Editor in Chief AccountingWEB
Columnist
Share this content
What can software suppliers do to close the growing gap with their accountant customers?
iStock_Gap_radachynskyi

Gap opens between accountants and tech suppliers

by

In recent months it doesn’t feel like the big software developers are on the same wavelength as their accountant partners. John Stokdyk sets the scene for a deeper discussion about these important relationships.

12th Oct 2021
Editor in Chief AccountingWEB
Columnist
Share this content

AccountingWEB’s initial Insight survey during the summer identified a puzzling gap between software developers and practitioners when it came to product recommendation and promotion.

Ever since Sage relied on accountants to roll out its PC accounting packages in the 1980s, the profession has introduced small businesspeople to accounting technology. The dynamic is perfectly logical. Accountants are the most trusted advisers among small businesses and the first and most obvious thing clients are going to want advice about is the best way to maintain their books.

But with the cloud accounting revolution in full swing, are software suppliers losing sight of the client-accountant relationship that supports their accounting systems? In many practices, those programs co-exist with similar applications because accountants fit their services into the client’s business infrastructure rather than the other way round.

To explore the state of this relationship, we brought together App Advisory Plus founder Will Farnell, Aynsley Damery from Clarity HQ and practitioner Jessica Pillow (Pillow May) for an Accounting Excellence Talk on vendors, firms and the battle for client service.

How it’s always been

Accountant and app advisory consultant Will Farnell has been one of the most vocal commentators on this issue in recent months. “There are certainly discussions within the profession about the intentions of the larger app providers and whether their focus is on the accountant partner channel, or whether the endgame of 5.9m small businesses in the UK is the true target,” he said during the 60min discussion.

“It’s no different than 20 years ago… There has always been conflict between vendors and accountants over the way products have been pushed out to prospects... It’s just the way it is.”

To defend his client relationships, Farnell works hard to position his firm as the first port of call, by staying in close touch with clients and using all available means to maintain those relationships. 

Poor support

At Pillow May, Jessica Pillow noted a growing remoteness from software providers during the pandemic. It appeared that the more the big platforms spent their money on TV advertising, the less effort they put into maintaining relationships and supporting accountant partners. Her biggest problem was a visible decline in technical support.

“Often clients come to us with a problem, but we need high-level support to help them. That’s the bit we’re struggling with,” she said.

All of the panellists contrasted the current situation to the intimacy of vendor relationships in the pioneering days of cloud accounting in 2009-11. Back then, the suppliers had very small teams and were looking for accountants to champion their tools, Farnell explained. On the plus side, accountants could pick up the phone to the managing director to sort out any problems. “But there was also the downside of sometimes using software that was not ready,” he said.

“They’ve got broader stakeholder groups to take care of [now] and have matured into vast corporations with huge amounts of investor money. That’s going to change the overarching objective. Being realistic, it’s understandable that we don’t get the attention we once did.” 

But Pillow was not convinced. “Why do the fundamentals of account management get lost just because you grow? It's about being close to the customer and understanding what they need. They might understand that we can’t grow their software because we’ve got to the limit of what it can do. But it’s still important that we service their customers and our customers well. We need second line support, we need to know about the product updates... We’re not getting that and I just don’t know why,”

Build better partnerships

As a practitioner-turned-developer at Clarity HQ, Aynsley Damery was perplexed by the crossed-wires between the two camps. “It’s so easy to fix,” he advised. “Listen to your customers and be nice to them. For two accountants working day-in day out, there’s been a simple request that isn’t going to cost software companies that much to support.”

In Damery’s view, good software partnerships aren’t about one partner dominating the other, but working together with shared values in a win-win situation. To achieve that ideal, software suppliers need to know their customers well enough to support them properly. 

“I want to be truly understood,” Damery said. “No two customers are the same... and I want my account manager to understand our practice, how we use software and our relationships with clients - all the nuances of different kinds of accountancy practice.”

The supplier-accountant relationship continues to be a focus for AccountingWEB’s continuing Insight research programme. To find out more about the latest findings, register for the State of the Nation keynote presentation at the AccountingWEB Live Expo on Wednesday 1 December. A free summary of the initial findings will also be available for attendees and survey participants.

AccountingWEB Live Expo 2021

Replies (31)

Please login or register to join the discussion.

David Ross
By davidross
14th Oct 2021 10:07

I now have an account manager with TaxCalc for the first time, so they are listening to this!

Thanks (0)
Replying to davidross:
By ireallyshouldknowthisbut
15th Oct 2021 10:23

I have had one for years, they its just a sales team who changes every 6 months.

if you have some actual issues they cant ever fix 'em.

Thanks (0)
avatar
By Self-Employed and Happy
14th Oct 2021 10:13

I've felt this for the past year with Quickbooks, very quick to implement what they see as improvements with absolutely no idea of how it affects accountants efficiency.

