opposed to trying to cover all and do an average job of them.

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to Glennzy
05th Feb 2019 13:09

My attitude - which I appreciate isn't for all - is that we are the professionals here. We are the people who can adapt to different recording solutions. We are not the ones trying to also be plumbers, or fishermen, or manufacturers, or letting agents.

In my view, it is us that should be able to use as many solutions as possible, and then ensure the client has one that fits their abilities, requirements and situation.

By all means have a preferred option or two that makes sense but this "we only do xxx product" is not for me.

Perhaps I just like getting my teeth into different options and adapting them to client needs.

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05th Feb 2019 14:55

I had to stop and think about my response to this. I don't respond to many posts, but this 'article' is taking the biscuit.

I run a small firm, which is growing quickly, and by and large our clients are very happy with our service.

The reason they are happy is that we provide them with both what they want and what they need. What they want is to be compliant, to get advice when they need it, to be given advice when they didn't know they needed it, and for us to be available. That's it. For many clients it is what you call 'the sausage factory' basis. That's all they want, that's all they need and they and we are both very happy with that.

Others want a more bespoke service - management accounts, business planning, investment advice remuneration strategies, etc. And we give them that as well. They and we are very happy with that.

Some of our clients use Xero, others Clear Books, Quickbooks etc. We use whatever the client wants to use, and if they don't know we recommend a solution that we think fits their skill set and business needs. Others want to stay on excel, and as long as we can work with that we're fine and don't judge. They and we are very happy with that.

We do have a January rush. We do say that we are busy, but you know what? We always manage. We had thought about cutting many of those clients, but actually the money they collectively bring in is worth it, and they are still getting what they want and while it remains manageable we're just fine with that.

So I don't really understand the point you are making here. Am I lazy because I'm not force feeding add-on advice into very single damned client on the basis of 'they need this because they should be ambitious'. Or is it 'they need this because I need to prove that I'm ambitious'?

Looking at some of the early responses on here it is clear that there are many different shapes and sizes of clients, and ways of running a practice to service those clients. Some of those aren't for me. But I'm certainly not arrogant enough to place value judgements on them because they don't align with my own ambitions and style of delivery - as you have done.

That is my considered response.

My initial response was "Oh, great! Yet another accountant who's a bit bored of doing practice work is trying to make money by telling other accounts that they're doing everything wrong!"

Reflecting on this, I think neither response is wrong.

On the other hand, you could just be trying to be deliberately provocative (otherwise known as "trolling") in order to "generate discussion" and "engage with the community" and other management phrases. In which case, well done, Sir!

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to michaelbeaver
06th Feb 2019 09:50

Mark, take note, this is what being an Accountant is all about.

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05th Feb 2019 17:23

Where did Michael Beaver's post go?

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to Red Leader
06th Feb 2019 09:08

Apologies Red Leader (and Michael). For some inexplicable reason, our overenthusiastic spam filter picked up the comment and unpublished it. I've corrected this now so the comment should appear for everyone.

All the best,

Tom

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By KateR
05th Feb 2019 19:36

I had an awful January and it is all my own fault? Even though I had been nagging clients to get their accounts in since October? Most of my clients are self-employed people, not businesses. They work in the entertainments world. Yes, I would love to help them achieve more but that is down to the casting directors, directors and producers who might just engage them. I have often given more time than I charge for. Oh and while working full-time over the last 10 years I supported a disabled relative whose spouse had dementia and cared for my husband with multiple health conditions until he died 15 months ago. So don't tell me I'm lazy because I ended up working 12 hour days in January to make sure no tax return missed the deadline.

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05th Feb 2019 23:52

Maybe if we (and our clients) didn't have a mountain of unnecessary red tape of compliance to deal with, we would have the time to offer the value-added services you dream of in your article, and our clients would have the spare funds to pay for it.

Sadly, we all live in the colossal mess that is the authoritarian society the modern UK has to offer us. We accountants are drowning in a sea of over-burdensome compliance - such as the recent RTI demands, auto-enrolment, changes to money-laundering regs, MTD... Then our clients have increasing minimum wage demands, exponentially rising pensions costs, employment legislation woefully slanted in favour of the employees...

