What accounting software vendors are promising in 2016
When AccountingWEB approached some of the leading specialist software houses serving this market, the imminent arrival of online personal tax accounts dominated the discussions.
As indirect beneficiaries of HMRC’s £1.3bn windfall, most tax and accounting software companies welcome the government’s digital strategy. As Xero put it, “HMRC will make smarter use of the data it holds, linking it up in ways that weren’t previously possible. Small businesses will have to link their accounting software to their tax account and have visibility on what they owe at least quarterly. This will give more certainty about what needs to be paid and when so businesses can manage their cash flow better.
“With these ambitious digital plans in place, the way that small businesses, individuals and financial advisers interact with HMRC is going to radically change over the next few years. And definitely for the better!”
As the chair of the trade body BASDA’s tax group TaxCalc’s Steve Checkley has been closely involved in the evolution of HMRC’s online services. He predicted that during the next year software products will start adopting HMRC’s new APIs.
“It currently looks as though there are some APIs that are definitely going to be needed to manage certain client circumstances from April 2016 (such as Marriage Transfer Allowance). As the year progresses, other APIs that may deliver more useful functionality will be released by HMRC and I think that software companies will begin to implement these relatively quickly to gain a marketable edge over the competition.”
The debate has continued on AccountingWEB for more than a month, with a somewhat less rosy view of the likely impact on small business and its advisers. On behalf of IRIS, Steve Cox agreed that the industry would embrace HMRC’s software interfaces relatively quickly, but added that this won’t reduce the need for accountants.
“The role of the accountant will still be there to be help their clients be at their most efficient for tax purposes. And also, double-checking the figures before they get sent over to the Revenue,” he said.
Product plans for the year ahead - small business accounts
One unfortunate side effect of bright technology ideas for HMRC is that they divert resources and attention away from the other things that the industry might be planning for its products. But software never stands still, and several vendors gave us previews of their priorities and plans for the year. AccountingWEB will be publishing a collection of these perspectives during January, but to kick things off, here are some pointers from small business accounting providers:
“We have a really exciting development roadmap in 2016 that focuses on simplifying more processes for our accountants, including collating documents that clients send us (bank statements, for example) and plugging more of our services in HMRC's online services. Plugging into Companies House and HMRC's APIs is a really exciting process as they continue to release more and more of them - we're looking forward to getting our hands on early versions of Digital Tax Accounts.
“We're also exploring unbundling of some of our services. Basically breaking down various elements of our whole service into individual apps. We just released our first smartphone app, and we're hard at work on a few more standalone services which plug into our platform.” Darren Fell, chief executive, Crunch Accounting
“Our focus for 2016 is to continue to save accountants time and money, enabling them to focus on supporting their business customers with practical and helpful advice.
“We’ll continue to integrate bookkeeping and compliance workflow, removing the need for duplicate entries and re-work; opening the door to richer client relationships, built on the foundation of real-time information. Augmenting the power of our suite with strategic partnerships will also be a central theme in 2016 as we continue to provide accountants with the tools they need to help their customers predict business issues, solve them and report on the impact of decisions.
“We’ll also continue to introduce new features for both accountants and their customers as well as ensuring that the user experience within KashFlow remains simple enough for end-users, yet powerful and configurable enough to give accountants total control of their customer experience.” - James Griffin, director of product management, IRIS Cloud Division
“Our focus for the coming year is transforming the business of doing business, bringing smart technology to millions of small-and-medium-sized businesses. Our aim is to free up accountants from the manual and time-consuming constraints of inputting huge volumes of data and instead enable them to collaborate with their teams and clients wherever they are in a compliant and value-adding way, from any device.
“We see our customers having all the information they need, at an instant in one place. We see a collaborative, mobile workforce, integrated with next-generation technology. The way we use social networks in our personal lives will increasingly be adopted in practices and facilitate better information sharing.
“It’s about enabling accountants to provide more value-added service offerings and broader consultancy to their clients, as well as putting the power into business owner’s hands to help them achieve their business goals.” - Nick Longden, vice president Sage Accountants UK & Ireland
“Xero will be launching a number of improvements to our existing payroll service through the first half of next year to help accountants and set up auto enrolment for their clients. Accountants will be able to automatically assess all their clients’ employees each month to see which would be eligible to enrol. We'll also help accountants automatically submit data to pensions providers. And we'll help them find templates for the employee communications they need to send.” - Paul Bulpitt, Xero head of accounting and co-founder of The WOW Company.