Why SMEs are not adopting accounting software

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A recent survey by the UK200Group revealed that 65% of its members’ small business clients do not currently use software to manage their accounts – but this wasn’t the biggest surprise.

According to the membership association the biggest shock was that 16% of small business (SME) owners do nothing to record business transactions, leaving it to their accountant to fill in details prior to their tax return each year. Meanwhile, 27% of SMEs used computers for their bookkeeping – with the assumption that this involved Microsoft Excel or another spreadsheet-based application.

The question is why small businesses are not using accounting software, particularly when the government’s Making Tax Digital (MTD) programme is due to start in just over a year and this requires software that can plug into MTD.

Cost factors

First and foremost, it is worth noting that HMRC has confirmed that free software will be available to meet MTD requirements, though this is only for very small businesses with the most straightforward affairs.

Hazel Gough, partner at accountancy firm Chiene + Tait says that this raises the question of how and why the software companies would make a free-to-use product available when they also have a similar one to sell.

“It seems likely that any free software will be very basic – possibly fine for some businesses, but limited in scope in terms of features,” she said.

Gough suggests that software houses would also look to make revenue in ways other than subscription fees such as selling customer data, while she thinks businesses should be wary as the software companies may want to restrict the free software to the extent that businesses are forced into moving to paid versions if they want to effectively manage their accounts and submissions to HMRC.

So is cost a stumbling block for many small businesses, if they were to use a commercial software product rather than free software?

Small businesses are unlikely to want to splash out on the latest software if they think they can manage without it. But according to Dave Chaplin, CEO and founder of SME Contractor Calculator, an online advice portal, his company has actually saved money by using accounting software.

“We are finally getting around to using Xero this year, and we will save £3,000 per year in accounting costs – because we can now do our own book keeping and not have to pay someone,” he said.

The cheapest cloud-based packages cost about £10 a month, and HMRC is putting the cost of MTD at £280 for each business – although there have been suggestions that the cost will go far beyond this estimate.

Picking the right package

Gough doesn’t see costs or ease of use as an issue; the toughest part is picking the software package which has the right features for their business. The business needs to understand whether there are better options than the free software being promised by HMRC “if and when that does arrive”, she said.

Accounting software providers will point out that there are numerous benefits of using their products: better record keeping, more efficiency, fewer resources used, and so on.

But for Rachel Carrell, CEO of a childcare tech start-up Koru Kids, there are also drawbacks to using software. After selecting Xero because it had a “good reputation among start-ups”, she said that she didn’t find the software intuitive, and warned that once the business has committed to one form of software it’s a big effort to change, and there’s no guarantee that rival offerings like QuickBooks are any better.

She also stated that her accountant finds the lack of personal customer support with software packages frustrating.

“It takes a long time to be able to interact with a human being when something strange happens with the figures,” she said – so software doesn’t necessarily mean that small businesses won’t run into complications that they hadn’t had before.

Costs and benefits

One big reason for many businesses not to switch is because they feel that the benefits don’t outweigh the costs – it is only MTD that is forcing them to have to think about software.

Even then, there isn’t clarity about what will happen to businesses that don’t have the software in place. A recent consultation outlined potential options including fines, a point-based system, compliance checks and suspensions, but the details have not been confirmed. And for most small businesses, there’s still time to comply.

“Anyone with a turnover of under £85,000 a year has an additional year to prepare,” said Jason Kitcat, head of policy and public affairs at Brighton-based online accountancy firm Crunch Accounting,

“Furthermore, HMRC has said it will be offering a year’s grace before applying penalties for non-compliance with MTD and it has also shifted its policy to now allow spreadsheets as a form of digital record-keeping for MTD compliance,” he added.

Carrell said that she is taking a ‘wait and see’ approach.

“There will inevitably be bugs, and many people are saying the timescales are overly ambitious. Given this, I’d rather wait for others to find the bugs and squash them. Accounting is too important for experimentation, we must have exactly accurate figures at all times,” she said.

About Sooraj Shah

Sooraj Shah

Sooraj is a freelance technology journalist covering all things IT. 

