Taking into account the huge market for accounting solutions and the number of years they have been around you might think that there were no major improvements left to make. However, you would be mistaken!
This review considers whether Clearbooks, the new entrant to the charity accounting software sector, successfully challenges the established players.
Clearbooks is an addictive productivity app!
I must admit to being slightly addicted to productivity apps. I hate spending ages battling with software that could have been designed better. I love it when people cut through the complexity and deliver a solution that just works.
Microsoft Accounting, Quickbooks 2010, then Clearbooks
After testing out the options thoroughly, White Fuse Media started life with Microsoft Accounting, which wasn’t terrible but was shelved by Microsoft in 2009. After reviewing the options thoroughly we then went for Quickbooks. It seemed the best out of a not very compelling bunch of options. We upgraded to Quickbooks 2010 when it was released, but never did figure out the difference between that and its predecessor.
In general it did the job but had some key failings:
- Adding transactions each month was cumbersome and time consuming.
- The system was tied to one computer.
- Passing data to our accountant never worked.
- The payroll system was clumsy and very expensive relative to the small amount of functionality it gave.
Why Clearbooks is a winner
ClearBooks is far better. Here are a few reasons why:
Monthly transaction imports
Every month you just import your monthly statement into Quickbooks and it creates a month’s worth of transactions for you to tick off. A clever system remembers regular transactions and transactions you have made in the past, making it a one-click process to assign the relevant information to most transactions. If you want to shell out for the additional service you can even set up a live link with your bank so that even this step is automated.
That’s it. Easy!
ClearBooks has a very customisable dashboard with a bunch of very useful widgets. This helps you keep an eye on sales and cashflow.
VAT is really a doddle. Unlike Quickbooks, ClearBooks can deal with the fixed rate VAT scheme. Just set it up with the regime you are currently under and it does the rest automatically.
This is where ClearBooks really starts to shine. VAT reports can be automatically sent to HMRC and if you then setup a direct debit you never have to worry about it again. PAYE is similarly simple through the Payroll add-on. Corporation tax submissions are not currently supported by a running total is calculated and shown in all key reports so that you don’t forget about it.
Cleverly, the system can be set-up to email invoices to clients and to send chasing emails if payment is not received. Similar functionality stretches to the payroll system so that all payslips are automatically generated and then emailed to staff on a monthly basis without you lifting a finger.
Users & permissions
You can have unlimited users and give them different permissions. This is great because you can get everyone involved who needs to be. Employees can do their own expenses; the accountant can see exactly what is going on; the accounts assistant can chase late payers.
Two clicks per employee per month. That’s all that needs to be said.
ClearBooks has a few features, that you possibly wouldn’t miss if they weren’t there, but are really nice touches:
Draft accounts – it can churn out draft abbreviated accounts in the required Companies House format.
Dividends – until ClearBooks I hadn’t found a system that dealt with dividends in a simple and easy to use manner.
Fixed asset register – this is the easiest solution I have yet seen to keeping tabs on your assets and depreciation expenses.
As you can tell, I haven’t found much to fault in ClearBooks. Sure, there is the rough edge here and there, but response rates from their customer service have been great. They also have had a few outage problems. For a web based system this can’t be repeated if they are going to build a solid reputation, but they are still a startup and were quick to explain the situation and how they are making improvements.
Clearbooks for charities
Perhaps you run a charity and are wondering whether it will do the job for you? Since (as you can tell) I was won over, I subsequently recommended it to one of the charities that I work with. They have also been extremely pleased and while you will need a bit of input at the end of the year to ensure full SORP compliance it will still make day to day bookkeeping and payroll a dream.
Also, when you consider the time saving, the costs look very reasonable.
In summary, ClearBooks is a testament to what innovation and technological change can do to a mix up a stagnant software sector.