Questions & Answers

Cloud Accounting

What is Cloud Based Accounting?


Cloud accounting is the practice of using an accounting system that's accessed through the internet. Some accounting systems sit on just one computer. These are called 'desktop accounting systems'. Because cloud accounting systems are internet-based, you can access your records anywhere and on any device that has an internet connection using an app or web browser.




FreeAgent, Quickbooks or Xero, what is the difference, how do I choose which is best for me?


Quickbooks - Cloud-based accounting software for all small business needs

- Even basic plan is well-featured

- Lots of extras available

- Free trial

QuickBooks is an instantly recognizable name in the world of accountancy and bookkeeping. It’s owned by Intuit, which also has other options for small business and large ones too, with a diverse portfolio that includes Turbotax, Mint and Proconnect. QuickBooks also comes in numerous different varieties, from desktop editions through to the hugely popular Online edition.

Depending on your requirements, you can choose from QuickBooks Online, QuickBooks Self-Employed, QuickBooks Online Advanced, QuickBooks Live Bookkeeping, QuickBooks Desktop for Mac, QuickBooks Desktop Pro, QuickBooks Premier and QuickBooks Enterprise. However, it is possible to create a custom package using the help of the QuickBooks team if you need a more bespoke option.

Due to the sheer expanse of QuickBooks-based products it’s best to check out the website in order to get the latest update on pricing, versions available and also any deals that Intuit has on this vast range of accounting solutions.

Xero - Powerful small business accounting software

- Temptingly cheap Starter plan

- Excellent mobile apps

- Basic plan has limitations

Xero might grab your attention with its low per month Early plan account but look closely and limitations soon become apparent – like being restricted to sending a maximum of five invoices, entering five bills, or reconciling only 20 bank transactions.

Still, if you can live with those restrictions there are some pluses here. The service offers smart expense tracking and management, optionally on your mobile with Xero's excellent app for Android and iOS. There are dozens of configurable reports, simple budgeting, and no limits at all on additional users or the accountants you might want to access the data.

If the invoice, bank or billing issues are a problem then the Xero Growing plan looks like a better deal. It's a lot more money at $30 per month, but you can issue as many invoices and enter as many bills as you like.

Xero offers plenty of functionality for any small business, including a handy "convert your QuickBooks files" service to help you get started, and it's certainly easy to use. But if you don't quite need all that power, there's better value to be had elsewhere.

FreeAgent - powerful and easy-to-use accounting software for UK businesses

- First 6 months at 50% cost

- Free to all NatWest business banking clients

- Excellent mobile apps

More than 40,000 small businesses and freelancers are discovering an easy way to manage their books and invoicing. Say hello to FreeAgent.

FreeAgent is an award-winning online accounting system specifically designed to meet the needs of small businesses and freelancers. FreeAgent puts you in control by taking the jargon out of accounting and giving you real-time visibility of how your business is performing.

FreeAgent lets you manage your expenses and invoices, automatically chase payments, import bank statements and explain transactions and submit estimates/proposals. Any changes you make automatically update your accounts, giving you complete visibility of your income and expenses and showing your real-time profit position.




What are the benefits of cloud accounting over traditional desktop software?


The Top 3 Differences Between Traditional & Cloud Accounting Software

Accessibility

The most obvious difference is truly the defining factor: With cloud accounting software, you log in and access your financials securely through a web-based interface; while a traditional accounting system only allows you to access your financials from the computer on which your software is installed.

In other words, cloud accounting software is off-premise while traditional accounting software is on-premise. You can use your credentials to access your cloud-based financials from any connected and compatible device, at any time, regardless of your location. With traditional software, you can only access your financial data from that specific device and location, restricting your mobility and schedule.

Additionally, cloud software keeps all data sources updated in real time, and provides options for redundancy with data backups. With traditional software, you have to manually update your information files or copies in every location where the data exists.