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29th Mar 2017 14:02

I despair at articles like this, it seems to assume software = better.

Software is not always better, it is inflexible (or complex if it is flexible), it needs to be learned and mistakes are often harder to fix than in a manual or excel system.

'Manual' bookkeeping for a small business using excel is often much much quicker than a package in the sub 200 transactions a year size of businesses.

Business owners are not stupid.

I have access to a whole suite of software products but still do the accounts for my BTL in excel. Why? Its QUICKER!

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29th Mar 2017 19:06

My cloud-based "scan and post" clients share 2 common features:

1. Mispostings including the inability to get the bank balance to actually tie in to the statements the bank is sending them.

2. Extra fees from me of £300 or £400 to sort out the resultant mess.

This is a car crash waiting to happen.

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29th Mar 2017 22:26

Oh dear oh dear.

You're missing the point. The reason so many small businesses aren't using accounting software is because their accountants haven't told them to.

Introduce the cloud accounting software, provide basic training and your clients will embrace it.

The cost? The accountant picks it up of course.

Why? Because it makes their job easier, they can provide a better service (in touch with real time information) and the client sees the added benefit/value. They can do the work quicker as the records are a better quality.

There will probably also be the opportunities to do more work and charge more fees - budgets/forecast, monthly management reports etc.

Its not difficult...

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By DMBAcc
to Kent accountant
30th Mar 2017 11:14

Kent accountant wrote:

Oh dear oh dear.

You're missing the point. The reason so many small businesses aren't using accounting software is because their accountants haven't told them to.

Introduce the cloud accounting software, provide basic training and your clients will embrace it.

The cost? The accountant picks it up of course.

Why? Because it makes their job easier, they can provide a better service (in touch with real time information) and the client sees the added benefit/value. They can do the work quicker as the records are a better quality.

There will probably also be the opportunities to do more work and charge more fees - budgets/forecast, monthly management reports etc.

Its not difficult...


Sadly you too are missing the point. No software is foolproof. The accountant is no longer in control, the software company is. If they choose not to return your call for a few days it matters not a jot to them. They've got you by the short and curlies and they know it will be a hell of a job to move to another software company. Just wait for HMRC's MTD systems not to work and then see them pass the buck to the software companies who will tell their clients it's not their fault but HMRC's. Clients will be batted between HMRC and Software companies and the fines on clients will pile up. Sod's Law applies here - "If it can go wrong you can bet your bottom dollar it WILL go wrong"
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to DMBAcc
30th Mar 2017 12:00

? MTD is a side issue.

I'm talking about providing a better service to clients.

Software company's returning calls? You need to bring yourself up to date - online support means queries can be resolved 24 hours a day - not saying they are, but they can be.

I was working on Saturday evening, emailed a query to Xero support and I had a response and a resolution within 15 minutes.

Changing cloud software providers is a dead easy. Just as easy from moving from desktop software - Sage/QB to cloud.

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to DMBAcc
30th Mar 2017 14:05

I agree i've seen that accountants point of view once or twice in 30 years too. Wouldn't spot a pile of crap if they stepped in it.

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By dstickl
to Kent accountant
30th Mar 2017 12:00

Hi Kent accountant,
There seem to me to be a number of potential accounting software packages out there, including:
(A) Sage 50 Accounts, apparently now known as "Sage Standard", or
(B) QuickBooks, or
(C) Xero, or
(D) FreeAgent, etc.

Question: Do you please have any webpage links to any comparison reviews of the above; or do you link to any clients using any or all of the above, and which do you think is a "best buy", or a "do not buy", etc?

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By DMBAcc
to Kent accountant
30th Mar 2017 16:22

Kent accountant wrote:

Oh dear oh dear.

You're missing the point. The reason so many small businesses aren't using accounting software is because their accountants haven't told them to.

Introduce the cloud accounting software, provide basic training and your clients will embrace it.

The cost? The accountant picks it up of course.

Why? Because it makes their job easier, they can provide a better service (in touch with real time information) and the client sees the added benefit/value. They can do the work quicker as the records are a better quality.

