Head of Insight AccountingWEB
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Xero vs QuickBooks: 'It's all about compliance'

27th Nov 2018
Head of Insight AccountingWEB
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Xero vs QuickBooks: Compliance the new battleground
Xero vs QuickBooks: Compliance the new battleground

Suddenly, the big accounting software platforms have stopped banging on about moving into advisory services. Now it's "all about compliance," Xero’s Damon Anderson told UK accountants at Xerocon.

Coincidentally, the head of Intuit’s accountant business was saying similar things at QuickBooks Connect in San Jose, California the week before. But where Intuit was setting out a general direction of travel, Xero backed up its new strategy by acquiring tax and accounts production app developer Instafile.

According to Xero executives, the company had been helping Instafile integrate with Xero in recent months. “We became so impressed that we decided they should be part of the family,” Xero UK managing director Gary Turner told AccountingWEB in a video interview at Xerocon.

The integration work was evident in a working demo at Xerocon, and the surprise deal generated considerable debate on the show floor and on AccountingWEB.

None of the Xero accountants AccountingWEB spoke to at Xerocon had heard of Instafile before last Wednesday and while they were intrigued by the prospect of a free compliance suite from Xero, several said they would wait and see what happens over the next few months before jumping on the bandwagon.

“They are going to have to introduce a telephone support line if they’re going to work with accountants through self assessment season,” said one practitioner at the event.

The tortured progress of Xero’s payroll module – which has been “radically reimagined”, Anderson told delegates – offers a cautionary tale of what can happen when a general bookkeeping developer dives into compliance waters.

MTD puts the UK centre stage

Thanks to Making Tax Digital, the UK market has become a major international battleground for the big cloud platforms, with Xero and QuickBooks locked in a King Kong vs Godzilla showdown to grab the biggest share of the booming cloud accounting market.

The latest breakdown of their published numbers from Australian analyst Matt Paff puts Xero on 355,000 users in the UK and QuickBooks on 305,000.

In a show of defiance at the threat from its larger US rival, Xero founder and chairman Rod Drury was at Xerocon showing off a revenue chart of Xero’s surging UK income compared to QuickBooks Online's flatter growth line.

Meanwhile, back in San Jose, Intuit CEO-elect Sasan Goodarzi and accountant business head Ariege Misherghi both told AccountingWEB how MTD had stimulated the company’s new-found commitment to compliance tools.

“In the UK our team is flying with MTD and our core team is supporting them. And you’ll see us lean more into tax,” Misherghi said. “When I talk to accountants in Singapore, California and Europe, I find there are more commonalities than differences. There are very important nuances, but the tax workflow is often the same in different regions.

“Our vision for QuickBooks Online Accountant is to have one place where accountants can do everything – and that includes tax. You’ll see some really exciting tax stuff coming out in Canada next week. We’re a compliance business. We’ve been in tax for a decade – that’s not off-putting to us.”

‘We’ll automate compliance’

Taking on fast-changing tax codes in multiple territories, not to mention ongoing tweaks to UK GAAP is not a trivial undertaking. AccountingWEB’s latest Software Reviews comparison of accounts production tools shows that the likes of Sage, Thomson Reuters and CaseWare have struggled to keep up with compliance changes in the recent past.

If specialist UK compliance software developers are finding it hard, can potential customers be fully confident that Xero and Intuit will be able to find the technical talent and sustain the investment needed to carry out the relentless development work?

Gary Turner waved away the concern in his video interview, where Intuit’s Goodarzi batted away similar concerns the week before: “Not to downplay it, but these are compliance changes. What we are great at is solving these compliance changes, fast. We’ll automate them so they don’t impact the end customer,” said Goodarzi.

Replies (22)

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By ireallyshouldknowthisbut
27th Nov 2018 17:04

I am interested to see the statement "In the UK our team is flying with MTD"

No wonder given the sales calls some of my clients have had from Quickbooks which seem to have been rather high on the hard sell, and low on the facts about MTD.

