Sage revamps cloud suite for accountantsby
It may have been a long wait, but Sage executives this week unveiled their revamped Sage for Accountants offering, an all-in-one “proposal to advisory” cloud solution.
“The goal for Sage for Accountants is to unify and digitise the tools used end to end across the practice, not just everyday jobs,” Sage executive vice president for the small business segment Neal Watkins told AccountingWEB.
With the new upgrade, Sage can finally offer some specific answers to queries about what their cloud products actually do. As set out in the company’s press announcement, Sage for Accountants is a suite of tools that gives accountants a unified environment to manage their practice, from onboarding and client management, to bookkeeping, payroll, final accounts and tax.
This combination makes Sage “one of only vendors” available to go from the initial client contact through to service delivery and statutory filings, said Sage global product development director Gerty Bester: “What we’re delivering is what will take us to the next stage.”
What the suite includes
The core Sage Business Cloud Accounting engine (aka Sage Accounting) sits at the heart of the suite, alongside Sage’s existing cloud apps. The central Client Management screen provides a jumping off point to Sage’s accounting and compliance tools as well as associated programs such as AutoEntry and the VAT Centre.
Work is still underway to integrate other Sage products into the suite, including GoProposal and Sage 50cloud.
The new editon includes several new elements, which Sage has been testing with accountant users during the development process. Based on that feedback, the new features Sage prioritised for development include:
- Client Management: Sage’s updated client list (pictured above) emulates the hierarchical folder structure on which many firms organise their client files. Each company entry can be expanded to show any listings for associated entities or individual directors, all of which are governed by security permissions to manage staff access to client records. The hub will be enhanced to include Sage 50cloud customers, Bester explained: “We want to take friction out of that on both desktop and cloud solutions. That pane of glass will become the same for both products.”
- Smart Reporting: This new client reporting module draws information from across multiple records in the Sage for Accounting suite. It includes a menu of readymade vertical reporting packages to meet different client requirements across a range of sectors. As Sage product marketing director Chris Downing noted, however, the same multi-dimensional tools can be used by practitioners to report on their own practices, by client types or by partner and client teams. “As long as you capture the data at source, you can deliver insight in the moment, rather than chasing it and delivering later. It’s getting to the heart of what the business is doing,” he said.
- Rewards scheme: This is less of a product enhancement than a go-to-market strategy. Sage has overhauled its accountant incentives to allow them to redeem product usage points for discounts, starting at 50% of the list price and increasing in line with client usage numbers. The will include the cloud compliance tools and further reductions will be based Neal Watkins was very careful to emphasise that the rewards model was going to be simple and transparent to ensure it rewarded accountants for loyal and appropriate use of Sage for Accountants. “Our commitment is to keep every accountant in the right place with Sage. They’ll be able to see what they’re being charged and we will remove any discrepancies, for example if they ring their account manager and get a better price,” he said.
These ingredients come as part of the Sage for Accounting product, for no extra charge, which is how Xero and QuickBooks Online market their client management features. Sage was coy before the launch about the actual subscription rates, but explained that accountants will pay for subscriptions of accounting, payroll, HR and tax “based on the needs of their clients”. As they add new clients or extra modules, their discount levels will increase.
At the time of launch, Sage was offering six months free for new Sage Accounting customers, with prices after that ranging from £7/month for the Start edition, £10/month for the Accountant Standard edition and £12/month for plus. The usual cloud payroll subscription runs at £5/month, with options up to £15/month.
How competitive is it?
While Sage says it’s one of the few all-in vendors, it first announced its plans to deliver a cloud practice solution in early 2014. There have been a few false starts since then, so it has taken the listed software giant more than seven years to deliver a convincing proposition.
While Sage has had a collection of cloud apps in its portfolio, other vendors have stolen a lead with clearly defined end-to-end solutions of some kind, including CCH/Twinfield (2012), Capium (2014), Nomisma (2014), Taxfiler/KashFlow (2020) and, more recently, Xero Tax (2021).
Was Sage too late entering this race, or can its portfolio of ready-to-go cloud solutions and pipeline of desktop Sage 50cloud users counteract the head start it has given to other suppliers?
“It’s not too late,” answered Downing. “It’s the right time. If you consider online compliance, we’ve been doing it for years. We have thousands of accountants producing year-end statements and tax returns using Sage in the cloud. Because client management is changing, accountants have learned time is key resource they are trying to save. We are creating capacity to save time on day-to-day jobs so they are in a position where they can tame MTD.”
Bester added that there is going to be a massive boom in practice software over the next few months as the profession heads into the next phase of Making Tax Digital. “To launch now is critical to win the hearts and minds of accountants. Their workloads are increasing four-fold and there’s going to be an influx of clients. How can the practice be as efficient as possible? This is the perfect time to get the quick wins into the market,” she said.
To give Sage credit, Sage for Accountants is more than a minimum viable product release. The payroll, accounts production and tax applications are already in place and the new Client Management and Smart Reporting enhancements cover off core essentials that any cloud practice will need.
There is more to come with Sage for Accountants, as Sage moves to integrate GoProposal and Sage 50cloud into the suite, with cashflow forecasting, workflow/task management and more analytics in the pipeline. Not to mention an MTD for income tax solution in the new year.
Users will have to wait a little longer for the classic time and billing functions, but Chris Downing made the point that GoProposal will take care of some of that workload. He argued that this approach fitted into the growing trend within the profession to bill clients based on activity rather than time spent. According to Bester Sage is working to support different pricing models. “Whether they do flat fees, annual bills or instalments, or transaction billing, they’ll have a choice,” she said.
You might also be interested in
AccountingWEB’s Editor at large has been with the site since 1999, rising from news editor to editor in chief, global editor and head of insight. As a roving editor, he continues to investigate the profession's use of technology around the world. He devotes his spare time to technology history and an oddball collection of stringed instruments...