There will probably also be the opportunities to do more work and charge more fees - budgets/forecast, monthly management reports etc.

Its not difficult...


Likewise I am not in the business of screwing[***] every penny I can out of my clients. Most gross less than £20k. They make a better fist of book keeping using their handwritten cash books than a lot of so called professional book-keepers (assuming you can find any in Cornwall). They do not need forecasting and budget planning. They just need enough time in the day to deal with their clients, change the bedding etc. They never wanted to be professional book-keepers but this administration seems to think we can feed their friends' commercial software and pay through the nose for something we do not need nore desire. Why was is so difficult to make this voluntary? If it is so great we will all come flocking. Mandation indicates this is not of benefit to most small businesses. Am I the only one deeply suspicious about the real reason for this? Was it software companies seeing half the nation not using their products so let's get the Gov't to mandatde their use. Kaching!!! loads of money for big companies at the cost of small companies. I remember a certain D Cameron bigging up small companies saying how we are the backbone of British business. Well next time he comes to Cornwall he may not find anywhere to stay except for swanky expensive hotelswith we poor sods outside with our begging bowls. Don't laugh, thousands of small businesses will go to the wall because of this. The portayal of MTD has been dishonest since the beginning and the failures will be marked down to Brexit - mark my words.
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30th Mar 2017 08:19

I think CEO Rachel Carroll raises a very good point. It is how most of our clients feel but we are always there for them.

We are not a practice that is looking for less contact with the client.

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30th Mar 2017 11:38

So what about those SME's (in particular small Landlords, contractors and the part-time self employed) that do their own accounts manually and don't use an Accountant ?

Why should they have to spend out on software, as it won't 'save' any accountancy fees, because there weren't any, or very few, in the first place.

HMRC - either Landlords are running a business, and so allow expenses etc that you are withdrawing like interest on loans, or we are not, and hence don't treat our accounts like businesses.

Make your mind up and treat us fairly, not like cash cows.

Remember, not everyone fits the old ideas of being an employee, and not all business are massive international corporations making billions.

For the record, I started out in the IT contracting world around 25 years ago, just before IR35 kicked in. Building from there as things progressed - wind forward and I now run a £2m t/o outsourced service sector business employing up to 100 people.

Had it been today that I started, and had I been forced to be an employee, I would not be running the business I am today, employing all those people and generating tax for HMRC.

From acorns grow oak trees. Destroy the acorns and there will be no oak trees in the future. That starts from contractors, through SME's to mid-sized businesses and beyond. Stifle us, and in a few years there will be nothing left.

As an outsourcer, we work on very slim margins 10% profit at the end of the year is good for us. HMRC make more profit from us that we do - for no work. How can that be right ?

There is a whole notion of squeeze the rich for all the tax they can, being individuals or businesses. But in reality the concept of who is 'rich' is a reducing value to the point that no-one will be rich anymore (except a few mega-rich who have protected their assets anyway) and no-one will be left to pay the taxes. Then what ?

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30th Mar 2017 11:41

I do not use the services of an Accountant. I operate as a sole trader and I am under the VAT threshold, but I voluntarily registered in order to recoup more of my start-up costs. Filing VAT returns is not onerous!

I use a computer for my bookkeeping but I don't use a commercial package. Neither do I use a spreadsheet as I believe a relational database is a far better tool for the job.

I wrote my own Accounts package in Microsoft Access. It fits my business perfectly and it has served me well for many years. I believe it is now bug free - the only errors come from me making incorrect entries or omitting to make an entry at all - but it is not idiot proof as I don't envisage putting it on the market. I know enough about it to reverse any 'finger trouble' errors I make.

I have no desire to change to an alternative system that almost certainly won't fit my business as well, whether this was free or I had to pay for it.

Rather than free accounting software, my ideal answer would be for HMRC to offer me free training to increase my IT skills to the level where I could interface my working system with theirs.

What hope do I have?

David Winch
Sales & Marketing Consultant
Cambridge

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30th Mar 2017 11:54

I forgot to add that very simple transactions on all the Cloud products take on average - and I have timed this like for like - FOUR times longer than on the VT software on my PC.

