Mobile apps staged a comeback at Accountex 2019 with key announcements from the likes of MyFirmsApps and Clear Books.
With cloud accounting and remote working entering the mainstream, it’s a natural progression for practices and software providers to push forward apps and platforms to support their clients.
While Making Tax Digital (MTD) undoubtedly fuelled a boom in cloud accounting and mobile data capture tools, the percentage of Accounting Excellence Award entrants that invested in apps dropped between 2015 and 2017. But with MTD for VAT now on the production line, mobile solutions rebounded in 2018-19, and are now in place among 20% of participating firms.
According to Mike Page, head of product management and customer experience at MyFirmsApp, the app market is still in an embryonic phase within accountancy.
“My belief is that mobile will continue to grow, at least until it reaches a saturation point,” he said. “I still believe we are far from that point from the accounting profession perspective. And the reason for that is that the consumer experience isn't quite developed yet in many areas. As an industry, I don't think we are quite there yet.”
Page’s comments were an introduction to version 2.0 of the MyFirmsApp OneApp platform, which will be released later in the summer with a new user interface and and improved two-way messaging.
According to Page, the aim of the platform is to combine accounting and data collection tools such as mileage trackers and receipt capture solutions in one place, as well as helping accountants improve their communication with their clients. Compared to emails, text-based push notifications have a higher open rate and boost client engagement, he said.
“Accountants used to get their clients from the local community, which is not necessarily the case now. Technology is breaking those barriers down. And at the same time, if accountants embrace technology they can use it to reinvigorate those local relationships,” said Page.
Apps fulfil a marketing function, but can also help clients on their digital journey, he continued. With the need to keep digital records for MTD, simple data collection tools can help clients “start doing things digitally even when they are not that technology savvy,” he said.
Ruth Fouracre, CEO of Clear Books, also put the company’s new mobile data capture app at the centre of its Accountex announcements this year.
“Most software development over the past year has been MTD-focused,” said Fouracre. “But our app is a step towards continuously improving financial technology to make digital tax easier for those impacted by the HMRC mandate.”
The new Clear Books receipt capture app allows users to snap and upload receipts to the online accounting ledger. The app uses optical character recognition (OCR) to lift the information from the receipt, which users can then review and edit before saving the expense to Clear Books.
“Clients can use the app themselves, or accountant can use it to capture the data from a box full of receipts,” Fouracre said.
The app will be in a development phase until June, when the first users will begin testing it, ahead of the public launch in the summer of 2019.
“We see a future very much in mobile, so we will assess what’s the next step for our mobile app,” said Fouracre. “We don't want to limit it to expenses, we want to see what the most popular and needed features are.”
Elsewhere, Sage broadened its app reach through a partnership with Leeds-based mobile provider IT BigChange, which can hook back-office software such as CRM, invoicing and corporate accounting up to the smartphones and tablets of mobile workers.
“A lot of companies in the UK are still doing everything on paper,” said Alex Epstein, chief marketing officer at BigChange. “With the app, if I am a plumber, for instance, I can keep a record of my time sheets, my expenses and see all my jobs for the day.
“Then, as I am completing the work, the app is sending back information about the work in real time to the back office, keeping very detailed financial records. Essentially, it gives customers their own online bookkeeping portal.
“From the finance point of view, it gives you a very detailed audit trail. We’ve got a dedicated Sage integration tool, so all the financial transactional data is linked between the two systems.”