Thanks (4)
Chris M
By mr. mischief
27th Nov 2018 18:27

This is twaddle!

"Xero v Quickbooks, it's all about the balance sheet!"

should have been the title of this article.

Xero is betting the house on all of this stuff, and as I have put in previous posts for every Amazon or Google which bets the house and wins, 20 other companies doing the same thing just lose the house.

Meanwhile anyone looking at a share price chart, or balance sheet, of Intuit (QB parent company) can see that this software company is well-capitalised enough to withstand a 2008-style crash plus MTD meltdown plus IRS meltdown all happening at once.

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By Glenn Martin
28th Nov 2018 10:36

John have you got the numbers of the other vendors (Sage, Freeagent etc) as would be keen to see what market spread is across them all.

I would also be suprised if the race for top spot is as tight as the numbers in your article.

I am north east based so still see a lot of Sage around, but find new clients coming to me are often already on Xero or aware of it whereas I rarely come across anyone on QBO.

I thought there was only 10% cloud adoption but your numbers would indicate its probably 20% or more.

Thanks (0)
Replying to Glennzy:
John Stokdyk, AccountingWEB head of insight
By John Stokdyk
28th Nov 2018 11:46

Ah, the numbers Glenn... These are one of those perennial "I wonder if" issues.

We have investigated the subject before on AWeb and the conclusion I would draw is to treat the actual numbers cited with a lot of salt.

How many of those users have taken a trial, but not signed up? Or bought a group of licences on discount and not rolled them all out? And how much are they actually paying to use the software (Rod Drury's point at Xerocon)?

This article is a bit of a preview for our next Software Review category on small business accounting and bookkeeping (the big one). I'll be doing some global analysis and number comparisons as part of the background on those organisations, but hold litte hope of being able to give you a definitive figure.

Nevertheless the underlying trends are a little more instructive and our Accounting Excellence Software Awards survey showed that Intuit is gaining ground noticeably on Xero. If we could substantiate the numbers, I would not be surprised if the US giant overtakes our Kiwi challenger in the UK during the next 12mo. They have more people on the ground over here and as Mr Mischief points out, they are actively using MTD as a marketing lever. It has already worked on practitioners, so it will be interesting to see if the wider population of small businesses follows their lead. I don't want to prevaricate too much, so all I would say is that I'm reasonably comfortable suggesting that UK cloud adoption is between 10%-20%.

PS - I hear that FreeAgent has added nearly 50% to its user numbers (c75k) following the tie-up with NatWest RBS. It doesn't hurt to have deep pockets behind you when launching a big software landgrab.

Here's the link to last year's analysis:

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Replying to John Stokdyk:
By Glenn Martin
28th Nov 2018 12:28

Ok John,
I look forward to seeing that article.

Be particularly interested to hear on the numbers that are with Sage.

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Chris M
By mr. mischief
28th Nov 2018 13:53

I only need to know 2 numbers:

Reported unadjusted profit before tax.

Reported unadjusted cashflow.

On those numbers, this is not Man City versus Liverpool it is Man. City versus Keswick School under 11 Girls'.

Thanks (3)
28th Nov 2018 19:47

Xero V's QBO? The battle for me from a practice point of view is not about who can do the best compliance (Instafile v's Taxfiler), there are so many other battles
1. Price
2. Functionality
3. Sustainability/confidence
4. Support and speed of updating things when they don't work

Thanks (1)
Replying to NH:
By Glenn Martin
29th Nov 2018 17:21

This is as polarising as Brexit.

I am fan of Xero as find clients take to it better and if they mess up its easily corrected. I also think the support is as good as it needs to be, as you can find most answers by watching the short videos, which other vendors dont seem to have many of.

I have one client who saw the advert and decided to buy a QBO, he messed it up and I have blown the fee sorting it out. It also took 4 weeks to get his bank feed working.

I found QBO support and account management very poor.
I found Xero offer far more support if you push them to develop your own business which does not seem available from other platforms.

Unlike worry wart Mr Mischief I dont worry about balance sheet numbers, in the same way I used an UBer, Netflix, Amazon before they were profitable and life is too short to worry about things that may happen.