I'm talking about stuff like running and checking the VAT returns, journalling in corporation tax and so on. Box standard stuff.

I don't know whether it is the software or the 20 Mbps download link I have on "superfast" broadband and, to be fair, I don't care either.

ALL of the products I have used have in my view serious design flaws, some of which I have mentioned on posts on here.

So why the hell would I recommend flawed, slow product to clients?

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30th Mar 2017 12:03

Oh dear, lets leave the Luddites to their quill pens and parchment...

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to Kent accountant
30th Mar 2017 12:32

It is not a question of being a Luddite, but having the right solution for the right situation.

A self employed home-worker, making say £15k per year and having under 100 accounting transactions, should not have to spend £1000's per year just on accounting and tax related matters. That make no commercial sense.

For them, a simple spreadsheet can do the job, but HMG, HMRC and others seem to not understand the reality of real-world workers like this. They expect everything to fit into the big corporation world where spending £100k's on systems and compliance is the norm, there is the resource to do everything (AKA just hire yet another person) and the overhead cost gets spread over £m's of turnover.

That doesn't work for John or Mary at home, only making £15k out of a part-time role.

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By dstickl
to dsassoon
30th Mar 2017 12:51

... spot on, dsassoon - it just is NOT proportionate .

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to dsassoon
30th Mar 2017 14:37

Jeez, jump from one extreme to another.

Self employed homeworker - how about £30 a year on software? I pay it for the client, does it increase my fees? No because I save more then £30 of time by having access to better information, quicker.

£100k's on systems?! I don't have and never will have clients needing or prepared to pay that much.

You've missed out the bit in between which is where most small business operate.

Its a strange parallel universe you seem to be operating in.

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to Kent accountant
30th Mar 2017 17:20

But that is the whole point you are missing - Parallel Universes !

At 'work' I run a £2m t/o business, and use Sage 50, a part time bookkeeper for all the transactions during the year and an accountant to do the YE accounts.

And yes, £100k's for systems - trying running compliance in an FCA environment without spending a fortune on people, equipment and software for reporting, call recording, monitoring, QA, PCI etc etc.

I get home, and run 2 BTL's manually with a spreadsheet, the results go to my online SA and I pay no accountant / software fees.

My OH also runs 2 BTL's manually, and has a part time Self Employed job. Both done manually on the SA.

2 people, 4 jobs, all different. So yes - Parallel Universes !

But why should we have to pay accountancy / software fees on 3 of the jobs of ANY amount - £30 or otherwise if we don't have to ?

And you say you pick up the £30 software cost - presumably rolled into your fees of, what, £500 a year or more ?? Why should I have to pay those fees ??? It needlessly comes out of thin operating margins of BTL's and a P/T job.

Day-to-day tax should be simple enough for taxpayers to deal with without needing professional fees or software. PERIOD. NO EXCUSE.

Needing to employ accountants and use software only benefits the accountant, the software houses, and HMRC who are all building industries on the back of individual taxpayers. It does not in any way, shape or form benefit the taxpayer themselves. At all.

Of course I get if for mid sized companies upwards needing accountants and software. These are established markets for those services, and you would struggle to operate without those services.

But normal taxpayers, self employed, BTL landlords etc ? Why cripple them with costs that aren't needed purely because of needlessly complicated tax regimes. It is employing one person to dig a hole just so you can employ another to fill it in. 2 unnecessary jobs created for no net gain !

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to dsassoon
01st Apr 2017 18:24

There is a number of free software products available for those that don't want it pay for software

If you keep your records on a spreadsheet that's all you need to do

This ranting about how hard done to you are is totally incorrect

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By GW
to Kent accountant
30th Mar 2017 12:51

Kent Accountant, If cloud software is the answer for everyone, do you have an answer for this thread?

https://www.accountingweb.co.uk/any-answers/multi-currency-book-keeping-...

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to Kent accountant
30th Mar 2017 13:11

@ Kent accountant, its about size of client.

Landlord with one property ought not be buying software to transact 30 annual transactions.

