It’s been really interesting seeing how Intuit has marketed its software over the years. I would argue that Quicken is solidly a personal product that’s perfect for Do-It-Yourself’ers (DIY’ers)… I mean, feel free to look at your own personal finances and categorize them however you want – it’s your money.
But I have found it interesting how Intuit has taken the same approach with business products. From Turbo Tax to QuickBooks and QuickBooks Online, Intuit has encouraged masses of people to believe that by using their tools they are suddenly going to be sufficiently proficient in accounting that they can do their own books. Their products line the walls of Costco and are splattered on football commercials, including the Superbowl.
The question is: Is it true that these products can really replace the need for and cost of an accountant?
Umm… oh, hell no.
Ok, yes, as an accountant, I may be biased. But I loved the analogy shared by a heavy hitter in the accounting technology world, Jennifer Warawa, when she asked how many people cut their own hair? And yet, so many people feel competent enough to prepare their own books and file their own taxes? It’s a little crazy.
Small business owners are clinging to the idea that they can save money by doing the work themselves, but any accounting professional who has lifted the hood of a self-maintained QuickBooks file has an arsenal of horror stories about how business owners have fundamentally jacked up their books. And then worse… they’ve gone on to rely on those books when preparing their tax returns. Trust me, in the long run, these people did NOT save any money. Accounting guidance will never be obsolete.
Now let’s specifically talk about the new cloud accounting tools. Of course, Intuit is still pumping out the DIY vibe. But I really like how Xero recognizes the role of the accountant in achieving success for a small business. I would also argue that accountants who actually specialize in the cloud, and even further – a particular industry niche, will add the most value to a small business. Xero has a gazillion add ons that help make their core tool customizable and powerful for most any industry, but an accountant who works with their add ons as part of an integrated system will be supremely more helpful to a business owner.
Often a small business will hear about all the efficiencies of moving to the cloud, but the greatest advantage by far is collaboration. Small business owners don’t want to (and shouldn’t be, in my opinion) entrenched in the daily bookkeeping activities. And new cloud tools, although they eliminate data entry, don’t eliminate work. They’ve made things more powerful and streamlined but also more complex. The work has changed its form, but the work still remains.
When you move to cloud systems and add-ons, yes, you will save a ton of time now that you no longer have duplicate data entry, but much of that time will be replaced with new tasks. You need to spend time learning new tools, dealing with many more tech support issues (i.e., if there’s a syncing error), training team members, developing efficient workflows, managing document storage, and so on.
The accounting world is bringing so much power and functionality down to the smallest of businesses, but it takes a lot of knowledge and experience to make everything run well and to turn all that data into useful and reliable information at the end of the day.