Scalability

Due to its remote capabilities, cloud accounting software is naturally supportive of business growth because it’s not limited to the storage or bandwidth of the local servers and user devices you can afford to purchase and maintain. Software (like Intacct) includes multi-entity and role management to ensure you can add resources as needed.

Traditional accounting software, on the other hand, requires installation and access granted to each new user (if multiple users are allowed).

Cost

Because cloud accounting software stores your data on a remote server, it reduces the overhead associated with hardware. Your monthly or annual subscription fee includes as much server storage as you need. It also covers any automatic software updates.

With traditional accounting, you’re responsible for maintaining your servers, increasing your storage capacity by investing in new servers, and updating your software.




Is Cloud Accounting Safe?


To answer this question first, think about how you store your financial data at the moment.

Most likely it’s stored on a computer and is moved around over email or on a USB stick. This could be lost in a fire, flood, burglary, left on a train or simply dropped down the back of the sofa.

This would never happen with cloud-based accounting. Even if your laptop was stolen, all of your financial data is automatically backed up and would remain fully up-to-date. If someone had access to your laptop they still couldn’t login to your cloud accounting software if you are using a secure password.

Data stored on your computer is vulnerable to viruses and ransomware, as well as physical theft. With cloud accounting not only is there more than one backup, but your data is backed up in multiple locations.

Cloud accounting company QuickBooks state that their data centres have 24/7 onsite security and strictly controlled access.

Equally, Xero say that they maintain ‘multiple geographically separated data replicas and hosting environments to minimize the risk of data loss or outages’.

While FreeAgent is fully committed to protecting client personal and financial data, using multiple layers of security. When you trust them with your information, it’s held safely by some of the most secure data centres in the UK. Manned 24/7, they are geographically separated and protected from physical and logical attack - as well as natural disaster!

As well as physical security, data centres use the most highly sophisticated digital security possible. It eliminates the risk of anyone leaving their phones and laptops unlocked and unsupervised whenever they leave their desk to get a coffee or grab lunch!

Cloud applications use encrypted connections when transferring data. This means that the data is encrypted before it’s sent from your device to the remote server and then again when it returns. This means that it can’t be intercepted and read by a third party.

So, in our opinion – yes, cloud accounting is safe. Or, at the very least, safer than most traditional accounting storage.





Open Banking

What are the benefits of Open Bank Feeds and are they secure?


A bank feed is a digital link between your bank account and accounting software, automatically importing bank transactions into your accounting software on a daily basis.

By allowing accounting software to automatically import a customer’s financial data, bank feeds give business owners an up-to-date view of their business’s financial performance.

Bank feeds also help business owners to avoid the mistakes that can often be made when manually inputting lots of transaction data.

Open Banking was set up by the UK’s Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) to create more competition in the financial marketplace and support fairness for all bank account customers in the UK. Through Open Banking, bank account customers are now able to share their financial data securely with third parties through a kind of technology known as an API.

In 2019 FreeAgent became the first UK accounting software to launch bank feeds created via the Open Banking platform. These new bank feeds are faster, more secure and more reliable than any other bank feed that has come before them.

As well as FreeAgent, Quickbooks and Xero also offer Open Bank Feeds offering users:

- Fast, easy and secure set-up in less than one minute

- The ability to see all your business finances in one place

- Allowing the user to save time & hassle with synchronised solutions

- Enabling users to manage their cash flow with real-time data and future forecasting

Securely receive transactions through a direct connection between your chosen cloud accounting software and your bank. You’ll need to re-authenticate your bank connection every 90 days - this is a new standard required with Open Banking




Can I use Open Banking if I don't use Online Banking?


No. To use Open Banking you need online or mobile banking for your personal or business current account.




Does my Bank or Building Society offer Open Banking?