I would say the same about one with 4 or 5.

25 properties? Yes, some nice software would be great and save time.

The issue is proportionality, and also training time. If people, like David Winch above are happy with their current system, and it delivers what they need it to, why waste a couple of days learning something else AND paying £200 a year + to use it!

I use Xero for my own practice accounting software, but i use excel for my personal BTL.

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30th Mar 2017 14:21

When someone uses terms like Luddite, Naszi, Remoaner it is shorthand for saying "You have a valid point I can't refute so I will tackle the man instead of the ball."

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30th Mar 2017 14:01

I've been helping small business for 30 years.
I'm pro software where it's appropriate
However simplest is best and something the client understands is whats right.
I have spent a career correcting errors and worse caused by poor bookkeeping on software packages.
If someone thinks MTD is going to save anything then they are misguided and obviously have no experience.
Still the way for them to find out is just do it. But it is going to take a proper expert to sort things out or even notice anything is wrong in the first place. Going to be so funny watching. All that is going to happen is the currently compliant will also fail to be compliant. Book-keeping it's so easy but no one can do it.
£3,000 saving? yes sir you need an accountant to help you understand your business more.

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30th Mar 2017 14:29

In my view there are two reasons why clients hire accountants and book-keepers:

1. They find that stuff boring compared to their passion which is running a business.

2. They were rubbish at that sort of stuff at school and know they would mess it up if they had a go.

Most clients are a combination of the 2. I reckon less than 10% of my clients are capable of going on to accounting software and not mucking up. The three clients who have made the switch are all well within the most capable, but they've all messed it up to varying degrees.

What does not help is some of the rubbish in the software. All of the products - Xero, Clearbooks, QBO - have in my view quite serious flaws inherent in them which will end up in really quite non-compliant accounts if left to their own devices.

I don't rate any of them. Now let's be clear about this, you could regard me as a "super user" as 2 of these products have made software changes which benefit every user on the back of recommendations I have made to them, having identified flaws.

I may be a "super user" but I still think they are all a bit pants. This is the second biggest reason - other than just how utterly rubbish HMRC are - why MTD is just gonna be one big car crash.

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By dstickl
to mr. mischief
30th Mar 2017 14:55

Thanks for that, Mr M. Please could you let me know your views - if any - of the positives and the negatives of the s/ware that was "Sage 50 Accounts", or apparently now known as "Sage Standard" , for a proposed small startup Ltd Co (possibly making and selling some furniture, and similar) with probably < 50 transactions in Year 1, or Year 2 ?

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30th Mar 2017 16:08

I can't comment on Sage as I've not used it since 2009.

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30th Mar 2017 18:17

This all seems to assume that good accounting software is expensive, and that free accounting software probably isn't worth using.

Adminsoft Accounts has been around for quite a long time now. It's multi-user, multi-currency, multi-ledger, etc. etc. I'm not going to sell it to you (it's free anyway). My point is, there is GOOD free software out there. You just have to look for it.

I appreciate those with a low volume of transactions probably don't feel like they want the hassle of installing and setting up an accounts system. But don't be put off. Even if you only have 50 transactions a year, it is worth it. It makes it so much easier to locate customer/supplier invoices, and payments, and to make sure everything is up to date. And, as already pointed out, MTD is coming, whether we like it or not, and most of us don't. You'll still need your accountant, MTD will just be another job to do. But at least it'll be easier if you're using accounts software.

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By janefg
to Mike Towle
31st Mar 2017 12:23

Will Adminsoft Accounts be able to submit the quarterly return to HMRC?

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31st Mar 2017 07:07

I missed this comment above:

"I was working on Saturday evening, emailed a query to Xero support and I had a response and a resolution within 15 minutes."

Well I was working on a Wednesday morning, emailed a query to Xero support and I waited over a week for a credible response. There was partial resolution of my query 5 months later - with a P60 being produced by the system - and most of that query remains unresolved at the present time, which is 15 months later.

This concerns proper payroll reports which enable you to properly tie in the balance sheet and profit and loss to the P32 and, going forward, the same for the Pensions Regulator would be nice too.

