#TechTips: My Hero, Xero

By Jonathan Rivlin for MSATP

In November of 2016, with the launch of my new practice, we made the decision to support a new accounting platform, Xero. I’ve been a CPA for 20 years and I’ve worked in the industry since I was 16. For me to say that I don’t support or use QuickBooks is not a small thing.

Loosely quoting Brad Pitt’s character from the movie, “Mr. & Mrs. Smith”, “I suppose at the end, you remember the beginning.” Welp; let’s take a look back in the day!

Remember when Intuit launched QuickBooks with that campaign that encouraged clients to “fire their accountants”? And many of them actually did. And then they came back — with IRS and Comptroller’s notices aplenty.

We took (some of) them back, with a charge for cleaning up their self inflicted messes.

Really — whose genius idea was it to come up with “Opening Balance Equity”? I don’t recall seeing that on the CPA exam or in any text book.

I remember getting into QuickBooks desktop with their 1998 version. Coming off paper and DOS based systems, this was a step…sideways. There wasn’t anything intuitive about QuickBooks. All pith aside, by the time the mid aughts came around, I was rocking through QuickBooks desktop and able to button up even a messy year end in short order. I was a happy accountant.

I would recommend QuickBooks to my clients and was shocked – SHOCKED – when they told me how much they hated it.

And life continued until we got to the mid-teens and suddenly the rumors of these new fangled cloud apps became such that I could no longer ignore them. In fact, it cost me a client for trying to keep my head out of the clouds.

I can’t state this strongly enough – if we are going to survive, we have to get into the cloud.

I have yet to meet an accountant that likes QuickBooks Online (a/k/a QBO). So if you’re thinking cloud accounting = QBO, think again!

I was taught that you can’t raise yourself up by putting someone down, and I don’t mean to make this post about all the ways Intuit and QBO have treated us practitioners poorly; but I wanted to make sure that you, my esteemed colleagues, know how and why we decided to become a Xero firm.

Xero is a cloud based general ledger program from an upstart scrappy company based out of New Zealand. One might question how it’s possible for a non-US company to have any relevance to our systems – but think about it; we were (at different points in history) colonies of the UK; we have the same legal framework and language.

Xero presents a clean interface that is refreshing in its ease of use and merciful on your eyes. Don’t dismiss this; whatever system you’re using, you’re going to be staring at a screen, might as well choose the one that doesn’t cause unnecessary fatigue.

Xero truly is intuitive. Most tasks can be figured out on the fly, though there is a wealth of support articles and videos – both company produced and from fellow users around the globe. They even have training courses so one can be come certified in Xero. And unlike Intuit, they don’t charge for the privilege of getting this certification.

Xero’s pricing structure is as clean as it’s interface. There are a few different levels — you pick the one that’s right for you. Everything is clear up front.

As an aside, I’ve had clients tell me that they changed to QBO and were all proud of how they did it themselves. (Groan.) They mentioned that they signed up for the cheapest version. In looking into their books and fixing their inevitable messes, I found that at some point they had up-sold themselves to a higher subscription level. When I took this to them, they were incredulous until I showed them, in their own general ledger, the charges from Intuit that were well in excess of what they thought they were paying. (QBO’s interface is a mine field for the hidden upsell.)

This prompted a trip into call center hell – press 666 to speak to a concerned customer care demon – I mean person. If only we could bill these large corporations for the time spent on hold…

The point of that aside was to illustrate the difference between Intuit and Xero’s business model. Intuit is always looking for the upsell and is aggressive about selling us more and more – whether we need it or not. Xero provides a service, is damn good at it, and is up front about the cost.

Xero’s tech support is amazing! They are fast, friendly, not trying to sell you something, and they work with you to resolve whatever issue you have. Most support tickets are resolved via email – even on weekends!

Xero offers a mobile app where you can take pictures of your receipts and enter transactions on the fly. QBO offers something similar, but with Xero, it’s just easier.

Xero works with many, many apps that enhance different parts of the accounting system. QBO does this too, but with Xero, it’s just easier.

Xero links with your bank and credit card accounts to pull data into the system. The idea of performing a monthly bank reconciliation is a thing of the past. Now we reconcile daily, and it’s easy. There’s no messes to clean up because we catch issues before they get out of hand. It’s true that QBO and QB also work with bank feeds. But with Xero, it’s just easier.

At our practice, we have a “Tech Stack” (how’s that for a new bit of jargon?) that includes Xero as the center. From there we use Gusto for payroll (ADP and Paychex’ treatment of us has been similar to Intuit, but that’s for another column), Bill.com for payables, Hubdoc for document management, and Expensify for managing corporate credit cards and employee expenses. We can also plug custom apps into this cloud based environment to suit each client.

Got a client that is an auto mechanic and needs a way of matching their customer invoices with their parts and supplies bills? There’s an app for that and it plugs into Xero and takes the pain out of bookkeeping.

Now, let’s take the rose colored glasses off.

Very few things in life are purely perfect. Except for bubbles. My 4 year old loses her mind whenever she sees bubbles. Cloud based accounting apps are not bubbles.

There is a learning curve. Yes, Xero is intuitive and easy to learn, but you still have to commit to learning it. For those of us who have been doing things the Intuit way for so long, you will need to accept that there are other (and better) ways about plying our trade.

When learning something new, you – and your staff and your clients – will inevitably hit a wall. Our first instinct in these situations is to blame the software. Don’t. It’s all user error. Meaning, it’s on us. In the beginning, if something “wouldn’t work,” I would rant and rave and my brother (it’s a family practice) would roll his eyes at me.

I had to learn that if, after a minute or two, something didn’t work the way I was expecting, to either search for a help article or submit a ticket – to trust the system as it were. I can’t tell you what a relief that is! How many times have you had issues with QB or QBO and had to go through all sorts of hoops, spending untold hours on hold, (and pay) for tech support? With Xero, I know that whatever issues will arise, I’ve got a team of people that can help me – without trying to sell me something.

We’re almost through our second full year on Xero. I can’t believe I resisted changing for so long; I wish I did it sooner.

Now if Xero could come up with a cloud based tax prep app…

The MSATP is committed to leadership in the cloud technology arena. To that end, we’re working with Xero, Futrli, and other app providers to give our members specialized training and opportunities to learn more about these apps. Check out our upcoming Facebook Live chat with our Xero hero Syed Haque on 9/6/18 @ 09:00.

We’d like to hear from you! Please submit your own tech tips to us at techtips@msatp.org! We will award a free subscription to The Tax Book to the person who submits the best tip.

Thanks, and catch you next time!