Most of my clients are small one-person owner/managed businesses. They can barely afford my base fee, on top of all the taxes and ridiculously high minimum wage, and auto-enrolment costs. Most of the auto-enrolment work I have had to do for NO ADDITIONAL FEE, simply because my small clients cannot afford any more - as they have had it all squeezed out of them by our short-sighted tax system. Often my clients make less per month than some of their staff.

Our whole system in the UK is totally broken, designed to keep small business owners poor, and where it simply does not pay to work hard and invest in a small business. The system is designed to have small business owners take out a loan, try to make a go of it for a few years whilst paying rent on premises, and payroll taxes for staff - sucking their life energy dry, until they give up, and then the next poor generation comes along and tries the same thing.

Our government is trying to plug an unrepayable deficit gap, and subsidising a pensions vacuum by shifting the burden onto small businesses through auto-enrolment. It simply DOES NOT WORK -and our economy will pay for it.

My mistake was going to university, getting a degree, going into the accountancy profession, studying for my ACA, getting experience in industry and practice, then (most foolishly of all) trying to start up my own practice - in a society, where the legislation is such that it is impossible to make any money out of running your own small business - then even if you are one of the lucky few who can break the glass ceiling and be successful, the Marxists who run our media outlets make it taboo to be rich and successful. They will just chalk it up to "privilege", and nothing to do with years of hard work and sacrifice.

Then I read articles such as this one, and frankly it pushes me one step closer to chucking it all in; shutting my business, and living off the state that couldn't give the last toss about me or any small businesses. I honestly do not know why I bother...

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By andyrhb
06th Feb 2019 09:15

Congratulations Mark, a classic "look at me" article which has done its job. Fair play, I was taken in.

If I may say though I think the mean spirited tone of your article may have damaged the reputation of Xero rather than enhanced it.

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to andyrhb
06th Feb 2019 09:57

Not "look at me" Andy "Look At Zero You".

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By andyrhb
to johnjenkins
06th Feb 2019 11:01

Thanks John but I still think it's all about Mark. Two minutes online research shows that he's just recycling old ideas (which in its own way is ironic) in order for people to respond to him. We have - so its worked!

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to andyrhb
06th Feb 2019 14:44

That's what marketing types do. Recycle old material. Why? because they cannot come up with anything original unless it's a scam. Bit coins, crypto etc. all Pyramid selling however you tart it up.

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06th Feb 2019 10:00

You can't blanket tar all Accountants with the same lazy brush.

Some are and some aren't.

Some online columnists talk rubbish and some don't.

Some clients want all the bells and whistles (and are prepared to pay for it) and some don't.

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06th Feb 2019 10:22

extract ABOVE
'Let’s face it, running this type of accountancy practice can be a very easy business'
are you sure what about all the clients that ring up at least once a week, on the grounds some old bar fly advises them they pay no tax and they should have received a refund.

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06th Feb 2019 10:22

extract ABOVE
'Let’s face it, running this type of accountancy practice can be a very easy business'
are you sure what about all the clients that ring up at least once a week, on the grounds some old bar fly advises them they pay no tax and they should have received a refund.

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06th Feb 2019 11:10

Sounds like an advertising pitch which shows the stupidity of generalisations and material I would prefer to avoid on Accounting Web.
It's all very well saying what a goody two shoes little boy one may be and ''I know what's good for you; I'm not a sausage machine accountant'' - a cute bit of tripe if ever there was. But every accountant should know what his clients needs are ; whether basic compliance or { to avoid similar tautology } a helping hand.
This goes without saying. Only a self righteous dumb [***] would would denigrate his fellow professionals by thinking otherwise.
Perhaps it's a sign of age but how many times have I read articles written by people saying how bloody marvellous they are. Who's next to spin a load of obviousness ?
Get a life. Stick to your Cloud - Cuckoo Land.

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06th Feb 2019 12:36

Request to Editorial team, PLEASE do not give your okay to self-promotional articles/blogs.

