Is Online Accounting ready for Prime Time?

Hey All,

*Warning! Long Post Alert!*

Today’s blurb will be a comparison (or review I suppose) of some online accounting software I’ve been keeping and eye on and trying. To get things started, I’ll post all the software I’ve tried thus far (in no particular order):

Phew! Yes….I actually spent the time creating accounts for all of those and looking at them, only the ones that passed my initial feature inspection I actually put data into for testing. Now, I’m no stranger to the world of accounting, I had to do much of the accounting for eFireHost (My partner in crime was supposed to, but we won’t get into that…). Given my highly mobile, and unpredictable nature, keeping the books remotely accessible was a must. We had used a variety of techniques for accomplishing this:

  • Run RDP/VNC on a server that had QuickBooks installed
  • Host a private windows VPS server that had QuickBooks installed
  • Use QuickBooks Online Edition

My business partner was set on using QuickBooks for the accounting and I don’t blame him, it’s industry standard. I eventually got used to the system and quickly learned my way around the interface. Out of all the solutions I liked the QuickBooks Online Edition the best. It automatically updated banking transactions and was available everywhere, well…almost. The MAJOR pitfall to that solution was QuickBooks OE’s dependency on ActiveX controls, and as I’m sure you know these only work in Internet Crapsplorer. So that left Firefox, my primary browser out. To make matters worse, I am a Linux guy, I run Ubuntu on all my machines. So to recap, Ubuntu + Firefox + QuickBooks OE = ?, I don’t think there is an elegant solution to that equation.

Step forward a few months and I’m on my own now. I’m a very strong proponent of the web application movement and it is my weapon of choice whenever a problem lends itself to being solved by some web app. In the interest of time I’m going to skip ahead through all my testing and ranting to pull out the 4 top contenders, more like 3 but I’ll add more to that later.

  • Clarity Accounting
  • Less Accounting
  • Xero
  • Saasu

All of these web apps have an API that can be accessed and allow for Bank Statement importing. Less Accounting has automated this feature, but as of this writing they are having some issues with it and it isn’t functional.

From my testing Xero probably takes the cake in terms of features. Its UI is a beauty and the general work flow is excellent. Those guys DEFINATELY spent some time on their UI design and layout. Their help desk/center is also amazing, by far the most informative of the lot. There were many many many articles in there to help you get up and running and how to handle all the details of the software. Everything sounds peachy right? Well there is one small caveat, for me at least, as great as this software is they are charging $29/Mo (or $290/Yr) for their software. It’s not outrageous really, but at this early stage in the game I can’t see myself paying $30/Mo for accounting software. Maybe when my budget grows and I have a little more money to burn I’ll move over. It’s definitely something worthy of another look down the line!

  • UI – A+
  • Help Desk/Center – A+
  • Reporting – A+
  • Price – C

Next up is Saasu, this is another feature packed offering. I’d venture to say it probably has more features than even Xero, but this software lacks a great deal of polish. Saasu offers such features as payroll, time sheets, inventory management, and more. It’s pretty rough around the edges, while it does work and it can get everything done, it takes a little more thinking and clicking to do so. Another area I was slightly disappointed with was the Bank Statement importing. Although Saasu is the only one of the bunch that has a Banking Integration Guarantee, they only work with plain csv files rather than a more standardized Quicken/QuickBooks file. As of this writing they did not support importing from my bank, Washington Mutual/Chase. I had to manually enter some of the transactions to validate the functionality of this offering, but the lack of importing left a bad taste in my mouth. I got an email this morning (7-9-09) saying that my bank will be supported in tonights software release, we’ll see how that goes… I got a follow up email (7-10-09) to verify the functionality of the csv import for my bank, sure enough it worked as prescribed! Saasu was 1 of 2 providers that offered a free plan with limited features, above that the prices ranged from $25/Mo $19.50/Mo USD upwards of $95/Mo $74.60/Mo USD depending on storage and feature requirements. All of these monthly denominations are paid in 3 month chunks.

  • UI – C
  • Help Desk/Center – B+
  • Reporting – B
  • Price – B+

The last two contenders are pretty much neck and neck in my book, Clarity Accounting and Less Accounting. Both of these software offerings offer almost identical feature sets and very intuitive UIs. The Less Accounting devs are very much in the limelight of social media and make it a point to be out there and active to aid their customers, I like this a lot. I think an award that was granted over at Cloudave sums them up quite nicely, the “get off Twitter and do some work” award. The Clarity Accounting devs are very much in the background, but both teams actively participate in making customer feature requests come true, another thing I like about both.

