As a financial advisor, you spend so much time and energy helping other people manage their money that you might forget about managing your own. You are just as challenged by the process of reconciling your bank transactions and receipts as everyone else. Here, as with so many business challenges, a little technology can help.
In 2017, no one need manage their books manually. A variety of software tools cover every conceivable aspect of bookkeeping and accounting, ranging from invoice preparation and double-entry transaction management through to bank account integration and bill payments. Here are some features to look for, and where to find them:
- Accounts in the cloud
Like most other software, bookkeeping and accounting tools used to be something you installed from a CD. Now, these tools are migrating to the cloud to become online applications. This approach offers some tangible benefits.
Online bookkeeping software will cost a few tens of dollars a month, as opposed to the hundreds you might have paid up front for an installable software. This makes cloud-based tools cheaper to get up and running, so you can try them out to find which one suits you, then import your data into the software app you choose.
Although most "software as a service" arrangements end up costing more eventually, online bookkeeping still may be worth it, because companies will update the applications to reflect the latest tax and accounting rules, so they're always current. There's no need to hand over another wad of cash for next year's version of the software.
You also may find the online nature of these applications useful when working with a third party to manage your accounts.
I use a remote bookkeeper to keep online finances up to date, while an accountancy firm on another continent, well versed in that cloud-based service, analyzes my finances each quarter.
Finally, a well managed cloud-based service will back up your data in multiple locations. Sure, the cloud could always "go down," but, typically speaking, cloud services are far more resilient than the dusty old hard drive under your desk.
When deciding which system to choose, consider several features and how important they may be to your investment practice.
One example is purchase-order management. This feature is not provided by all online bookkeeping and accounting services, but you - especially if you work within a project or fee-based arrangement - may need it.
Toronto-based Wave Accounting Inc. (www.waveapps.com) funds its free, online accounting system through affiliate sales and advertising, which makes Wave's offering more basic than some competitors. This option does not provide purchase orders or project cost accounting.
What Wave's software lacks in these areas, though, it makes up for in other features, such as multi-currency support, behind the scenes double-entry bookkeeping records and an intuitive user interface.
- Integration with other software
Another thing Wave lacks is integration with client relationship management (CRM) systems. When courting new business, being able to track a client along your sales funnel and finally begin billing him or her, all from one system, could be a selling point. Zoho Books (www.zoho.com/ca/books), from California-based Zoho Corp., is part of a larger suite of Zoho products. This product includes a CRM system, along with reporting and expense management modules. Zoho Books' prices range from $7 to $17 monthly.
This ability to integrate various online services is an attractive aspect of cloud computing. Integration is a feature of Toronto-based Freshbooks (www.freshbooks.com). This service allows you to connect your Freshbooks accounting with other cloud-based services, such as those offered by San Francisco-based Stripe Inc. (www.stripe.com, for online payments), Riverside, Calif.-based Yalla (www.yallahq.com, for project management) and Spokane, Wash.-based BidSketch (www.bidsketch.comhttp://www.yallahq.com, for creating professional client proposals).
Freshbooks, which ranges in price from $15 to $50 per month, also offers time-tracking capabilities for practices that bill on an hourly basis.
You also might consider another type of online integration when choosing a cloud-based bookkeeping system: bank account integration. The ability to "pull in" transactions directly from a bank account has saved many a user from burdensome manual entry.
This is a feature of most accounting platforms, including Kashoo (www.kashoo.com) from Vancouver-based Kashoo Cloud Accounting Inc. Kashoo, which can integrate more than 5,000 bank fees, costs $19.95 a month and also supports multi-currency bookkeeping for advisors who deal with clients in other countries.
- Making it mobile
Quickbooks Online (https://quickbooks.intuit.ca), the Canadian cloud version of the popular desktop bookkeeping and accounting software from Palo Alto, Calif.-based Intuit Inc., has most features that other accounting packages offer - and some that they don't. One of these is the ability to take a picture of your receipt on a smartphone, then send the image straight to Quickbooks' cloud-based service for reconciliation with a banking or credit-card transaction.
Quickbooks Online begins at $13 per month and rises to $40 per month based on the features you choose. This service's features range from basic income and expense tracking through to bill management and payment, as well as tracking recurring invoices. One feature I particularly like about this online service is a private option on its web interface dubbed "Starbucks mode," which blocks out sensitive information should you happen to be handling bookkeeping in a public setting such as a coffee shop.
Quickbooks Online also features mobile access via a smartphone app for iOS and Android. If you're an advisor constantly on the move who wants access to your financial information at a glance, consider an accounting system that offers an app for your mobile device.
You also may be on the lookout for team-based access, which provides various access levels for people in different roles. Quickbooks offers this feature, as does Xero (www.xero.com) from New Zealand-based Xero Ltd. Xero targets both small businesses and accounting firms, and its focus is on integrating the two.
This app wants your accounting firm to be a user, too, so that the software can take care of the bookkeeping and analysis for you, leaving you to get on with your practice.
Xero costs $20 a month for a version with limits on invoicing and client numbers, and $30 for unlimited invoices, bills and bank transactions. For $40 a month, you also get multi-currency support.
No one would ever call bookkeeping fun. After looking at other peoples' numbers all day, maintaining your business's financial record-keeping probably is a task that most advisors would want to avoid. The trick is to do this job quickly by having as much of it as possible automated for you.
Armed with one of these online packages, you soon will be able to consign one of the most needling problems for financial advisors - and be ahead of the curve the next time your financial yearend rolls around.
© 2017 Investment Executive. All rights reserved.