At the moment, only the UK’s nine largest banks and building societies must make your data available through Open Banking. Other smaller banks and building societies can choose to take part in Open Banking. The banks and building societies who currently offer Open Banking are:

  • Allied Irish Bank
  • Arbuthnot Latham & Co Limited
  • Bank of Ireland UK
  • Bank of Scotland
  • Barclays
  • BFC Bank
  • C Hoare & Co
  • Clydesdale Bank
  • Contis
  • Coutts & Company
  • Coventry Building Society
  • Creation Financial Services
  • Cynergy Bank
  • Danske
  • Ghana International Bank
  • Halifax
  • Hargreaves Lansdown Savings
  • HSBC
  • ICBC (London)
  • Industrial and Commercial Bank of China
  • Investec
  • Lloyds Bank
  • M&S
  • MBNA
  • Metro Bank
  • Mizuho Bank
  • Nationwide
  • NatWest
  • NewDay
  • Permanent TSB
  • Prepay Technologies
  • Project Imagine
  • Revolut
  • Sainsbury’s Bank
  • Santander
  • SG Kleinwort Hambros Bank
  • Starling Bank
  • Tesco Bank
  • The Co-operative Bank
  • The Governor and Company of the Bank of Ireland
  • The Royal Bank of Scotland
  • The Royal Bank of Scotland International
  • Tide Platform
  • TSB Bank
  • Turkiye Is Bankasi As
  • Ulster Bank
  • Ulster Bank Ireland DAC
  • Union Bank of India
  • Vanquis Bank
  • Virgin Money
  • Wirepayer
  • Yorkshire Building Society




How can I complain about a regulated app, website, Bank or Building Society?


First, discuss your complaint directly with the company, bank or building society. If you’re still unhappy, you can contact the independent Financial Ombudsman Service: Financial Ombudsman Service Exchange Tower London E14 9SR Freephone: 0800 023 4567 Low-cost phone: 0300 123 9123 Email: complaint.info@financial-ombudsman.org.uk Website: www.financial-ombudsman.org.uk If you’re worried about the security of your data or the way it’s being used, first of all contact the company to discuss your complaint. You can also report the company to the Information Commissioner’s Office or call them on 0303 123 1113.





Making Tax Digital

How will Making Tax Digital impact my business?


Making Tax Digital is a key part of the government’s plans to make it easier for individuals and businesses to get their tax right and keep on top of their affairs.

HMRC’s ambition is to become one of the most digitally advanced tax administrations in the world. Making Tax Digital is making fundamental changes to the way the tax system works – transforming tax administration so that it is:

- more effective

- more efficient

- easier for taxpayers to get their tax right

VAT-registered businesses with a taxable turnover above the VAT threshold (£85,000) are now required to follow the Making Tax Digital rules by keeping digital records and using software to submit their VAT returns.

If you are below the VAT threshold you can voluntarily join the Making Tax Digital service now.

VAT-registered businesses with a taxable turnover below £85,000 will be required to follow Making Tax digital rules for their first return starting on or after April 2022.

Self-employed businesses and landlords with annual business or property income above £10,000 will need to follow the rules for MTD for Income Tax from their next accounting period starting on or after 6 April 2023.




Does HMRC recommend software  for Making Tax Digital?


No - HMRC cannot recommend or endorse any one product or service over another and will not be responsible for any loss, damage, cost or expense in connection with using this software.

This is a list of software suppliers that have produced simple record keeping applications to help small businesses with record keeping. Some of the applications meet cash basis and simplified expenses specifications, and have been produced after consultation with HMRC.

For a full list of commercial software suppliers of record keeping applications,click here.




What is an Agent?


If you’ve received communications about the forthcoming MTD for VAT requirements, you may have noticed HMRC referring to “agents” and wondered what on earth they are. An agent is simply a professional who submits VAT returns on your behalf – in most cases this is an accountant.




What does API refer to?


Application Programming Interface (API) An API enables two digital systems to talk to each other – in the case of MTD, for example, an API enables your accounting software to send and receive information to and from HMRC.




Do I need Bridging Software?


Bridging software is a tool that links data stored in spreadsheets with HMRC, enabling VAT data to be submitted digitally. Be aware that bridging software does not fulfil all the requirements of MTD legislation, such as digital record keeping and maintaining digital links between data. Make sure you check with your accountant before committing to bridging software as a long-term MTD solution.




