At a glance
- The market value of cloud accounting software has grown exponentially over the past decade.
- The widespread adoption of this software is due to its evolution into a multi-purpose tool.
- Competition among providers is increasing and pushing down prices. As a result, smaller businesses now have better access to high quality software.
The valuation trajectories of accounting software greats MYOB, Xero and Intuit have been in the limelight over the past decade.
The market has witnessed MYOB being bought for US$437 million in 2008 and sold for US$1.3 billion three years later.
Xero took a mere six years to hit a valuation of US$1.6 billion in 2013 with just 78,000 paying customers; it is now worth A$11 billion and has more than two million subscribers. Intuit’s valuation soared from US$18 billion in 2013 to its current US$70 billion.
The widespread (and growing) use of accounting software, and its dramatic financial success, stems from its rapid evolution; its value has increased in tandem with the number of systems it can connect to.
From its beginnings as a tool for crunching bank reconciliations, it has extended to a platform for running a small business, with automated processes and deep integrations to data sources.
It can also connect users to other business software and financial services, and automatically feed data to add-ons to update information and cut out tedious administrative work.
Cloud accounting software connects much more easily than software installed on a desktop computer. The connector in the software is called an application programming interface, or API. You can imagine this interface as a collection of levers that, if pulled, will do something inside the accounting software.
The information collectors
This automated exchange of information reduces the effort to keep multiple systems up to date.
In turn, this makes it easier to understand what is happening inside a business.
Today’s cloud-based accounting software connects to a vast multitude of apps that collect information and perform other specialised functions such as customer relationship management (CRM) and inventory.
APIs save users a lot of time when it comes to point of sale (POS). Vend, Kounta and other POS apps push the day’s sales directly into the accounting software.
This replaces the manual end-of-day cash reconciliation in a cash register using the Z report.
Invoicing and job management apps also fall into this category.
Tradespeople can fire off an invoice to a customer on their smartphone using ServiceM8 or simPRO, and it will automatically record it in their accounting software, too.
Specialist apps update themselves using information contained in the accounting software.
The most common information is customer details. It is a tedious and error-prone task to type a new customer’s name and contact details into multiple apps.
An API will automatically add the customer in connected apps – and in some cases even update existing customer details.
An app can also automatically update more detailed information such as invoices and payment history.
This is especially relevant to CRM apps used by sales teams. CRM tools are still trickling down from larger enterprises into small-to-medium enterprises (SMEs), but the trend is picking up pace, particularly as they become easier to use due to self-updating API connections.
Check out Insightly, Salesforce.com, Capsule CRM and Accelo, which are all popular with smaller businesses.
A tell-tale sign of software with a developed API is the size of the ecosystem of connecting apps and services.
A better API is easier to connect to, and can do more things within the host accounting program.
Inventory software is another critical user of APIs.
Small business accounting software – especially cloud-based versions – lacks the muscle to manage complex inventories.
Apps such as DEAR Inventory, Unleashed Software, TradeGecko and Cin7 are filling the gap for plumbers, wholesalers and smaller importers.
In fact, these businesses often use the inventory app as the single source of truth and the accounting software for compliance only.
In software terms, the accounting program becomes the “add-on”.
One of the most important use cases for accountants is reporting.
Fathom, Spotlight Reporting, Syft and Futrli draw data from accounting software to populate graphical reports and dashboards.
Here, the API eliminates the low-value task of copying and pasting data into Excel spreadsheets to create graphs and tables. Accountants can instead spend their time explaining the reports to business owners, and helping them make useful decisions.
There is a third category of API-driven apps that can improve the operation of the accounting software.
For example, customers are becoming more comfortable paying their invoices online. Accounting software may connect to a payment gateway such as Stripe, PayPal or eWAY.
When a customer receives the emailed invoice, they can click on the link and enter their credit card details immediately. Th e payment is automatically reconciled against the invoice.
While a white-label form of this service has long been available with MYOB’s M-Powered Services, SMEs can now choose from a range of payment providers with differing terms and fees.
Some accounting software connects to more things than others.
A tell-tale sign of software with a developed API is the size of the ecosystem of connecting apps and services. A better API is easier to connect to, and can do more things within the host accounting program, and it can push data out from the accounting software as well as receive it.
Here’s a quick look at the major accounting software players for SMEs.
When Xero launched in 2007, it built its accounting software around its API. It was a radical approach at the time, but it set the stage for rapid growth in third-party or add-on apps.
Xero vies with Intuit’s QuickBooks for the largest ecosystem of business applications. Xero’s Australian app marketplace contains about 700 apps in industries such as hospitality, construction, agriculture, legal and more.
Xero has been expanding functionality with paid extras to its subscription, such as Xero Receipts (expense management) and Xero Projects (project management).