Trivial and boring stuff I agree, not at all sexy and no flashy charts and gizmos required. It will only become important to clients when the PAYE audit team or Pensions Regulator knock at the door, but let's not worry ourselves about that.

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31st Mar 2017 08:53

I have to agree with Kent Accountant on software not being expensive and can help most (not all) clients.

Free software: Quickfiler, VT cashbooks, to name just 2

Cheap software: VT transactions, Some elements of Quickbook online and Xero.

So for me its about educating the younger clients and those older clients that are winding down their businesses, keep their systems how they do it best. Like with all changes, it will take a decade to fully transform, by which time it will be all change again.

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to Jekyll and Hyde
31st Mar 2017 11:59

Jekyll and Hyde wrote:

I have to agree with Kent Accountant on software not being expensive and can help most (not all) clients.

But that is where you are all missing the point ... you are talking about CLIENTS, people already paying you for your accountancy services for which the software / usage is being rolled into you fee somewhere along the line.

My point is that why do straight forward taxpayers, ie self employed, BTL landlords etc need to use an accountant in the first place, with the cost involved in doing so.

What was the HMRC tagline - "Tax Doesn't Have To Be Taxing !" ... but it is, it is so complex now that you NEED to use an accountant. That should not be the case, that a regular taxpayer has to pay a professional and use software packages to do their day-to-day tax.

Normal things that a lot of people have exposure to in todays modern, flexible world. Self Employed income, BTL, Share portfolios (incl CGT), Pensions, Bank Interest, Charity donations. These are all normal, regular things that a lot of normal regular taxpayers have to deal with. These should be taxed in a straight forward simple way that can be done without professional services or software packages.

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31st Mar 2017 10:39

I totally agree the last post. There should be a lot less work for accountants in this country than there is.

Unfortunately we have a third world tax service which does not even aspire to be half decent never mind World class. And some idiotic people called Gordon Brown and George Osborne put through some crass measures which have more than doubled the size of our tax code to the point where it is by a margin the longest in the EU.

The latest blunder on 2017 tax returns by HMRC stems from a combination of a twit living in 11 Downing Street and incompetent blunderers running HMRC.

We have a 1 out of 10 tax service. It aims to make itself 0 out of 10 by implementing Making Tax Digital. Unless it aspires to be at least 8 out of 10 the supply of good accountants will continue to be swamped by the demand for us.

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31st Mar 2017 11:17

I think there are 3 reasons why businesses do not use software unless they have a bookkeeper on the payroll
1 They do not understand bookkeeping and are scared of getting it horribly wrong and it costing them money to sort it out
2 They do not have or want to spend the time needed to do it properly
3 They would rather pay someone who knows what they are doing to do it for them.
A lot do not hand wash or service their cars themselves either. They like to get on with running their business.

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By Peter-S
31st Mar 2017 12:03

Perhaps I could get to work quicker in the morning if I bought a faster car but I don't need one and there's no guarantee that it would work is there. Perhaps software would make it easier for business people to keep their records but there's no guarantee that it would. Ultimately, like the faster car, they don't actually need it to do what they do so why spend money and time to find you already have the quickest solution in place.

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to Peter-S
31st Mar 2017 12:21

The correct analogy isn't a car or a faster car
it is walking or driving

The guy who said that tax should be simple enough not to need an accountant: that's only the case if your affairs are very simple. Usually you've messed up before you realise you needed an accountant.

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to petersaxton
31st Mar 2017 15:25

petersaxton wrote:

The correct analogy isn't a car or a faster car
it is walking or driving

The guy who said that tax should be simple enough not to need an accountant: that's only the case if your affairs are very simple. Usually you've messed up before you realise you needed an accountant.

That was me that said it.

I believe my affairs are simple in the context of todays world.

I am married and have children, I have a job, 2 BTL's, some shares, some bank accounts. All very normal things for lots of people that should be simple to deal with.

But the tax on these are not designed to be simple, even though it should be.

Why should it be complex if I earn more than the average, and get some extra through dividends at times if my business does well ? But it is complex.