What does MTD Compatible mean?


“MTD-compatible” means that a piece of software is able to meet all the demands of HMRC’s MTD rules. While MTD has not yet started for Income Tax or Corporation Tax, an MTD-compatible status means that the software is compatible with the current MTD requirements – at the moment that’s MTD for VAT.





Cash Management

What is CaFE and how will it benefit me?


A simple solution to a classic business problem, CaFE is the only application you need to better understand and manage your cashflow.

  • It is permanently connected to your accounting software, either Quickbooks, Xero or FreeAgent

  • It instantly highlights impending shortfalls and surpluses, allowing you to take action straight away.

Because it is permanently connected to your chosen cloud accounting software, automated alerts can be sent to you by email when you need to act. Simply set the limit at the point you want to be notified. With CaFE, you don’t have to log in everyday to stay in control.

You need never be out of touch with your numbers and forecasts. CaFE’s specially designed mobile interface gives you a quick cash summary, including credit card balances, in one single view so that you can see your current cash position and any future risks instantly.

CaFE gives you instant access to up-to-date information on your profit and loss and a whole host of other important performance indicators to allow you or your advisers to see at a glance the current health of your business.

You can also look backwards at historical balances, transactions and financial performance ratios.

If you want to take more control of your budgeting and cash flow forecasting, CaFE allows you to create 3m, 6m and 12m forecasts in just a few clicks*. Once the base forecast has been created for you, you can then customise it as you need to by editing individual items of income and expenditure. You might want to model some different sales scenarios or establish the affordability of new overheads. This is all possible in CaFE.

As the year progresses, actual revenue and expenditure will be monitored against your budgets and clearly visualised.

*This feature is currently only available to Xero users, but FreeAgent is in development and will be coming soon.

Running a small business is hard with many different things competing for your attention. When it feels like there is never enough money in the bank, it can be even harder.

We recognise that managing accounts and keeping on top of payments in and out isn’t to everybody’s taste, so we’ve created a low cost, reliable service to give you the help you need.

Their professional accountants will use CaFE to monitor your cash flow every day and get in touch with help and advice when problems are forecast.




What is the best way to keep on top of my cash flow?


There are a few tasks that you can do regularly to make sure you are on top of your cashflow. Here’s a basic checklist for you to follow:

  1. Look at the balance in your bank account at least once a week and reconcile the invoices you’ve issued or paid with the cash-in and cash-out transactions that have gone through the bank account. Sounds like a simple job, but if it isn’t done regularly, it makes it almost impossible to monitor your cash position.
  2. Check if there are any overdue invoices – do you owe suppliers or are there outstanding client invoices? If you’ve reconciled your payments, you can quickly identify what’s still due.
  3. Are there any large payments to be made? For example, VAT or quarterly rent? If you can see the cash balance in your bank account is going to go into the red, it gives you a chance to take action before it happens.
If you find it difficult to balance your cashflow, one solution is to use an overdraft as a cushion. But there are better options.
  • First, look at what you’re owed – can you ask for early payment from your clients? You could try negotiating. Clients may be in favour of paying you early if you offer them a discount.
  • Another option is to get an advance against outstanding client invoices to cover your working capital requirements in the short term. This is called Invoice Finance and you can read more about it in the CaFE guide.
  • Alternatively, you could look at your suppliers’ bills. Could you negotiate to defer payment? Treat this as a one off, not a regular option, as it could affect your terms of business with them.
Whichever way you look at it, though, the best solution is to properly manage cashflow day-by-day.




Why is it important to manage your cashflow?


