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Sage unveils free digital record-keeping solution

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Sage has launched two new packages for accountants designed to service businesses with simple tax income and expenditure needs, including a free product targeting those taking a first step towards digital record-keeping.

5th Apr 2023
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Available now via the Sage for Accountants platform, both new plans launched by Sage have a new mobile app where users can capture income and expenses, connect bank feeds, and use additional reporting functionality. They also offer accountants the ability to use app data to support clients on a range of issues, including tax.

The emphasis for the new products from the Newcastle-based developer is on helping clients digitise their record-keeping and become more efficient by reducing manual data entry. However, the solutions will ultimately play a large part in Sage’s Making Tax Digital for income tax self assessment (MTD ITSA) solution for sole traders and the self-employed, should the government’s plans go live in 2026.

The two new packages, Sage Accounting Individual and Sage Accounting Individual Free, slot in with the developer’s three current accounting tiers (Start, Standard and Plus).

Sage Accounting Individual Plan

The Sage Accounting Individual Plan is broadly the same proposition that was announced in October. However, the delay to the government’s MTD ITSA mandation led to a postponement of the product’s launch and some minor rescoping to focus more on practice efficiency and workflow. 

Through the solution, users can import transactions through bank feeds or a data extraction tool, manage and categorise transactions via mobile, tablet or web browser, attach receipts to transactions, and make adjustments and corrections. The package has no limits to the number of users who can log in to an account and offers multiple bank feed connections and unlimited storage. 

Screenshot of Sage Individual transaction screen
Sage

While neither of the new plans currently integrates directly with Sage's personal tax product for submissions, accountants can run financial reports in accounting, then separately use the personal tax functionality (which is free to accountants) and submit the tax return from there to HMRC.

Additional automation functionality includes auto categorisation, where the system learns from a user’s behaviour. For example, if a client uploads a picture of a fuel receipt from BP, the next time they scan a BP receipt it will post in the same category. The tool also has the ability to split a transaction (for example, the BP receipt can be split into fuel and food) and accountants can make journal adjustments.

The technology includes financial reporting functionality, including trial balance, profit & loss (P&L), balance sheet, audit trail and nominal activity.

Sage Accounting Individual Free

Sage is calling its free plan a “first of its kind for the accountant sector”, aimed at self-employed taxpayers with simple tax affairs who currently choose to do their own self assessment returns. 

The package is intended to support clients on their first step to digital record-keeping and helps connect them to an accountant or bookkeeper.

iPhone screenshot of Sage Individual transaction page
Sage
Via the mobile app or browser, clients can record their income and expenses via a receipt capture tool. The free plan has the ability to add one bank feed, access is limited to one user login (plus an agent user login), and the tool has a limited storage capacity.

Compared to the individual plan, the free iteration has a narrow range of financial reporting, offering trial balance without the balance sheet, P&L and audit trail functionality.

Digital demand

In a press release accompanying the product launch, Sage said that 92% of UK small businesses use the service of an accountant and 68% of self assessment returns are submitted by an accountant or bookkeeper.

“With the demand on accountancy and tax services set to increase with the introduction of MTD for ITSA, accountancy practices need to prepare to support their clients through the changes and need to scale up to support the higher frequency of submissions,” said the release.

“The more digitised tax gets, the more demand there is from business for accountants to help,” Karen Ainley, head of accountants at Sage told AccountingWEB.

To meet this demand, Ainley said Sage was providing a product that offered accountants easy access to information and helped firms work more efficiently with their clients to meet the potential resourcing challenge of quarterly reporting. 

“Clients don’t want multiple apps, they’re looking for one tool,” she said. “The accountant can help them capture transactions, allocate bank feeds and so on, and then see the ways to help their clients, not just monitor cash in versus cash out.”

“The two new individual plans give Sage accountants a solution for all types of clients,” added Lois Laughlin, lead product marketing manager, accountants UKI, for Sage. “We now have a single proposition that can provide an end-to-end service for accountants and bookkeepers.”

The Sage Accounting Individual Plan is available as part of the Sage for Accountants platform at £4 a month. Both plans launch today for accountants and will roll out to the direct business market with a higher retail price at a later, as yet unconfirmed, date.

