Xerocon 2019 preview: Apps on parade
Setting your software radar for East London on 13-14 November, John Stokdyk casts an eye over some of the third-party apps that will be of most interest to accountants at this year’s Xerocon.
As previously written, Xerocon has become its own cultural phenomenon – part tradeshow, part showbiz extravaganza and a lot more party around the edges.
When you get past the glitz to the nitty gritty, what really draws people to the event is the opportunity to get a closer look at some of the new third-party applications affiliated to the New Zealand-based accounting platform. There are 70 exhibitors currently listed for the London event, so most visitors will have to be selective about who they visit. This quick tour highlights some of the sectors and developers who will be of most interest to AccountingWEB members.
Judging from the previous Xerocons in Brisbane and San Diego, there will be a lot of buzz around the company’s Xero Cash forecasting tool. The tool accordingly prompted some energetic product development work among the forecasting, planning and analysis (FP&A) software community.
Xero has, however, dipped a toe into UK tax and accounts compliance waters with last year’s acquisition of Instafile. We’ve been hearing from some users about the Xero Tax beta test programme, so this should be a bit point of interest for any practitioners attending the London event.
Thanks to Xero Tax, practice tools make a good starting point for any accountancy app quests at Xerocon. The responses to this year’s Accounting Excellence software survey showed that the big cloud migration Xero started more than a decade ago has slowed in the past two years. Making Tax Digital pushed cloud accounting into the practice mainstream. but the complexities of switching out legacy systems and the availability of bridging tools for MTD have slowed the conversion of business users to online accounting.
But this year, we also spotted that practitioners are now embracing cloud applications very rapidly for internal processes including tax return work, accounts production and practice management. This was clearly a motivating factor behind the Xero Tax project, but there will be a lot of other exhibitors at the show who want a piece of that action.
Senta – Fresh from winning the Accounting Excellence Award for practice management software of the year, Senta will be making its debut at Xerocon to showcase new Xero integration features. As well as the standing data, Senta can now pull through bookkeeping data for both clients and the firm’s own transactions to monitor cash flow and other key business indicators.
Silverfin – Another member of the Accounting Excellence software award club. Software innovator of the year Silverfin is a central data hub that connects up Xero accounting data with practice workflows and a range of analytic and reporting tools.
CaseWare – The doyen of accounts production and audit processes among larger firms. CaseWare has also jumped on the Xero bandwagon with links from the bookkeeping program into its new CaseWare Cloud platform. This collection of online solutions includes CaseWare’s own practice management system, along with the Xtend portal and an audit disclosure checklist developed in tandem with Mercia.
Receipt Bank – With Xero Expenses catching on, Receipt Bank has been investing in new features and integrations to broaden its appeal to users of Xero and other accounting systems. This includes – whisper it quietly at Xerocon – Sage 50cloud. Receipt Banks core functionality has been updated this year with sales invoice capture, along with auto line item extraction from all documents.
Clarity – High-tech newcomer Clarity is still walking the tightrope of its blockchain-based funding model, with the public offering now scheduled to open in January. As we saw at Accountex in May, it’s still a pretty good-looking piece of practice management and reporting software.
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SmartVault – TaxCalc, the stalwart of the UK tax and practice software scene, isn’t exhibiting at Xerocon, but its new document management partner SmartVault will be there. The new combination links TaxCalc to the SmartVault document manager. This allows accountants to share documents with clients via the portal and switch into the TaxCalc eSign Centre for reviews and approvals.
Xavier - Xavier Analytics is a tool designed by the virtual finance pioneers at FD Works in Bristol. Having tired of using spreadsheets for data migration and analysis, they developed an automated tool that will pull transaction data out of Xero and look for data anomalies and areas of risk. Designed to support advisory conversations, the Xavier dashboard is designed to help accountants prioritise clients in need of action.
Forecasting and analysis
After welcoming Xero’s cashflow forecasting announcement in Brisbane back in August, all the third-party reporting and forecasting app developers are coming to Xerocon London. Could it be to demonstrate their defiance and innate superiority over the embryonic Xero program? As Receipt Bank has already shown, when the mothership starts moving in on your territory, you need to carve out new spaces for yourself. Here’s a snapshot of how some familiar names in this field are responding.
Fluidly – Determined to define a new software category of 'intelligent cashflow' for what it does, Fluidly recently revamped its underlying platform and added new Dynamic Insights reports. Drawing on multiple sources besides the sales and purchase ledgers, Fluidly boasts that it’s able to automatically build a cash projection based on actual figures.
Fathom – Fathom, too, has gone for a platform rebuild, so Xerocon should provide an opportunity to have a look at its new user interface. It’s always had a neat menu of charts and views, including Cashflow Waterfall and Goalseek reports, but all these options can be selected, configured and shuffled around on screen with the new user controls.
Futrli – For months, Futrli has been refining a completely new system it’s calling the Futrli Platform, which will run alongside its classic advisory package. Determined to jump beyond the crowded 'advisory' market within practices, Futrli’s Platform is designed for businesses to use for themselves. A social media-like action feed will highlight the most urgent financial issues for action and help small businesses owners navigate through their working lives from day to day. Just to reassure practitioners that they haven’t been neglected, Futrli has also been offering firms free licences for Flow, the cash forecasting tool within the new Platform.
Spotlight Reporting – A more established player in the Xero marketplace, Spotlight, has added driver-based forecasting tools to its system. Models based on units sold from a sales forecast or departmental headcounts can now be built, rather than estimating and inputting raw numbers.
Float – The winner of the coveted Accounting Excellence software award for forecasting, planning and analysis, Float has not been sitting on its laurels, either. Float has embraced the practice overview, known as the Partner Portfolio view in its application, which helps spot clients where cash might be running below a certain threshold, or who haven’t reconciled their transactions. Float’s success has been driven by its popularity among small business users, but according to founder Colin Hewitt, “We’re now catching up with things we can add for the accountant – like the Portfilo view and user permissions that make Float easier to use as a firm.”
If you’ve still got the legs after those little tours, Xerocon offers a great opportunity to have a peek at the new generation of 'fintech' apps, ranging from the digital banks Tide and Starling, to better known payment mechanisms such as CreDec (Bacs), GoCardless (direct debit), iZettle (cards) and Stripe – which now integrates with Xero so it can set up card payments (recurring if necessary) and feed them straight through to the accounting ledger.
There is also the online finance brigade, which includes established players like iwoca and MarketInvoice. These programs plug into Xero and interrogate the company’s financial status to carry out instant risk assessments. Depending on what they find, they can make finance available within hours, not weeks.
Joining this crew is a new name, Growth Street, which is promising to offer finance against funds tied up in invoices, stock or work-in-progress, up to a value of £2m.
For more information about the event and to book a place, visit the Xerocon website.
AccountingWEB’s Head of Insight has been with the site since 1999 and likes to spend his time studying accountants’ technology habits. When not nerding out, you can find him exploring obscure indie music and searching for the perfect organic sourdough loaf from his base in Brighton, UK.