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Software - Time to Reevaluate

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#1
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It is that time of year again where I reevaluate all software I am using--tax, encrypted e-mail, DMS/portal, even for accounting (though I still have not found anything to sway me from QB).

I switched away from Citrix Sharefile in favor of Encryo for encrypted e-mail, and SmartVault for DMS. ShareFile was just too expensive for what it provided. While it is not necessary and I can achieve many of the same functions via my existing UltraTax, I do like the direct integration SmartVault has with Lacerte/ProSeries. Already took a look at ProSeries and do not like it (literally ruled it out after 15 minutes of the trial--it feels like 20 year old software, just like Drake). Now, looking at Lacerte on the PRP equivalent basis, but have not even opened it up, yet. Honestly, nothing keeps me with UltraTax other than I know how to use it but they piss me off every year. Intuit Link certainly looks appealing, but I am definitely not sold on their tax prep products.

Next up is accounting. I feel like I need to have an offering besides QBO for cloud accounting. I do not like Xero when an accountant/CPA is involved, and I am with a number of my clients. There is a CPA here that brags about having an accounting system that has client portals where he can post key financial information and metrics (KBIs), but he will not reveal what he is using (or how). It makes me think he just has a portal and uploads PDFs of that information rather than anything that is automated. Is anyone aware of a cloud accounting platform that provides a portal where an accountant can release specific information to clients, but not allow full access? The information would have to be approved before being "published" to the Portal, though.

Goal is to try to streamline and simplify everything as much as possible on client side, and make it easier for me to ensure I have what I need. I would prefer to have organizers, engagement letters, and other basic tax information forms all completed electronically, rather than printed off and returned to me manually filled out. Seems Intuit Link would help achieve this, but do not see where it is available as a standalone product. Suggestions?
 

#2
TaxCut  
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I've been evaluating Lacerte, Proseries and Drake.

1. Lacerte - Probably the best of the 3 but it costs. It is quick and I feel comfortable with the calculations. I don't really second guess the results. I still can't get it to print to DMS though, which is frustrating. I don't know how it integrates with SmartVault. I guess drag and drop from DMS? Tried calling SmartVault but they have lousy customer service.

2. Proseries - the only thing Proseries has going for it is the diagnostics. Other than that I found bugs. Some numbers don't flow to the correct worksheets or forms. It's slow to load. Easy to get lost in the program with the scrolling and worksheets. Hard to pin point where numbers are coming from. I installed another state to do a multi-state return and now the return is blank. I dread calling their support. Long waits and most of the time they don't know how to fix. They go by trial and error which I can do myself. Just not feeling it with Proseries.

3. Drake - I thought that if tried other software I would not like Drake but I find myself navigating to Drake more and more each day. Sure it's not robust and fancy but it gets the job done. I will say this, in spite of newbies gravitating to Drake because of price, Drake is not for newbies. You better know your stuff because there is not much hand holding. It is meant for experienced preparers. It has speed and flexability. I can crank out a return in Drake as fast or sometimes faster as I can on Lacerte. Drakes weakness is state returns and business returns but if you know what you're doing it's not a big deal. It's very easy to get it to do what it's supposed to unlike Proseries.

I've prepared several of the same returns (1040's, 1120S, 1120's and 1041's) on all 3 and Drake and Lacerte seem to match up everytime with a few adjustments. Proseries is the odd ball. Usually have to go back in to do something you would expect the software to do.

As far as accounting software. Your friend maybe using AccountantsWorlds cloud based software. I had looked into it before. You can control what the client sees and does so they don't screw things up. I've used their Payroll Relief program which I liked when I had a few payroll clients but I don't that anymore.
 

#3
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TaxCut wrote:I've been evaluating Lacerte, Proseries and Drake.

1. Lacerte - Probably the best of the 3 but it costs. It is quick and I feel comfortable with the calculations. I don't really second guess the results. I still can't get it to print to DMS though, which is frustrating. I don't know how it integrates with SmartVault. I guess drag and drop from DMS? Tried calling SmartVault but they have lousy customer service.


You have to allow Smartvault to access Lacerte, and then it modifies the UI to include SmartVault as a print location. I cannot access the print function in demo version of Lacerte, but that is what the documentation shows and it did prompt me to allow Smartvault to access and modify Lacerte.