6 April 2023: The article was amended to correct information about the plans' integration with the Sage personal tax product

Replies (8)

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Tornado
By Tornado
05th Apr 2023 15:28

I wonder sometimes if Software Developers are creating 'Solutions' for 'Problems' that don't really exist.

Thanks (3)
Replying to Tornado:
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By D V Fields
05th Apr 2023 19:38

Appears to be a common theme:
https://www.accountingweb.co.uk/content/no-accounting-for-tech-ep12-mayd...

The programmers have a piece of code that seems to work if only they could make the “problem” fit.

The visionary of Steve Jobs is sadly missed - and certainly not understood!

Thanks (3)
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By Hugo Fair
05th Apr 2023 17:52

A slightly more savvy product positioning than their previous attempt ... so they can thank the govt for the delay to MTD ITSA mandation!

But there are still inconsistencies in the story:
* "its free plan .. aimed at self-employed taxpayers with simple tax affairs who currently choose to do their own self assessment returns."
* And yet "The package is intended to support clients .. and help connect them to an accountant or bookkeeper."
So who is it for ... those who are happy to DiY or those seeking to appoint an agent?

And I do wish that marketing depts could be banned from spraying statistics around without any explanation or qualification:
"In a release accompanying the product launch, Sage said that 92% of UK small businesses use the service of an accountant and 68% of self assessment returns are submitted by an accountant or bookkeeper."
- presumably a lot of those 92% of UK small businesses are incorporated (so not relevant to this press release); and
- they appear to be admitting that 32% of SATRs are submitted by the taxpayer (for whom it doesn't sound like they're offering a solution).

In other words, this is still at heart all about how to use MTD ITSA to leverage increased licence revenues - not about anything that benefits the taxpayer (let alone reduces their costs).

Thanks (6)
Morph
By kevinringer
06th Apr 2023 09:51

My patience with Sage is wearing thin. I've been a Sage user since 1990. I really like the desktop product, but now Sage are charging new desktop customers £77 a month (see https://www.sage.com/en-gb/products/sage-50cloud/). Pre MTD VAT you could buy the desktop product for a one-off fee of less than £100 for a perpetual licence. Sage are pricing themselves out of the market. How can Sage justify forcing existing customers to finance free products? Or do Sage plan to do the dirty on these free products like they have done on their desktop products and impose astronomical price increases?

Thanks (4)
By ireallyshouldknowthisbut
06th Apr 2023 09:58

@Tom, how does this differ from what looks like very similar products on rest of the market?

Eg the bank integrated products?

Its a very crowded market, and what would be useful would be an understanding of the different products doing much the same thing. ie categorising bookkeeping transactions.

The main interest from an accountant in practice point of view is
(a) how easy is it to view transactions the client has entered?
(b) how easy to move them in software for miscategorisation? [ie can you do a search and move in bulk?]
(c) how easy to dump the lot out into excel and sort if out on the desktop?

We have found with Pandle for example, the front end is OK, but its really not great at moving things about, eg where a client categorises things wrongly all year. And as for VAT, its very unsophisticated if you need to make changes.

NB nice use of the word "should" with respect to ITSA. Heh.

Thanks (1)
Replying to ireallyshouldknowthisbut:
Tom Herbert
By Tom Herbert
06th Apr 2023 10:53

Thanks IRSKTB. It's a good point - with any new products, it's useful to find out where it sits in relation to what's already there. I'll go away and make enquiries. In terms of other tools, are you thinking the main GL platforms plus a handful of others?

Thanks (1)
Replying to TomHerbert:
By ireallyshouldknowthisbut
06th Apr 2023 11:31

There are gazillions of different products out there all doing much the same thing.

I was thinking of the software the challenger banks are offering for example which offer various things, but mainly support around invoice generation, receipt of invoices, and categorisation of expenses.

From an accountant point of view its a "bookkeeping to trial balance" tool, usually with some naff graphs bolted on.

Thanks (2)
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By Mr J Andrews
06th Apr 2023 10:39

.....Aimed at the self employed who do their own SA Returns.
.....Intended to help connect with an accountant.
Make your mind up !

Thanks (1)