This article/blog is insulting. Even if it was meant to promote some discussion.

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to FirstTab
06th Feb 2019 14:36

I imagine the Editorial team wants or gets paid for these articles/blogs, they allow plenty of these self-promotions.

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07th Feb 2019 18:09

To take a live example....Xero, which we admittedly do not use unless forced to...staff scratching head trying to reconcile bank on Xero, 'Bank Statement' tab on bank rec feature nowhere near correct balance, even though bank feed is used by client. Can't phone Xero, have to e-mail them. They send automated response e-mail back - response time expected to be 7 hours. If we have a further query another 7 hours?

QBO, using their bank rec feature we reconciled 11 months of bank statements in 10 minutes. If there had been any problems we could phone their support line and get an immediate answer or screen share to resolve.

To be fair to Xero, the client has probably entered manual transactions to the bank and messed it up, but how can something be called a 'Bank Statement' when it isn't and doesn't agree with the real bank balance? And why is it necessary to wait 7 hours for an answer? Xero and QBO cost a similar amount so why no UK phone support?

I'm not saying QBO is so wonderful, all software has flaws and I'm sure Xero is better in some areas, but to me for the price QBO does the job better than most and the UK phone support clinches it.

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to BryanS1958
08th Feb 2019 13:04

BryanS1958 wrote:

To take a live example....Xero, which we admittedly do not use unless forced to...staff scratching head trying to reconcile bank on Xero, 'Bank Statement' tab on bank rec feature nowhere near correct balance, even though bank feed is used by client. Can't phone Xero, have to e-mail them. They send automated response e-mail back - response time expected to be 7 hours. If we have a further query another 7 hours?

QBO, using their bank rec feature we reconciled 11 months of bank statements in 10 minutes. If there had been any problems we could phone their support line and get an immediate answer or screen share to resolve.

To be fair to Xero, the client has probably entered manual transactions to the bank and messed it up, but how can something be called a 'Bank Statement' when it isn't and doesn't agree with the real bank balance? And why is it necessary to wait 7 hours for an answer? Xero and QBO cost a similar amount so why no UK phone support?

I'm not saying QBO is so wonderful, all software has flaws and I'm sure Xero is better in some areas, but to me for the price QBO does the job better than most and the UK phone support clinches it.

Thats you off the Xero awards list Bryan, you monster.

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10th Feb 2019 08:18

Fully agreed with the article. The January stress really shouldn't be a problem with good software and good practice management. I can't believe in 2019 the amount of articles produced on this subject. If your practice is stuggeling to cope in January 2019, how will you cope with the transitistion to MTD?

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to BJNATHAN
10th Feb 2019 16:30

What you should be asking is "How are HMRC going to cope with MTD"? Still many unanswered questions and problems with less than 2 months to go.

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to johnjenkins
11th Feb 2019 10:40

Why and who at HMRC would you ask about how they are going to cope with MTD?

There are our clients its up to us to make sure they are match fit for MTD as it rolls out.

The time for talking to HMRC about it has long since passed.

As long as my clients are ready why would anybody be bothered/worried about how HMRC cope about anything.

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to Glennzy
11th Feb 2019 10:30

If you think that Glenn, then you're in for a shock once the penalties start rolling out. Negotiations are never long passed, as witnessed by the continued Brexit farce. You should know from past experience that all automated services will require humans (that know what is what) to sort out the mess.

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to johnjenkins
11th Feb 2019 10:48

What is the shock?

Clients submit VAT returns now, they will submit them post MTD via a slightly different method.

I have been submitting directly from software for a few years, why would they start picking up penalties now, or in 12 months time when penalties apply.

As already said my clients will be ready, how HMRC cope with there side of it is up to them.

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to Glennzy
11th Feb 2019 10:58

MTD is not a slightly different method though. I don't think it will be mandatory from 1/4/19, cos I don't think HMRC are ready for it. As for clients being ready, perhaps 50% are but the rest will have problems which HMRC will not be capable of dealing with as MTD is an exercise in IT.

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