Less Accounting is more expensive than Clarity, at $24/Mo. (They also offer a Free plan and 2 other plans that are $12/Mo and $20/Mo) Clarity Accounting on the other hand charges a flat $10/Mo fee (or $100/Year). Less Accounting offers integration with Shoeboxed, WeSabe, Shopify; numerous contact importing sources, integration with their time tracking product, LessTimeSpent, and lastly Automated Bank Transaction importing. That last one is what’s really keeping me on the fence between the two. Reporting capabilities are very similar for the two offerings and each present the same information. Clarity Accounting offers a little more advanced accounting functionality with the option to have equity, liability and other types of accounts. Less Accounting only offers income and expense accounts, their reasoning behind this is well founded, they want to be “less” cumbersome than QuickBooks. Ideally I’d like to see Clarity pick up some type of automatic transaction import, but at this stage in the game it’s not really a deal breaker.

Less Accounting

  • UI – B+
  • Help Desk/Center – B
  • Reporting – B
  • Price – B

Clarity Accounting

  • UI – B+
  • Help Desk/Center – B+
  • Reporting – B
  • Price – A+

I’ll be continuing the trials with Less Accounting and Clarity Accounting, but as of now I’m probably going to go with Clarity Accounting due to its advanced accounting options (equity and liability accounts) and its lower price point. At the end of my trial for each I’ll head back here to post which I decided to go with.

Phew! Good thing I took the “shortcut” and went straight to the main contenders, this post was MUCH longer than I anticipated it to be! If you’ve made it this far, thanks for sticking with me! Hopefully some of the things I’ve uncovered here save you some time and make your life easier!

Until next time! L8rz

  • May

    Wow Rob, you did such a great job on the reviews of all the accounting apps. We admit there is much to be improved and we are constantly working on improving Clarity Accounting. If you have specific suggestions on how we can be an A+ offering in all of your categories, please do not hesitate to let us know 🙂 All customer support are free by phone and email. You can call our toll free line Monday to Friday between 10 am and 5 pm Pacific or email any time. Email support is also available on weekends if you run into any issues.

    Cheers,

    May Chu– customer support, http://www.ClarityAccounting.com

  • Thanks for the mention and thanks for the update re the your bank getting supported! Just quick note our price is AUD25 (GBP12 and USD19.50). Fair point re UI. We do lack some gloss, we focus on scale/speed/features at the expense of this I must admit. That’s about to change more this year.

  • @May
    I’ve been in touch with Dobes and he’s been more than helpful with my technical questions! Also, as stated in the email I’ll be sure to post my feature requests in your UserVoice (http://clarityaccounting.uservoice.com).

    @Marc
    Thanks for the prompt response to my bank integration request! I’ve updated my posting to reflect the price changes. 🙂

  • Useful info, nice blog, thanks.

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  • Hey Robert – nice work on the reviews. You dropped WorkingPoint off your list right away. Why? We have the only complete bookkeeping system with free invoicing and no invoice limits.

  • @Dennis

    Thanks for your comment. I actually had to revisit your offering to figure out why I hadn’t chosen to go with you. Upon initial inspection WorkingPoint is quite feature packed! However, after a few minutes with the application I realized why I had not included it, you don’t offer any type of transaction importing. All my monthly transactions have to be entered in one by one, by hand. That being said, please do point me in the right direction if I missed it.

  • Hey Robert, sorry I missed your comment. Transaction import is our number one requested feature and we’ve started development on that. You can vote on that and other features on the WorkingPoint feature forum: workingpoint.uservoice.com and sign up for a free account at http://www.workingpoint.com.

    Thanks!

  • Have been testing Less Accounting for two days – it has too many bugs – if they were to resolve them, it will be good system.
    The bugs I noticed have to do with repeating invoices- when you save the invoice due date that one put is removed and replaced with a date that is less than the day the invoice is to be sent.

    Buggy System. The support promised to resolve the issues.
    Now testing Clarity Accounting.
    Xerox is too complex – not for me.

  • tarch

    I would love to hear an update. I am torn between Xero and Clarity Accounting. I utilize Freshbooks and Clarity seems like the logical choice. However, Xero is quite enticing.

  • tarch

    With Xero’s newly launched integration with Freshbooks, I think they have a great package…although pricey. I’ve been heavily testing Xero over the past few days, and find it quite easy to use. Now I know why I had such a resistance to Quickbooks. The only things still missing from Xero are auto Bank feeds for US banks (for me) and a better cash-flow module. I look forward to jumping into it at the new year.

  • Exceptional, I passed this on to a aide of mine, and he actually bought me lunch because I found this for him, so let me rephrase: Thanks for lunch.

  • Are you still using Clarity? I would love to get an update on your great initial review.

    Thanks

    Todd Shuster

  • Thanks for the good review. I’m going to try Clarity out.

  • Grent content. I am using quickbooks online now.