They seem to be leaning the same way as HMRC, wanting to go direct to the customer but completely forgetting how much extra support they DON'T have to provide because that is dealt with by the accountant.

Support is generally poor but that is often because your first port of call is someone who doesn't know the software as good as you.

Quickbooks implementation of the CIS reverse charge was a disaster, after multiple phone calls and their reply being "it's working how it was designed to", they finally listened when I firmly told them that their design team and advisors are wrong!!! Took 2 weeks to fix, after I had to send them specific VAT legislation / guidance from HMRC's website, their excuse......."guidance was recently updated so we didn't have time to change", the guidance had not changed for 5 months.... was seething at them lying about it to be honest, just fess up and say "we made a mistake".

Quite a few times I have fed back that "improvements" have actually been moving the software backwards, add to that I think there is a very high turnover of staff as we've still not heard from a new account manager after ours left, nice way to treat accountants paying hundreds and hundreds a month on their software.....

They forget that accountants pretty much act as covert sales people for them, so it would be in their interests to actually listen to people that use the software everyday.

Thanks (5)
Replying to Self-Employed and Happy:
avatar
By tanyajackson
14th Oct 2021 10:32

Totally agree about Quickbooks. I have migrated all my clients away from it. Not user friendly at all.
Their crazy advertising "just link your bank and you can file your tax return" causes huge problems for accountants. Client's don't realise that you can't actaully file your tax return from Quickbooks, that's usually when they contact us, as they can't work out how to do it, when in actual fact you can't do it. They make our job sound easy and without worth. Who'd want to partner with a software that does that?

Thanks (0)
avatar
By AdShawBPR
14th Oct 2021 10:16

Interesting to hear about Quickbooks as that's exactly how I feel about Xero. Quick to tell you how 'super exited' they are about some 'fantastic' new feature (which I probably won't want) but very, very slow to improve/fix what's there already. And there are things that absolutely do need fixing!

Thanks (0)
Replying to AdShawBPR:
avatar
By Self-Employed and Happy
14th Oct 2021 10:33

I would say in my opinion (others will think different) QBs is the best overall cloud package and is priced competitively, however we have one client on Xero and one on Sage Cloud so we continually keep abreast of what the others are doing.

2 years ago I personally don't think the others were close to QBs but since then I feel they have stagnated / gone backwards with a few fundamental aspects whilst the others have closed the gap.

I genuinely don't think they get accountants in practice to test it all before they roll updates out, or anyone that has a real understanding of what day to day in a practice looks like but also has good knowledge on how things need to be presented / easy usability.

Thanks (1)
avatar
By Rgab1947
14th Oct 2021 10:25

Try working out what QB does with VAT and PAYE processing. It works for developers but not accountants. Certainly normal bookkeeping processes are ignored.

At YE spend time fixing the automatic postings which go to the oddest places.

Sage is the only one I see that applies proper processing for Payroll and VAT. Pity they don't have a decent cloud platform

Thanks (0)
Replying to Rgab1947:
avatar
By Self-Employed and Happy
14th Oct 2021 10:33

Duplicate Post

Thanks (0)
Replying to Rgab1947:
avatar
By Self-Employed and Happy
14th Oct 2021 10:32

Never had a problem with VAT on QBs.

Use Brightpay for Payroll and do the monthly integrated Journal Brightpay > QBs which is almost perfect.

Thanks (0)
Replying to Rgab1947:
Kitten
By Hazel Accounts
14th Oct 2021 11:32

Sage accounting is cloud based. I actually prefer this to both QB and Xero (I have client's on all 3). I needed tech support yesterday and a very helpful lady answered phone fairly promptly at Sage and we sorted the issue so I in my experience Sage customer service is good. The other one my client's use is Freeagent and that seems quite nice - probably my second choice after Sage.

Thanks (0)
avatar
By agknight
14th Oct 2021 10:39

We started with Liberty Accounts in 2010 and whilst they have not had stellar growth like Xero, the accountant support is still second to none. Phone with a query, answered in an instant. (I also like the look, functionality and reports).
I shy away from QB completely and use Xero with a long stick - both great I'm sure if they do what you want or expect, but if they don't..... I switch off the radio when their and Sage infernal adverts come up, implying that bookkeeping can be done in no time by people with no training.

Thanks (0)
Replying to agknight:
avatar
By raybackler
14th Oct 2021 10:54

I have used Liberty for all of my clients since 2004 and agree with your comments completely.

Thanks (0)
avatar
By Catherine Newman
14th Oct 2021 12:38

A well known company has actually wrecked my computer set up and are refusing to sort it out. I am still getting emails advertising it and see they are going to Expo. They have had ample chance since mid-September to sort it out.

