Small businesses in the US have been able to do their accounts online using Intuit's QuickBooks software since the year 2000. And now UK customers can do the same, with the launch of QuickBooks Online , which allows small businesses over here to create invoices, track cashflow and manage their VAT from anywhere with an Internet connection, using nothing more than a browser.
Aimed at small consultancy and client-based businesses, QuickBooks Online can be shared by up to five users plus a professional accountant or adviser. Three versions are available, the cheapest being the Online Simple Start service which, for just £9 (ex. VAT) per month, delivers the same kind of single user invoicing and cashflow functionality as the desktop Simple Start product, similarly, aimed at sole traders and small start-ups.
Up the financial ante to £19/month and the Online Essentials edition adds VAT accounting and support for accounts payable (buying things), plus it can be used to share information in the company file between up to three online users.
And lastly there's Online Plus , for up to five users, adding budgeting and job costing tools. This version costs £29/month and, as with the Essentials service, provides support for multi-currency operation, with instant conversion between 140 different currencies using the latest exchange rates, if required.
Other nice features include a user-friendly interface and mini-interviews to help customise the various options — online wizards, if you like. There's support too for direct debit payments and the ability to record charges and convert them into invoices later.
Online filing of VAT returns isn't an option at present, and there's no support either for the flat rate scheme, but these may be added later. Payroll is also missing from the Online product.
Intuit sees QuickBooks Online appealing to a different audience from its desktop product, so there's no upgrade available and you can't import data from one to another. Moreover, like other cloud-based applications, performance will depend on the speed of the internet connection and it's worth noting that the data is held on servers currently based in San Diego. That said, Intuit claims to comply with EU and UK legislative requirements and pledges to take backups every two hours. Data held in the QuickBooks Online company file can also be exported to Excel.
Launched to coincide with the new financial year, QuickBooks Online is a promising new small business service and one we'll review in depth as soon as a test account has been arranged.