When you’re researching accountancy firms undoubtedly you will stumble across numerous accountants that offer both online and offline accountancy packages, so what are the differences?

An online accounting solution usually comes in the form of a web or ‘cloud’ based portal, where you log in to view a snapshot of businesses finances and input data such as recipies and invoices. These portals require an internet connection, and most offer real time updates and status of your business accounts.

Where as, an offline solution can be interpreted as a few different services such as, a spreadsheet where you manually input all your financial data; and a bookkeeping service where by you send all of your invoices and business receipts to your accountant on a monthly basis.

Looking at each accountancy firm’s website during your search, will demonstrate the kind of service offerings they have. However, it can feel like sifting through a huge wave of information, and ultimately you could end up being thoroughly confused by all the complex accountancy jargon.

To help you, Nixon Williams has created a guide on the ‘Advantages and Disadvantages of Online and Offline Accounting Services’.

Customer experience

Online accounting portals are developed with the end user in mind, the contractor and are focused around the user experience. The format should be simplistic, intuitive and easy to understand – so there is no need to choose an online portal which offers every feature imaginable.

Offline solutions on the other hand, dependant on whether they offer a bookkeeping or spreadsheet service, usually mean a little more admin work such as sending your invoices and receipts to your accountant or completing a spreadsheet to be sent to your accountant on a monthly basis.

Accessibility

Online portals are web, or ‘cloud’, based, so are accessible 24/7, as long as you have access to the internet. Key benefit of these are that you can obtain a snapshot of your business, at any time. Most even have their own smartphone app, which means you can even access your information on the move.

Offline solutions are just that offline. Unless your accountant does your bookkeeping you usually will be required to fill out a spreadsheet monthly of your incoming and outgoings. This will require you to have access to a computer or tablet with a spreadsheet program. The main disadvantage of this compared to using online solution is that you cannot gain a live snapshot of your business accounts, which could leave question marks on how much you should be spending and how much should be put aside for tax.

making contracting

Secure

Online accounting services should offer many layers of security, the most common types include SSL encryption, a dedicated firewall and remote data back-up. Make sure you always checked where you data is stored, how often they do backups and where the backups are stored. For example if it an in house solution, if there was a fire in the building would your data be backed up off site?

Offline solutions usually require you to send your spreadsheet of your company accounts over email. Understandably many contractors would rather not send sensitive information via email in case there is a security breach. However many accountants overcome this obstacle by using a Secure Document Exchange, which adds extra layers of security such as an SSL and firewalls – make sure if you do pick an offline solution you ask before you sign up how you could send data to your accountant securely.

Point of contact

This is probably the most important thing you look for when choosing an accountant and is relevant for both offline and online packages. Who is actually going to look after you, for example is your accountant qualified or do you speak to an accounts support in a call centre?

Another point to note is if you have one dedicated point of contact. The last thing you want to be doing is telling someone new every time about your business, so a quick 5 minute phone call becomes half an hour. Ideally you should look for an accountant who offers you a direct dial and unlimited support, so you need never to worry about speaking to your accountant as much as you need to.

Downtime

This really only applies to online accountants. As with any online services, there is always the possibility of the portal being offline for a period of time – either for scheduled maintenance and updates, or as an unscheduled failure. These instances are fortunately fairly rare, but should one occur, then it can be a little disconcerting when you have become so used to having your financial information at your fingertips. If you do choose an online accountant make sure you look for an ‘uptime guarantee’ or ‘service level agreement’(ask MC) as these promise the system should be available when you need it.

Also a little tip is to look up their Twitter page to see if it is has many complaints from customers about downtime or problems with the system.

Setting up a Limited Company

Reliability

If you are purely relying upon local software which is loaded on your computer, you will be responsible to making sure your data is backed up. If you do choose an offline accountant it is probably a good idea to look for cloud based storage such as Google Drive, Dropbox or Microsoft’s One Drive, as this will allow you backup your spreadsheet securely and say your spreadsheet suffered from corruption you could roll it back and restore a previous copy.

Obviously as long as you have done your homework properly, if you choose and online accountant your data should automatically back up, so you should never loose anything.

No matter which method of accounting you prefer - make sure that it is right for you and your business. At the end of the day, it is only personal preference that will help make the decision whether to opt for an online or offline service.

If you’d like to try a FREE demo of Vantage, our online accountancy software, to see if it’s right for you, please call our New Business Team on 01253 362062 or email newbusiness@nixonwilliams.com for more information.