Why should it be complex if I have a property or two I let out ? But it is complex.

Why should it be complex if I buy and sell some shares, and sell them for more than I bought them, or even if I make a loss on some ? But it is complex.

These are everyday things that many people now do, so the tax should be simple, without then need for software and accountants to deal with them

The main reason people mess up is because the tax regime is overly complex. If it was simple, few people would mess up and need the accountant.

Simple needs context, and in todays world the context should be that lots of people have the same financial issues to deal with. I am not one-in-a-million with my financial matters

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31st Mar 2017 12:41

As one example I have a client who keeps immaculate accounts in a book, she even enters estimated year-end adjustments! There has never been a problem with them.
Why should she now be forced to change to paid software which will take her longer to use?
If the new boys' software was THAT good people would be flocking to it because the cost outweighed the time saved. Hmm

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31st Mar 2017 12:57

I started promoting accounting software almost 30 years ago. The low take-up by SMEs reported is sad. Many SME owners are not accounting literate. In my opinion management of the money is as important as all other elements of running a business. Frequently I have come across businessmen who spend up to the limit of their overdraft then wonder why the bank shuts them down. Accounting software can enable any entrepreneur immediate and accurate information about the financial health of the business. A spreadsheet is great for analysis but as a permanent record, the lack of a disciplined structure means a total lack of consistency. There is however still a mystique surrounding “double entry” and functions like journal entries and bank reconciliations send people running from the room. There is a need to introduce these concepts at school. Everyone, whether in business or not needs to understand the importance of money management in their lives. Given better education, the use of accounting software as an important tool in any business should be the norm. Many years ago before the age of VAT, the small business owner would arrive at his accountant’s office with a shoe box full of paper from which the accounts of his business had to be produced. VAT inserted a discipline of quarterly returns which improved the situation. I suggest that MTD will be a further nudge towards better accounting among SMEs but something needs to be done about education. Most entry-level accounting packages do their best to shelter the user from the technicalities but this can go sadly wrong when problems occur. Cloud-based software which the client and the professional can both access can provide the sort of guidance users need. Properly structured accounting software should be easy to use and sensibly priced. It may be time for some standards to be laid down to provide users with understandable transparent information. Somebody said, “Get them young and train them”. That still holds true.

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By trecar
to mike120636
31st Mar 2017 14:06

I am using cloud software and PC based software. I am also using spreadsheets. I can honestly say that the worst in efficiency terms is the cloud based software. For a start there is no manual and we are expected to pay for training on how to use the system i.e. more cost. Book-keeping is not rocket science but relies heavily on correct data and interpretation when entering transactions and that is the weak link i.e. the human factor. When I started my accountancy training decades ago the advice given to me was don't design the business around the book-keeping system, do it the other way round. All the software systems are clunky when it comes to that advice and many actually operate against it. Systems designed for those with lack of knowledge must be simple to operate and avoid complexity, which means that they cannot adapt easily to changing circumstances. The introduction of MTD, a change in circumstances, will require all systems to be updated and incur costs. That means change for current users and massive change for non-current users. For proponents of MTD and HMRC to pretend that it will be straight forward is fallacious and shows little respect for the business community.

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to mike120636
01st Apr 2017 13:21

I agree and as a non-Accountant I have to accept your assertion that many SME owners are neither Accounting savvy nor IT literate.

But that still leaves plenty who are literate, if not quite expert, in both disciplines and, from my earlier post, you will realise I put myself in that camp.

We too feel that the MTD structure has failed to take our position into account - and we too resent being bullied into something we feel is unnecessary.

We see the need to keep our bookkeeping accurate and up to date, and appreciate that a computer-based system allows us to know (because we desperately want to know) things like our instantaneous and predicted cash position and other aspects of 'Management Accounts', which we generate far more frequently than once a month or even once a week.

It isn't just the unaware and the unwilling who see MTD as a problem. If it isn't broken, why fix it?

David Winch
Sales & Marketing Consultant
Cambridge

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By DJKL
to mike120636
03rd Apr 2017 12:03

mike120636 wrote:

"Accounting software can enable any entrepreneur immediate and accurate information about the financial health of the business." .

