Online Accounting - is it all too good to be true?
Tax is complicated, even HMRC's expenses guide is over 100 pages, so it's no wonder why so many small business owners have historically looked to accountants to help guide them through the UK tax system. However, recently a number of automated systems have popped up as an alternative to the typical dedicated accountant solution.
Surely online is the low cost solution to most things: online banking, online shopping, online gaming. . . the list is endless. However, none of these really need to understand you, your business or your business goals. We note that online doctors or online lawyers haven't really taken off, so is it really possible to have an online only automated accountant? We think not.
Online accounting systems essentially take an offline bookkeeping spreadsheet and place it online, adding a few extra bits such as tax deadline alerts, invoicing and end of year accounts submission - some even link up to your bank accounts. This may seem handy, but does it replace the need for a dedicated accountant? Of course not!
Tax is very complicate, allowances and regulations change all the time, how can an online system tell you if you aren't running your business the most tax effeciently? Or it would be better to retain more profits this year? The only solution to these things is to discuss them with your own accountant. We're sure we could save a fortune in accountants salaries if we could go 'online only' however we just don't believe we could provide the same level of personal service or professional advice by being online only.
Online bookkeeping systems such as Sage, Xero, Clearbooks and FreeAgent work well for companies looking for something a little more comprehensive than a FREE spreadsheet based bookkeeping system, but you will still need an accountant. All the above companies will also promote that you need an accountant, and will offer great backend access for your accountant to work with the system.
Obviously online systems providers, just like the banks, realise great cost savings by not employing as many accountants as regular general practice accountants do, however, you have to ask yourself does this help improve customer service or the knowledge an accountant will have about their clients? The answer is probably no, most business owners appoint an accountant because they want advice on how to run their business the most tax efficiently, sadly an online accounting provider can't replace this.
For those looking for ongoing personal advice there really isn’t a substitute for having your own personal dedicated accountant, especially one that provides the service for an all inclusive fixed fee so you know from the very beginning there will be no nasty surprises or hidden bills.
Many online providers will boast about the incredible offline support you'll get and how they have amazing accountants waiting in the wings to answer your every question. At this stage it's probably good to ask yourself what kind of accountant would want to train for years to then sit in the back office essentially in a data centre trawling through business online submissions, rather than working for a practice?
Again, online bookkeeping solutions have their place but they aren't miracle solutions and they certainly aren't suitable replacements for dedicated accountants. Imagine you’re not sure which expenses to claim, or you've received a letter from HM Revenue and customs that you'd like to discuss with somebody. You try emailing your online provider but you don’t hear anything back. You try the live chat on their website but the responses you get don’t quite clear up the issue. You finally try calling but get through to an automated machine or 'account manager' (as opposed to an accountant) who knows nothing about you or your tax. You may then be told to book a phone appointment for an accountant to call you back in a few days. We doubt many people would find that a satisfactory experience.
As always - buyer beware, it's easy to say anything on a website but sometimes you just need to ask yourself who is benefiting the most. In the case of online systems, it's usually the company as they can employ fewer accountants. Not the client who's effectively doing all the work themselves with the automated system, churning out sets of accounts purely based you've uploaded.
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For more advice on how Easy Accountancy can help you and business, or to find out more about our fixed fee packages, please call 0500 234 111 / 01442 275767 or firstname.lastname@example.org.