I am editing my post as people are naming and shaming. Iris webhosting has been a complete disaster. They only host my PTP software and none of my other programmes. They were unaware that I have a c and d drive. They put 365 on the host but didn't put my contacts in. If I go on that drive the new email is not pre-populated until I have written to that client. They are not responding to me.

They are selling it on the grounds you can log in anywhere and not have to take your computer away with you. What about my Quickbooks desktop, Qtac payroll?

Thanks (0)
Replying to Catherine Newman:
ghm
By TaxTeddy
14th Oct 2021 12:38

Without naming names, it is possible for you to tell us how that happened? I am very risk-averse in IT issues so if there's a danger area it would really help to understand the issues.

Thanks

Edit - sorry - you responded while I was posting.

Thanks (0)
Replying to TaxTeddy:
avatar
By Catherine Newman
14th Oct 2021 12:39

Hi TaxTeddy. I have now done it as everybody else is naming names.

Thanks (0)
avatar
By Busypractitioner
14th Oct 2021 12:48

If the software companies would realise the limitations of most small business people's accounting knowledge our relationship with them would be better.
We have faced the horror of a client buying Xero and getting their recommended partner to transfer their data from Sage to Xero with absolutely no input from us. They have ended up set up as an Irish company accounting for VAT in Eire when they are a UK company accounting in Euros because they export.
They have a mixture of old sage account references mixed with Xero references and it's a complete mess.
They even got the company name wrong!
Our recommendation - scrap the system and rejoin Xero (which we actually do like usually) with us setting up the nominal and doing the data conversion.
Every time the client is let loose on software we pick up the mess.

Thanks (1)
avatar
By JD
14th Oct 2021 13:41

''In Damery’s view, good software partnerships aren’t about one partner dominating the other, but working together with shared values in a win-win situation''

Even this comment misunderstands the relationship. Accountants provide a professional service to their clients and it is for the software companies to provide a good reliable service to accountants as a supplier. It is not a partnership.

Sage, Xero and QBO in particular seek to disrespect our professional relationship with the client, are following a strategy of turning accountants in to their sales force and having made the sale, they seek to control that relationship by any means possible.

Add to that their complete fantasy advertising directly to client, HMRC and some of the writers here, of what the software is capable of, it hardly surprising that Professional Accountants are getting fed up with them.

Thanks (0)
avatar
By Mallock
14th Oct 2021 13:50

An irritation for us is that QB cannot handle payments on account received for anyone who is on VAT cash accounting. It requires an invoice to be raised for every payment on account.
It means using the software for a lot of professionals is not practical unless they are on invoice accounting for VAT. I have highlighted this several times over the past 5 or 6 years and it has fallen on deaf ears.

The adverts which suggest that an accountant basically isn't required just make my blood boil.

Thanks (0)
Replying to Mallock:
avatar
By Self-Employed and Happy
14th Oct 2021 13:54

Hi,

I'm not quite understanding what it is you are trying to do?

I can't say I've experienced that before so maybe there is a workaround or I'm just not grasping what you are trying.

Thanks (0)
Replying to Self-Employed and Happy:
avatar
By Mallock
14th Oct 2021 17:20

If someone is on cash accounting for VAT and they receive a payment on account from a customer, they should pay VAT on that receipt even though they may not have issued a final fee/invoice to their customer.

QB is totally unable to deal with paying the VAT on the payment on account and crediting the receipt to the customer's account in the sales ledger. It can only do this if it has an invoice to match the payment on account to. This then forces the creation of a sales invoice for every payment on account.

I know this problem isn't mainstream but for professionals such as architects and Solicitors involved in a lengthy piece of work, they may agree to take, say £1,000 a month to account with a final invoice on completion. QB forces them to prepare a sales invoice each month and just messes up the processes they have used for many years.

Thanks (1)
Replying to Mallock:
avatar
By North East Accountant
15th Oct 2021 09:46

Xero's the same creating a prepayment.......so if you run a customer statement it shows a balance due of £Nil instead of in credit.

Sage Acccounting deals with this just fine and you get a proper sales and purchase ledger too.

Thanks (0)
Replying to Mallock:
avatar
By Self-Employed and Happy
15th Oct 2021 12:47

Code the prepayment to the relevant Sales code @ 20% whilst also allocating it to the customer.

Then when the invoice is actually raised sort the categorised payments by description, Batch - UNDO.

Then match the payments that are now back in the "To be categorised" section to the newly raised invoice. Yes it creates an Exception Report for VAT but it does net down to zero.

Not ideal as you have to effectively code the payment twice but its a workaround.

Thanks (0)
Replying to Self-Employed and Happy:
avatar
By North East Accountant
15th Oct 2021 16:10

Thanks for this, I've just tried it in the Demo company.

The trouble is if you run a statement for the Customer it says £NIL due.

