Accounting software for the day after tomorrow
Nigel Harris reports from a recent Twinfield event in the Netherlands, where they celebrated 'National Accountancy Day'.
A week ago I made a short trip from the UK by car, plane, train and bus to the Dutch town of Nieuwegein, an impressively tidy new town built in 1971 just outside Utrecht. I was one of around thirty international visitors joining over 500 Dutch delegates for the National Accountancy Day of online accounting company Twinfield, now part of the Wolters Kluwer group.
The first thing to say is that the NBC Congrescentrum in Nieuwegein is a most impressive conference centre, especially bearing mind the town only has a population of some 61,000. It was the ideal venue for Twinfield to host what turned out to be probably the best and most lavish conference I have attended since I entered the accountancy profession in 1979!
Once thing the Dutch seem to like is their refreshments. Lunch was served at 11.30, just an hour after the event started (with coffee and snacks of course), and offered a range of Dutch and international cuisine – plus more coffee and cakes. Subsequent breaks also featured the aforementioned coffee and comestibles, with a slight variation at the end when the bar opened and we tucked into our host's free drinks and excellent canapes while we networked with Dutch and UK delegates until it was time to leave for the airport.
Subtitled, “The day after tomorrow”, the event was very much a celebration of what Twinfield had achieved over the last year, and an exuberant look at what they have in store for the next year. Interspersed with the educational/promotional talks we heard from speakers from outside the profession, including Dutch student Boyan Slat, who is seeking to clean up the plastic waste polluting the oceans, and Belgian extreme sportsman Marc Sluszny.
I reviewed Twinfield when AccountingWEB started reviewing online accounting services many years ago. At the time I gathered it was well established in Holland but was making only limited progress in the UK, and indeed that was still my impression until recently. This trip enabled me to get some idea of its credentials and user base. What I hadn't realised was just HOW big that user base is, and how widely Twinfield is used in Dutch firms of all size. For example, Deloittes and BDO use branded versions for their own clients, BDO having made the decision to use it for all internal accounting jobs and completely switch away from desktop accounting packages. For smaller firms wondering if online accounting is secure and reliable, the due diligence and ongoing IT audits done by these firms is certainly reassuring.
Many improvements are planned for Twinfield in the coming months, but these won't make much sense to anyone not familiar with the software. But they are a good indication of the ongoing development that Wolters Kluwer is investing in, much of it driven by demands of the users. One of the more interesting developments is the TwinApp Store, a section of the software where users can review and buy approved third-party add-on products and features that integrate seamlessly with Twinfield – stock control, CRM, POS and dashboard reporting being typical examples. The store has been designed so that users can effectively switch these apps on from within the software, rather than going to an external site and having to make the links manually. As a result, Twinfield succeeds in meeting the needs of a very wide range of client types and sizes, from sole traders to multinational groups, and in a wide variety of sectors. Where the software is supplied via an accounting firm, the firm can filter the TwinApp store contents and only allow clients to see selected apps, perhaps only those it has approved or used itself – a useful facility as the large number of available apps could be overwhelming.
Despite now being part of an international group, Twinfield is still led by the larger-than-life Andre Kwakernaat, who opened and closed the event. He kept the best till last (apart from the free bar, that is) concluding the final presentation by unveiling the imminent “Audit Rule Set”, a feature that accounting software developers have barely attempted in the past, but which seems the most logical development for compliance software. This new feature allows the user to set rules and criteria against which the reasonableness of the accounts can be automatically verified. These can be set in as much detail, and for as many accounts items, as you wish, and are then reported for review or action by the user. Lower level anomalies can be reported as 'Warnings” and await review and approval by the appropriate person. Variances that exceed a higher limit are identified as “Errors” and generate an email alert to the nominated user for more urgent action. Used correctly, this feature would give an FD or FC considerable assurance on the reliability of the accounting data, or would at least make reviewing the monthly management accounts a much quicker process.
I came away from the day greatly impressed by Twinfield both as a product and a company. Having seen the size and quality of the Dutch user base, I think all the UK delegates will have been encouraged to take this software a lot more seriously. I would certainly expect to see a many more UK firms and businesses using it over the next year. And I expect to see a lot more UK delegates at the 2104 National Accountancy Day.
I'm a partner with Burton Sweet, chartered accountants & business advisers, and run the Shepton Mallet office down in beautiful Somerset. Despite the name, Shepton Mallet is actually the home of Glastonbury Festival! I trained in audit and corporate tax with Grant Thornton and came to my current position in 1991 via small local practices...