It is also investing heavily in integrations with payments platforms and financial institutions. You can send online invoices that a customer can pay immediately online, even for recurring invoices such as a monthly subscription.
One of the newest developments is paying your bills from within Xero. Australian users who bank with NAB can create a batch payment in Xero, and approve the payment on their NAB app on their smartphone.
Xero also connects with a wide range of fintech lenders and large banks. You can share your Xero file with the lender, and they will approve unsecured loans of up to A$50,000 or more within 24 hours.
MYOB migrated all Australian businesses with staff to its cloud-connected accounting software in the shift to Single Touch Payroll. MYOB has a browser-based accounting program, Accounting Essentials, which is similarly priced to Xero, but has fewer features.
A better competitor to Xero is MYOB’s cloud connected desktop software, MYOB AccountRight, which includes multi-currency, project and job tracking, and complex inventory. However, unlike browser-based accounting programs, AccountRight users need to download the software to use it, and it can only be used on a PC.
Today, MYOB products connect to more than 320 apps, representing the combined ecosystems of AccountRight, Essentials and POS app Kounta. MYOB doesn’t break out the size of the individual ecosystems.
MYOB has two mobile apps, Capture (expense management) and Invoices. MYOB’s payment tool PayBy gives you the ability to take payments from Visa, Mastercard, AMEX and BPay.
Intuit is aggressively chasing market share in Australia. The cloud-based QuickBooks has a feature set that is comparable to Xero, the market leader, but which costs substantially less. (Th is is true even before the discount, which is only for the first year.)
Intuit is more generous than Xero when it comes to features. Th e projects module is included with the subscription price in the most expensive plan, which is already half the price of Xero.
Intuit has also invested heavily in APIs and is pulling away in its mobile apps, which are also dependent on high-quality APIs.
The QuickBooks Online (QBO) mobile app boasts more features than any of its competitors. Intuit is also moving quickly to produce a voice-driven mobile app called QuickBooks Assistant, which will create invoices on command.
Intuit is unique in exploring a new direction for integration. It turns ecosystem apps into plug-ins that add extra features inside the accounting software itself. Th is particular technique was pioneered in Australia by payroll app KeyPay, and replicated with its timesheets acquisition, TSheets.
As Intuit had no local payroll app, it made KeyPay the primary supplier. The difference is that KeyPay’s payroll screens appear inside QBO and look like they are part of the accounting software.
Reckon has bucked the trend of building a monolithic and expensive cloud accounting platform. It is the only modular accounting app in the Australian marketplace.
Once you pay A$7 a month for the core accounting module, you can add invoices, payroll, bank feeds, time tracking, and expenses on an a la carte basis.
Reckon has the cheapest and most flexible accounting product. If you run a seasonal business, you can pause your subscription until you need it again.
The app ecosystem will grow, but not at the same rate as Reckon’s competitors, as Reckon prefers to take what it calls a curated approach.
It’s unclear what this will look like in practice, but the idea is Reckon will pick a preferred app for each category over having multiple suppliers.
It has almost 30 apps in its marketplace including Zapier, an integration app in its own right, which lets a user connect and then move information between other apps automatically. Zapier interfaces with hundreds of apps, which does somewhat address the lack of direct integrations.
The old man of Australian cloud accounting software, tech-savvy Saasu was one of the earliest to move to a modern API and was onto its second-generation API by 2015.
The privately backed Saasu made a strategic decision not to take the same level of investment as Xero or Intuit, so it has been more selective in its approach.
Saasu has targeted e-commerce companies and developed integrations that suit their needs. It was the first to integrate with Australia-based drop-shipping service Neto, which automates delivery of stock from warehouses.
It has strong integrations with e-commerce apps such as BigCommerce and Shopify. It also connects to integration tools OneSaas and Zapier.
Saasu quietly pioneers into new territory and really does march to its own beat. In December 2019, it released a working prototype for a hybrid task-tracking app that maps tasks to goals and projects. “It’s nice and light for small business, built in the minimalist style we believe in,” Saasu announced.
Sage is better known among accountants for Handisoft, its practice management software brand.
However, it does have online accounting software for small business called Sage Business Cloud Accounting (BCA), released in 2015 as Sage One. Sage BCA didn’t have an easy ride to market either and, like Reckon One, it has been slow to add integrations with third-party software.
In fact, its Australian website lists only eight apps in its marketplace.
Sage acquired a cloud ERP called Intacct in 2017, which it localised for the Australian market in 2019. Intacct is a powerful competitor to NetSuite. It integrates directly with more than 120 apps and is best suited to services-based businesses.
Competition among cloud ERP (enterprise resource planning) companies is bringing prices down, and offering small businesses better access to products and services.