In contacts under Customers it says

You Owe Them-Blank They Owe You -Blank (Thinking of basic debits and credits this is even the wrong way around).

Why oh why can't Xero just have a proper Sales and Purchase ledger.....surely that's not too much to ask.

Thanks (0)
wolfy
By rob winder
14th Oct 2021 15:16

I used Sage 50 for years as in my opinion it was the best desktop software for SME's. However, I lost some clients and prospects as they wanted to use cloud based software. In 2013/14 I dabbled with Xero and gave up on it pretty quickly as their support was awful, taking 48 hours to respond to a straightforward query on two occasions. I then got in bed with Sage and their online product and was part of their partner development program. I was invited to attend their press conference in London to introduce Sage One to the financial press, where coincidentally the only attendee was from Accountingweb. From day one I felt like this product was intended to bypass accountants and sell straight to the end user. This fact was confirmed by the then MD of this division, who admitted that the subscription model they were adopting was to bypass the accountants. I can see Sages new headquarters from my office window, so I must admit I feel a bit sad that I am not supporting a local company. However, the whole ethos of the organisation seems to have changed for the worst since Graham Wiley bailed out.

I backed the wrong horse and started to use Sage One, for one reason and one reason only, their support was far better than any of the other vendors. After a couple of years of using this late comer to the party I could see other vendors like Xero pulling further and further away in terms of the usability and technological advances. This fact coupled with several years of fallouts with Sage forced my hand to bail and switch to Xero.

Overall I think its a brilliant product that leaves Sage One, which doesn't appear to have improved at all since launch, trailing a long way behind. I still think that the support offered by Xero is in general appalling. On numerous occasions the standard response is to direct you to an article in Xero central which is totally irrelevant. There is also a number of flaws in the software that could be rectified quite easily, like the way credit notes are allocated individually. I know this has been highlighted to Xero by many users but they seem to prefer to push on with the development of bells and whistles which maybe aren't widely used?

I would say unequivocally that the larger vendors in the fintech arena have lost touch with us but accept us as a necessary evil.

Thanks (0)
Replying to rob winder:
avatar
By North East Accountant
15th Oct 2021 09:54

Sage One no longer exists, it's Sage Accounting now and as it's a totally different product a bad experience previously is not relevant when considering it today....but I understand how it affects one's perception and thoughts.

We use all the big three....QBO, Sage and Xero.

They all have positives and all have negatives and you need to weigh up which things you really need and which that you can live without.

Thanks (0)
Replying to North East Accountant:
wolfy
By rob winder
15th Oct 2021 10:49

Over the years its been rebranded several times but I have to say, in my view, its essentially the same product. We've got one client that still uses it, so in turn we have to and I think its pretty much the same as on day one.

One interesting observation is that in 15 years of using Sage I never picked up a single client because we used Sage. In the two and a half years after converting to Xero we have experienced significant growth specifically because clients come to us because we use Xero.

Thanks (0)
Replying to rob winder:
avatar
By North East Accountant
15th Oct 2021 12:20

We'll have to agree to disagree...cos in our view it's not the same product.

Xero has certainly been the good for that for 100% Xero practices, there's no doubt.

Thanks (0)
avatar
By Open all hours
14th Oct 2021 15:50

The Elephant in the room is the eternal, infernal MTD. We used to partner for software in cases where the client could gain a clear advantage.

Now we are being told that whether it is good for them or not, clients are being forced to buy a service they may or may not need.

MTD is responsible for many things including growing mistrust and increasing resentment between parties who should be working together for the common good.

Thanks (4)
Kevin Lord
By Kevin Lord
15th Oct 2021 09:15

I can't comment on other vendors however at FreeAgent we are proud of our dedicated support team for our partners - dedicated account management, our free education/implementation team (all qualified accountants) and also dedicated telephone practice support team.

Our recent NPS score and feedback comments suggest having a high customer service is vital to our partners and I'm happy to reaffirm that we will not be changing that approach!

Thanks (0)
Replying to Kevin Lord:
Jessica Pillow
By Jessica Pillow
15th Oct 2021 16:31

Yes I will 100% support this. I was definitely NOT talking about Freeagent when I mentionned how poor the support is for accountants generally.
Unfortunately Freeagent is not the right accounting product for the bigger SME so we can't use your product all the time.
We have however started using Freeagent with Mettle for our sole traders to tackle MTD as that is a complete no-brainer :)

Thanks (0)
avatar
By Paul Crowley
15th Oct 2021 10:24

An example of the disconnect

https://www.sage.com/en-gb/blog/mtd-income-tax-life-easier-business/?utm...

Why MTD for Income Tax will make life easier for your business

Not cloud software
Cloud 9 software

MTD does nothing that cannot be done now
Or is the current Sage offering defective?

Answers on a postcard please

Thanks (0)