For me as small business advising other small business its ease of use and functionality that matter, for me Xero is the far better product in that respect, and its bank feeds are head and shoulders better than any other.

Whoever you hang up with though, its about how you implement it, and for me it allows you to do a better job for your clients, than you can with spreadsheets and paper records.

For me its a personal choice, and the only wrong decision is doing nothing.

Thanks (2)
Replying to Glennzy:
By BryanS1958
05th Dec 2018 17:36

I had the opposite problem, find things easy to correct on QBO, a nightmare on Xero to correct. Plus Xero support is e-mail only and takes more than a day to respond, whereas QBO is telephone support and they have normally been able to resolve queries over the phone or by screen share. Also, Xero reporting is very poor compared with QBO.

I've had no real problems with bank feeds on QBO, although there was a period a while back when there were issues due to some banks changing their permission requirements.

Neither are perfect, but QBO is my preference for use as a bookkeeping tool.

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By youngloch
29th Nov 2018 12:09

If you'd asked me two or three years ago, and some of my colleagues, the fear was that the direction of travel was people doing things themselves and less work for us.

The reality in fact though has been the opposite. Clients that were doing things themselves are now asking us to do more and all this before MTD for VAT has even started, and before HMRC's letters even arrived on the doormats.

We have had a good number of new clients on boarding with us this year, in each case start-ups looking to use Xero or QB, and then realising that there's more to being compliant than they realised and that the software does not just do it all for you.

I sense the software companies leaning ever more towards us as partners than had been the case before. Phrases such as "even your accountant will love it" have crept in more and more in the last year.

Overall though, red books, spreadsheets or the cloud, it comes down to the people using it and their standard of initial data. Whether they be good or bad business owners, or lets be honest good or bad accountants (a glossy website doesn't reveal the quality of work of the now often faceless accountant), it still comes down to Rubbish In Rubbish Out and no software package with promises of "job done" will ever change that.

Thanks (3)
By BryanS1958
29th Nov 2018 13:11

Anyone moving from QBO to Xero is likely to regret it. QBO has, amongst other things, much better support (including telephone support, instead of waiting 24 hours for Xero support to e-mail the wrong answer, having to e-mail again, wait another 24 hours, etc.) and much better reporting. We use both QBO and Xero and would always recommend QBO over Xero to most of our clients.

Thanks (1)
By North East Accountant
29th Nov 2018 13:55

Xero vs Quickbooks, but don't forget little old Sage.

Yes, they messed up completely with the old original Sage One,
Yes, they were slow to get going and have been playing catch up with Xero,
they make money,
have extensive experience in the sector,
provide phone support,
are a FTSE 100 company,
they are investing significant resources in this, and
the software is getting better all the time (the new bank rules and direct feeds are great).

Place your bets on which of these big 3 wins the race over the next few years.

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Replying to North East Accountant:
29th Nov 2018 14:05

I still have a very long list of suggested improvements I sent to Sage over a year ago, all of them were things that QBO, Xero and FA do better - I think the only one they have done is the bank rules, but that only works on Direct Feeds which is basically Lloyds, Natwest and HSBC (which dont always work).
Having used Sage for a couple of years I constantly find myself thinking "this could so easily be so much better" I put up with it because they are cheap but I am getting more and more frustrated.

Thanks (0)
Replying to North East Accountant:
By Cantona1
29th Nov 2018 16:56

Sage will be dropped off the top 100 and will be delisted.
Good Riddance!

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By geraldw
29th Nov 2018 18:12

Can't believe any accountant would seriously recommend Quickbooks.As my friend and colleague very recently said, and I quote, " Quickbooks is s***e ". Couldn't agree more. Any increase in their matket share is surely down to the large sums they must spend on TV adverts - unlike their competitors.