Believe it or not, poor cashflow management could damage your business – even if you appear to be performing well and making a profit. By the time you realise something’s wrong, even the best accountant can’t help you. Things start to get tricky if your clients’ payment terms are longer than those of your suppliers. For example, your client may only pay after 60-days, but your suppliers need paying sooner – and you’ve probably bought their goods or services to deliver on the job, long before you’ve even invoiced your client. It’s that gap between a payment that you must make and an amount that you expect to collect that makes managing cashflow difficult. To a certain extent, the payments you make are under your control, but the receivables are not. Add to this, you may have to pay salaries to your staff as well as PAYE and NIC to HMRC on a fixed day of every month. Furthermore there are other regular payments: rent, utilities, insurance and so on. When you are hit with all of these at the wrong time, you can have a real problem on your hands. Cashflow management requires you to be realistic, to make a budget and manage how cash moves in and out of your business to keep it running smoothly.




How you can avoid a shortage of cash in your business?


Make a cashflow forecast Making a 12-month plan at the start of each financial year is best and remember to include a realistic, rather than optimistic, sales forecast. Most businesses overestimate their sales and underestimate their expenses! You are the person best placed to make the forecast based on your understanding and knowledge of your business’ strategy and growth, but your accountant will be able to help you if needed. Keep reviewing the plan and comparing it with actual performance. If there’s a gap between the plan and reality, and it’s getting larger, there must be something that hasn’t gone as predicted. You need to identify what it is, correct it if you can and re-forecast. Keep your accounts up-to-date To be able to compare your plan with your business’ actual performance, you need to update your accounting software with the latest data. That’s mainly the money you have paid out and received, the money you are owed, the bank balance, the level of stock and so on. As we said earlier, always look at your latest bank balance and reconcile the invoices you have with the entries on the bank statement. Think about the impact on the balance of any payments that you are due to receive or make that haven’t gone through the bank account. You’ll potentially find overdue payables or receivables that need to be dealt with. When you issue an invoice to your client, update your accounting system with its due date. And when you receive an invoice, do the same. Get into this routine and you’ll find projecting cashflow much easier. Watch your invoice due dates Pay invoices on their due date to keep a healthy credit relationship with your suppliers. They could charge you a penalty if you miss a payment deadline and they might choose to not work with you again. In parallel, you need to send a reminder for outstanding invoices to clients and chase every invoice that’s not paid by its due date. A large number of unpaid invoices can severely affect your working capital. Making one phone call to a client to resolve an overdue invoice payment is much cheaper than having to dip into your overdraft. Monitor the cashflow forecast You have your up-to-date cashflow forecast, now you need to keep updating it. Keeping an eye on your finances this way means will give you an insight into what to do next with your business. For example, if your working capital isn’t enough to run your business without running out of cash at some point, you’ll need to see how you could improve it. This might mean increasing sales, improving your margins, cutting costs or changing your terms of trade with your customers and suppliers. Or you might need to apply for a business loan. For that, you’ll need to prepare financial reports, bank statements, your cashflow forecast and your business plan. It will help if you’ve followed the good practice outlined in this guide. If your credit history is good and you can demonstrate good financial management, you’ll be able to negotiate better loan conditions with the bank.




What are the borrowing options to increase working capital?


There are lots of options these days that you can take to fix a cash shortfall, other than use an overdraft or go down the traditional lending route. When shopping around, look for the option that suits you best. Take the opportunity to compare, not just interest rates among lenders, but the flexibility, speed that can be offered and the security that is required. But a word of caution: watch out for hidden charges with any lenders. Their headline rate may be low, but are there any compulsory fees associated with your borrowing, such as an arrangement fee? Make sure you ask lots of questions. If you have stock or assets in your business, outstanding client invoices or a new contract to deliver on, this widens your choice even further.

  • Invoice finance or factoring
  • Trade finance
  • Stock finance
  • Purchase finance
  • Asset finance
  • Asset re-finance
  • Unsecured loans
  • Merchant cash advance
  • Credit cards
  • Bridging finance
Be as prepared as you can be when applying for finance. Get your paperwork together and show you have a profitable business and understand your figures – exactly how much you need and how much you can afford to repay. But don’t forget, while your business will get a cash boost from the loan, you’ll have to plan as part of your cash flow management how and when you’ll make the monthly repayments. If you are turned down, it’s not the end of the road. Banks are now obliged by law to refer you to an alternative lender under the Bank Referral Scheme.




