FreeAgent rolls out free licences to RBS/NatWest customers

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Accountants can now offer FreeAgent for free to existing RBS/NatWest clients, which the company is touting as a neat way to solve the MTD problem.

“It’s not quite a point of singularity,” according to Kevin McCallum, FreeAgent’s chief commercial officer, “but there’s a convergence”. He was referring to FreeAgent’s latest announcement on offering free licences to existing RBS/NatWest business banking clients.

Accountants can now, via their FreeAgent dashboard, add any new customer that’s an RBS/NatWest business account holder for free. It’s the latest development arising from FreeAgent’s recent acquisition by the RBS Group, which already sees the banking giant offering FreeAgent software free of charge to all its small business customers.

“We are now in the position where we can offer our accountants exactly the same offer,” said Nick Longden, FreeAgent’s VP of sales. “It gives accountants a nice solution to their customers who were looking for a solution to their MTD problem. The fact that it’s free of charge is a bonus.”

Both McCallum and Longden stressed that the free licenses will offer the full range of FreeAgent services, with bank feed as standard. While the ability to wheel out MTD-ready software for free is also an eye-catching development for accountants.

More broadly, the initiative is striking because it ties together market-warping trends like MTD, open banking and cloud accounting. Hence McCallum’s quip about singularity and convergence. He was keen to avoid any insinuation that FreeAgent was not operationally indedependent.

“FreeAgent was been acquired by the largest business bank in the UK - okay, that’s great. It gives us access to resources, assets and investment money. But it’s not as simple as 'RBS wanted to buy a business with licence revenue and sell more licences'. It’s more nuanced than that.”

The big banks, according to McCallum, aren’t immune to the effects of digitisation and the migration to online. A big bank can’t necessarily turn on a sixpence and adapt its services overnight. An arrangement like FreeAgent and RBS’s, then, is unique, he said.

“These days, it’s about the different levels of value you can demonstrate to a customer by offering a better journey and more access to the right information, data, tools and services.

“FreeAgent is unique, being a part of but operationally independent of the bank. None of our competitors are in a position to be bought by a major bank. We have this opportunity to do things differently.”

About Francois Badenhorst

Francois

I'm AccountingWEB's business editor. Feel free to get in touch with comments, tips, scoops or irreverent banter. 

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19th Oct 2018 11:02

Being free should not be a major selling point for accountants in practice. If you can't afford £5 pm for sole trader software (or up to £10 pm for corporate clients), you should be raising your fees.

What FreeAgent should do is use its relationship with RBS to become the first major accounting software in the UK to use Open Banking to allow employee and supplier payments (together with payees' sort codes and account numbers) to be set up within the bookkeeping package and passed seamlessly to the bank, where an authorised signatory need merely approve them. This would save huge amounts of time in small businesses where the business owner is the only bank signatory, but where the bookkeeping is done by someone else. That would be truly game-changing for the accounting software industry.

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to charliecarne
22nd Oct 2018 13:29

What a great idea Charlie, I've been predicting something similar for a few years now. Perhaps this is the first step in the right direction.

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19th Oct 2018 12:28

I'd agree with you Charlie, on both points. We wouldn't say price, or lack of one, is the principle driver here, but it can help in a number of cases.

On your second point, we're certainly focused on improving efficiency and saving time for our users, and as mentioned in the article, now we exist within the wider bank group, we will have some head start on delivery in these kinds of capabilities.

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to Kevin_McCallum
19th Oct 2018 13:08

I'm delighted to hear that, Kevin. Open Banking creates huge opportunities for our industry and you are in the front seat with your new partners!

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20th Oct 2018 08:45

Its sounds fantastic, wait a minute this is RBS, remember they lost 24 billion in 2008,

Its a brilliant PR move by RBS, but can we trust them.

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20th Oct 2018 08:48

On reflection, why is not my Bank or building society offering it, or something similar.

The internet changed everything, maybe going forward Banks will change everything. Who would have thought it.

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By Matrix
20th Oct 2018 10:03

I don't see how this changes anything, the client could sign up directly for free already and the accountant have a linked account, there is no benefit for the licence to be in the accountant's name if it is free. The only benefit is that we can do the set up now I suppose.

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22nd Oct 2018 11:57

The banks have been here before in various forms. I know Barclays had a go with Sage and then Quickbooks at different times as a way of bringing small businesses onboard and into a better way of running their businesses.

I seem to recall that staff changes in the bank at the client level made the whole thing something less than its potential. The product needed pushing by the account manager. If they do not hang around long enough, the outcome was disappointing.

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By addw
25th Oct 2018 14:34

The trouble with accountingweb is that it is a service, ie it runs on their computers in the cloud. I want my accounting data on my machine where I can control access to it and back it up.

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