I immediately had issues with Proseries crashing, and not being intuitive. Lacerte does not seem too bad, but I still struggle with switching away from the software I have grown to know and trust even though I hate their other applications. I may wait another year to switch, but who knows. I am still figuring out Smartvault and ensuring clients know how to use it, and that each side receives appropriate notifications of uploads.

I want to duplicate my firm's return in Lacerte and see how it goes. On one hand, it is simple...on the other, it has elements that were difficult to handle in Drake and pretty simple in UT.

I'll take a look at Accountant's World--typically cannot stand their products, but I am curious to figure out what the heck this other CPA is utilizing since he is so secretive about it.
 

#4
jon  
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The usual survey for tax software in the Journal Of Accountancy (it is done every September) has some nice recaps!! I think Drake comes out as best "for the price". For overall rating Drake had 4.6 and Ultra was next at 4.4. Favorites by firm size Drake was first with one preparer 25.7% and the "Would you recommend it to someone starting a tax practice?" 98.3% of Drake respondents said yes. The next highest was ATX 87.6%.

Lots of other categories are given. Drake like the last five years has really shown well. Remember there are certain areas where it did not score as well, but small size firms it shows up as strong, it gets weaker with things like multi-state applications.
 

#5
jesella  
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For accounting, have you looked at AccountingSuite? It's cloud based like QBO, more reasonably priced (especially for partners) and does have a client view that you can release reports to and includes a dashboard. We've just signed up, so I haven't completely gotten into it yet to be able to give an opinion.

The other thing you could look at is LivePlan. It integrates with QBO and you could give your clients access to view financials/KPIs without giving them access to the actual books.
 

#6
zl28  
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I'm surprised by the assessments of ProSeries. I wouldnt' say it's as easy to use as UltraTax, but i find the accuracy excellent for individual taxes, it's very, very good for state taxes (since it's basically turbo tax in professional form - what program is more tested for states than turbo tax since they sell to the public)....I can see it has an overwhelming feel in the beginning, but after 1 year i think you'll find it intuitive, and the INTUIT LINK (proseries' portal) is a game changer....i save tremendous time with Intuit LInk - no more going thru 100 emails to get everyone's documents PLUS if your clients are uploading docs in early Jan, the program let's you get a head start on entering data. Further, there is this feature ("where do i enter") - it's just a green box in the corner of the program.....if you dont' know where to enter something, type in what you are dealing with and it'll provide links...ie type hsa and up comes the links for where you can enter the hsa data.....this is especially helpful for young staff.

Overall, i think it be hard to beat ProSeries for indiv taxes for the bang for the buck............the corporate, partnership, and trust layout is not as great, but i'm fine with it.

I tried out Drake, granted it was 2012, brutally not intuitive then and more importantly, didn't feel confident with the software. I am very confident with the ProSeries individual. Granted, Drake may have kicked up a few notches since 2012 - i don't know- but i was not satisfied with the software when i tried it out.....sometimes the most expensive thing in the world is a bargain ....................also, i think sort of tough to switch software now - transitioning will probably take a ton of time and stress...........maybe ideal time to start to transition is July/August....so in great shape by next tax season....(also consider hiring someone that has used the software to help teach you and transition you). i'm going to look into encryo and see what is offered.
 

#7
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I currently use Drake as my compliance software and would largely agree with the consensus in the recent Journal of Accountancy and Tax Adviser articles.

For the price it's hard to beat. I don't like the lack of integration with other software and the inability to import/export data. CCH Axcess excels at the latter.

I have used CCH Global fx, CCH Axcess, and Gosystems in the past. Long-term I want to be back in CCH Axcess but Drake is fine for now. Gosystems was horrible...hated every minute of using it.
 

#8
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I'm debating if I want to buy a PRP license for Lacerte and try it with NEW clients for 2019 tax filings, since I would already have lost the convenience of being able to proforma. The fees are higher, and I do not trust Intuit with fees upon renewals, but I think I could save time with its tight SmartVault integration.

Same time, I am afraid of too many simultaneous changes. I am already focusing heavily on SmartVault and converting tax forms I need to electronic format via DocuSign, and eliminate typical client organizers altogether...no one uses them, and I only care about the checklist questions, anyway. I want to work towards eliminating clients not returning all forms mandatory before I even look at their tax docs.