It needs to be interpreted , numbers in themselves are either useless or frankly dangerous. I am pretty sure, post university, with exams passed covering discounted NPV, IRR calcs , an understanding of various hypothesis re optimum funding, ratio analysis etc, and having devoured Frear, Merrett & Sykes and Samuels and Wilkes, and being able to calculate numerous ratios, that I ought to have been able to interpret financials- reality was that skill came from practice , the academic side created merely a framework, real life observation- experience-provided the more important part; instinct is wonderful.

mike120636 wrote:

" There is however still a mystique surrounding “double entry” and functions like journal entries and bank reconciliations send people running from the room. There is a need to introduce these concepts at school.".

They do if you take Accounting as a course, but even then it is not real practical skills, it is theoretical.

Frankly the idea that say 2-10 hours of life lessons equips one to do bookkeeping is a joke, and an insult to bookkeepers.

I do not decry the need for an overview of what a P & L and Balance Sheet are trying to say to their reader, but frankly basic financial savvy like how PAYE/NI operates, AE pensions, bank accounts, life insurance, HP, other pensions, house purchases, leasing residential property, tax credits etc would be far more useful subjects to school leavers- I have even thought of volunteering to offer these sorts of things if I retire-my wife is assistant to the headteacher at a local secondary.

But, to be frank, these sort of life lessons tend to often be in one ear out the other-if lucky the only message imparted that may stick is take advice if you do not understand.

You could properly teach double entry to all but what are you going to drop instead? School timetables tends to be somewhat congested, this to me would be just another load of half learned content.

Did you pick up bookkeeping in a few hours? I already had an MA from Edinburgh when I took up accountancy, a one year graduate conversion course at Aberdeen, and I think double entry took me circa 8 weeks to click. Even then that was in theory (here is a cash analysis, make x adjustments, produce set of accounts etc) real life reality with ledgers , control accounts came in practice.

If you do take accounting as a course you may not really understand reality, I certainly did not until I started my apprenticeship-I have seen plenty of individuals with theoretical HNCs in accounting/business who struggled with their debits and credits.

In fact a little knowledge can be dangerous. I once had to scrap books kept in Sage 50 by an HNC qualified person, there were journals flying everywhere making corrections, correcting corrections, doubling up figures to correct correction corrections-it was a shambles.

The only decent training in bookkeeping I ever saw was the old ICAS prelim, you were given a ring binder with fascimile real paperwork, copy bank statements, cash book sheets, sales and purchase ledger cards, a nominal ledger, copy invoices, copy returned cheques (now an anachronism) and told to sort it out (there were mistakes within what was recorded)- what the really ought to have done was given you everything, not in a ring binder but all mixed together in a farm manure sack, and random handfuls ought to have been removed and destroyed before you received the pack- a true test of understanding double entry is incomplete records.

mike120636 wrote:

"Somebody said, “Get them young and train them”. That still holds true."

But you won't train them, you will pretend to train them, give them bits of paper saying they are trained, but they will not be trained. Trouble with the UK is we just love to tick boxes, we taught them (a), tick, (b) , tick , (c) tick etc- it is an illusion, if you want to properly teach bookkeeping it takes a fair bit of contact time then a fair bit of practical experience.

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01st Apr 2017 16:06

A lot of people are complaining about the tax system being over complicated. Just wait until Brexit has been sorted out..... VAT, which is a nightmare now, will be even more horrific!

It's not in HMRC's interest to make tax genuinely simple. An over complicated tax regime means most tax payers probably over pay tax because they don't really understand the tax system and can't or won't employ an accountant. And those tax payers that think they know and claim for stuff they shouldn't, get fined. So HMRC win either way.

This is one reason big international companies get away with paying so little tax. Because they can afford to hire tax experts who know more about the over complicated tax system than HMRC. Beating them at their own game.

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03rd Apr 2017 10:01

It's just another chore to be done so the least time spent the better.

Putting all receipts in a bag is really quick!

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