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By LangdonHamblin
02nd Dec 2018 20:12

An interesting pitch from Gary Turner, one of the best salespeople in this space.
It's difficult to make an informed comment when so little is known about InstaFile - the product and its people. First impressions are that InstaFile will cater for the smaller firm. So whatever the line is, there will be firms, who will have to create a separate workflow if they want to go the Xero compliance route?
Xero is going to find it challenging to keep developing the product, or product suite, when it is moving into so many geographies. Some astute comments also made in the comments, indicating that whilst received very warmly at Xerocon, accountancy businesses will not just change because it has a "Xero badge on the box", especially as Xero has a poor track record with payroll, slow to release and develop.
I also can't see IRIS or CCH, who own approximately 75% of the compliance market, giving this away. As Hg Capital invested £1.2bn into IRIS earlier this year, you would assume that this scenario has already been played out in the IRIS boardroom.
One point is clear, "end to end solution" is now a part of the accounting tech vocabulary and compliance is now top of the agenda.

Plus ca change.

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Chris M
By mr. mischief
04th Dec 2018 22:13

Personally I can't see much difference between QBO and Xero in terms of getting final accounts knocked out, if anything QBO is a bit quicker for me.

If a software geek recommends a software product operated by a supplier which is loss-making and then goes bust that is one thing. Too bad. If an accountant does this, is it necessarily still too bad? After all the one thing we're supposed to be able to do is read a balance sheet is it not?

If I were a client put into a product by my accountant and that product then went pop, as a minimum I would expect that accountant to picking up the tab in full of costs I incur getting set up on a new product to the same level I was at before.

To me an accountant has a higher duty of care here. I am not sure if the courts would agree, but I am not keen to find out.

On that basis, this is not even remotely a close call. The Sage share price has spent 18 years going from £8 to £5.50 or so, with serious investor doubt over its cloud offering and an MD resignation this year. Xero has pointedly failed to get any traction in the key US market despite - as you'd expect from them - a lot of hype, and is losing money at a stage in its life where, in my opinion, with better strategy it would be profitable.

So in football terms:

QBO Manchester City
Sage Sunderland
Xero Keswick School under 11 girls' team

Thanks (1)
Replying to mr. mischief:
By Glenn Martin
05th Dec 2018 16:48

Is your plan to keep cracking that joke until someone thinks its funny.

Also your gag is flawed as in the real world it would mean Keswick girls would see there matches attended by 100,000 fans as they have more fans (users) than the other 2 examples.

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By North East Accountant
05th Dec 2018 22:46

As a suffering Sunderland fan of 42 years I must disagree with you Mr Mischief.

Sunderland never come from behind and win anything, whereas Sage have every chance of doing so.

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Chris M
By mr. mischief
06th Dec 2018 13:35

I'll have to think of another analogy.

My point is that Sage were once in a dominant market position, like Intuit are now, with very robust share price, clear strategy for profitable growth being delivered on and throwing off cash like they were printing money.

Those days are in the past for Sage, but they are still strong enough to get back there.

Whereas financially Xero is just a wild punt on a rank outsider. Like Leicester winning the title, it can happen but please don't bet your house on it.

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Replying to mr. mischief:
By Georgie Goldfish
06th Dec 2018 14:06

"Those days are in the past for Sage" you say. I would think of another analogy that fits this century too because yours predate Sage or any accounting system.

If I had been to Keswick girls' school I'd have been on your case sooner but you mentioned it twice so here I am.

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By Georgie Goldfish
06th Dec 2018 15:04

Thanks John - a great article

I use QBO. And as noted, I am paying for way more licences than I intend to use. Lesson learned about sales spiel.

I do find the whole marketing side from most providers quite aggressive, and the software a little too American. They are all in a rush to be the next big thing before getting the current software right.

I like that QBO have a helpline - although not manned by people with accounts knowledge. I also opted for Taxfiler whose email helpline seems to work well and by people who know their stuff. I hope this doesn't change under IRIS, but I do hope they keep up/catch up with the accounts being more up to speed with new regs.

At times I do wonder if the margins for smaller practices will be eroded due to software costs as we opt to pay for more speed / efficiency but that's another subject altogether.

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