I want to like Drake, but every single time I try it out, it just gives me an uncomfortable feeling. Can't believe they do not even have a standard "uninstall" function.
 

#9
jon  
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CCH Access sure did not do well in the Journal's evaluation except for the % used by the largest firms - they were by far the highest %%%. I think this was the first year or close for Access and if the biggest like it and use it that is a good sign. It is also the most expensive I believe and they are not going to move off of that.
 

#10
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CornerstoneCPA wrote:I want to like Drake, but every single time I try it out, it just gives me an uncomfortable feeling.


That is a strong sign that you just need to stick with the premium-tier products (CCH Prosystems or Access, Lacerte, UltraTax, and perhaps ProSeries). I don't think anyone really recommends Gosystems for the average small preparer. As you're evaluating a lot of software, it's probably best to go into this with a plan to find the right software for the firm you expect to have in 2020, as well as the firm you expect to have in 2025. There's too much dead weight to you in constantly changing tax software.

jon wrote:CCH Access sure did not do well in the Journal's evaluation except for the % used by the largest firms - they were by far the highest %%%. I think this was the first year or close for Access and if the biggest like it and use it that is a good sign. It is also the most expensive I believe and they are not going to move off of that.


Two points to make about CCH Access:

(1) The people in firms that use it are generally going to have higher standards and expectations out of their software. It's sort of the inverse of the Drake user effect -- by and large Drake users love the software, but their needs and expectations are generally much lower.

(2) CCH Access had the major malware downtime around the 5/15 nonprofit deadline and the memories of it are probably long and bitter.
 

#11
irc162  
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I am a Drake user. In the past, I have also used Lacerte and ProSystem FX. My practice is now less than half what it was in prior years. If that were not the case, I would not be using Drake. With Drake, you need to be prepared to check every single thing on the return. And I mean everything. If you are doing trust, multi state or CA returns, that goes double. There are things on CA returns that have not been correct for years. I do fewer, more convoluted returns so I am doing that amount of checking and overriding anyway. But If I were doing more mainstream returns, it would be worth it to me to use a software package that has a greater level of accuracy.

Something else about Drake. I think they have been riding on their reputation for customer service for awhile now. It may be that things are changing. My experience with customer service this year was that they didn't always give you a truthful answer, let alone a helpful answer. It was very easy for Drake to blame everyting on the new tax act, even when the issue was something totally unrelated.

My opinion is that the folks at Drake have determined that all that matters to their users is the price. So they have made the decision to let everything else slide. Whatever their miscues (and there are more than a few this year), and however frustrationg it becomes to use the software---their users won't care as long as they don't raise the price.
 

#12
zl28  
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their obsession with price is fascinating. they are the lowest price offering quite a bit. i don't use them for the reasons you state..and actually the deficiencies you list make the software much more expensive. why wouldn't they raise the price. where else can anyone go and get all they give.
 

#13
irc162  
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zl28 wrote:their obsession with price is fascinating. they are the lowest price offering quite a bit. i don't use them for the reasons you state..and actually the deficiencies you list make the software much more expensive. why wouldn't they raise the price. where else can anyone go and get all they give.


It crossed my mind that maybe Drake is looking to sell the company----By keeping price low, they can demonstrate that they have a high number of "loyal" users and that the company is gorwing. That might be attractive to a potential buyer. Not to mention the fact that there is room for price "improvement".

Tax software is expensive to produce and its users are high maintenance. I think most of these companies look at professional tax software primarily as a way to bring in users who will buy other, more profitable products and services offerred by the company. What they call in retail a "loss leader". If the way they treat their users is any indication, offering pro tax software is probably seen as more of a necessity than a choice. In one of the years I was using Lacerte, it seemed like they were working very hard to make us all go away. Now I am getting that same feeling with Drake.
 

#14
zl28  
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I think, any maybe i'm wrong, that the workers may be some of the owners of that company.
 

#15
wel  
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missingdonut wrote:Two points to make about CCH Access:

(1) The people in firms that use it are generally going to have higher standards and expectations out of their software. It's sort of the inverse of the Drake user effect -- by and large Drake users love the software, but their needs and expectations are generally much lower.

(2) CCH Access had the major malware downtime around the 5/15 nonprofit deadline and the memories of it are probably long and bitter.


I agree. I've used Drake, Lacerte, CCH ProFx and UltraTax. In all honesty Drake is not in the same league as the others, by a long shot. Their pricing is the best feature, and to be fair Drake is surprisingly capable for its price. In reading the recent JofA article, it would be easy to draw the conclusion that the Drake, Lacerte, UltraTax, ProFx and Axcess are roughly equivalent.

Some facts to keep in mind when reading reviews / comparisons like the recent JofA article:
1. There tends to be a much larger % of less expensive software users that respond to a survey.
2. Many of the users of less expensive software haven't used anything else, at least not in 5+ years.
 

#16
makbo  
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Drake also competes against tax pros with its direct offering to taxpayers (1040.com), just like Intuit does with TurboTax.
 

#17
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makbo wrote:Drake also competes against tax pros with its direct offering to taxpayers (1040.com), just like Intuit does with TurboTax.


It's not competition. I cannot think of many CPAs or EAs that actually want clients that have previously used 1040.com, TurboTax, H&R Block, etc., unless their tax situation has become dramatically more complicated. I do not want those clients unless they now feel overwhelmed, and will gladly pay my fees to prepare their taxes.
 

#18
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irc162 wrote:It crossed my mind that maybe Drake is looking to sell the company----By keeping price low, they can demonstrate that they have a high number of "loyal" users and that the company is gorwing. That might be attractive to a potential buyer. Not to mention the fact that there is room for price "improvement".

Tax software is expensive to produce and its users are high maintenance. I think most of these companies look at professional tax software primarily as a way to bring in users who will buy other, more profitable products and services offerred by the company. What they call in retail a "loss leader". If the way they treat their users is any indication, offering pro tax software is probably seen as more of a necessity than a choice. In one of the years I was using Lacerte, it seemed like they were working very hard to make us all go away. Now I am getting that same feeling with Drake.


I disagree -- the loss leader part is only appropriate in the retail market (i.e. TurboTax doing free federal returns but walloping on e-filing or state returns, or Credit Karma offering free prep in exchange for your personal financial information). If anything, professional tax prep programs are the exact opposite of loss leaders; an extremely mature market with low growth prospects leading to a high level of corporate consolidation and few new feasible entrants to the market.

Software has high fixed costs and low variable costs, so every additional paying customer can add a lot to the bottom line. That would lead one to expect a growth mindset, but tax software for professionals doesn't really fit that mindset: as mentioned, it needs to be substantially updated every year (as opposed to just creating new emojis and updating colors and fonts) with many updates during tax season, and the size of the market is inherently limited. A company making good professional software can earn a strong, predictable amount of money, but it will never be the moonshot that so many software investors are looking for.

Drake has had a lot of growth over the last few years, and I'd expect that to be the main cause of problems in customer service. A lot of growth so quickly means a need for more customer service, and it's not like you can snap your fingers and get a competent person for our industry. Vanguard (the index/mutual fund company) has been working through the same problem, too much growth too quickly in a specialty company.

If Drake were looking to sell the company, their best bet would be to increase their price now rather than to sell on user expansion and future price improvement possibilities. Those among us who have bought out tax firms where the owner was undercharging know the frustrations of bringing the new clients up to market rates -- and companies that undercharge are worth a lower multiple than companies that don't.
 

#19
makbo  
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irc162 wrote:It crossed my mind that maybe Drake is looking to sell the company

To who? The last significant professional tax software acquisition I am aware of was when H&R Block acquired TaxWorks in 2007. (They subsequently changed the name to Red Gear, then sold the customers to Thomson-Reuters and brought the TaxWorks software in house over the next few years to replace their antiquated proprietary software knows as TPS).

In the past, Intuit acquired ChipSoft's TurboTax, and somewhere along the line they acquired Lacerte too. Probably a few other deals were made in years past as well. But in today's market, what would be the appeal of Drake? Not to mention how much Phil Drake's personal involvement in the company seems to matter to him.

https://www.owler.com/company/drakesoftware

"Drake Software generates $34.6K in revenue per employee [...] Drake Software's revenue is the ranked 9th among it's [sic] top 10 competitors."

Seems like most seasonal tax preparers generate more revenue per worker than Drake.
 


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