What are the best monitoring tools to help you keep on top of your cashflow?


If you need a few suggestions on what to use to help you monitor your cashflow, first stop is probably your book keeper or accountant. He or she will have some experience of various tools and software packages. There are also plenty of free templates or calculators you can download. You’ll want something simple, quick and easy to use. If you’re dreading having to stare at spreadsheets, then the simpler, the better. Just make sure you and your accountant agree on a compatible solution that will meet your needs now and grow with your business. A contemporary, easy-to-use software package will mean you don’t have to spend hours in front of a laptop, managing your daily cashflow. You do still need to keep your data up-to-date - but your accountant or book keeper could help you do that! CaFE, for example, is very simple to use and highlights critical points in red for you to action and avoid a cash shortfall. Your accountant can share all the information from CaFE, with you, so you can discuss your cashflow while viewing the same screen. As you now know, the more you keep your accounting system accurately updated, the better you are able to run your businesses. And if you should need to look at borrowing options, you’ll be in a good position to move quickly.





Business Structures

Which Business Structure is right for me?


When first thinking about how to start a business, not many people worry about structure. But your business structure can affect how you're treated by the government and by the law. The main types of business structure are

  • sole trader
  • partnership
  • company
Your choice will affect your admin burden, tax, legal status, and your ability to raise money by selling shares.




What is a sole trader?


A sole trader is a single-owner business. It doesn’t have to be a single-worker business, so you can hire staff. Advantages of a sole trader
It’s easy to set up as a sole trader and tax is simple. You just declare income on your personal tax return. Disadvantages of a sole trader
A sole trader doesn’t have any special legal status, which means the owner is personally responsible for what the business does. If the business gets into debt or legal trouble, so does the owner. Your choice of insurance becomes very important. A sole trader may also miss out on some tax advantages that come with being a company.




What is a partnership?


A partnership is owned by two or more people. There are no rules about how it’s divided. One partner can own 99% of the business. Advantages of a partnership
It’s easy to set up as a partnership, though it’s recommended you have an official letter that sets out the agreement between partners. Tax is simple too. You just declare your share of business income on your personal tax return. Disadvantages of a partnership
If the business gets into financial or legal strife, the partners do too. You could also get into difficulty if one of the other partners does something wrong. A partnership may also miss out on some tax advantages that come with being a company.




What’s in a partnership agreement?


A simple business partnership agreement should:

  • state the legal name of the partnership and say what you do
  • name the owners and show how many shares each has
  • appoint a primary business officer
  • say when and how income is distributed among the partners
  • include a process for resolving disputes
  • identify how bookkeeping and finances will be managed
  • outline how the partnership can be wrapped up (and how debts or profits would be distributed)
As you can imagine, even a simple business partnership agreement can get big and complicated. Search the internet for examples or, better still, ask an accountant or lawyer to help.




What is a company?


A company is legally separate from its owner (or owners), which means you’re less exposed to legal or financial issues. A company can be owned by one person or many. Advantages of a company
You get some legal and financial protection if things go wrong – your accountant or a lawyer can give you the lowdown. Companies pay a lower tax rate and you can choose when to draw income from the business, which gives you more options for lowering your tax bill. You can also sell shares in your company to raise money. Disadvantages of a company
It will cost you more to operate as a company than as a sole trader or partnership. There’s also more admin. You’ll need to know how the company will operate before you get started, and you’ll have to regularly submit paperwork to Companies House.




Can you change your business structure?


Simple answer - YES You’re not locked into one structure forever. A lot of businesses start out as sole traders or partnerships and grow into companies. You might change your business structure if you start getting bigger and doing more complex projects which carry a greater financial or legal risk for you.




Where do franchises fit?


If you buy into a franchise, you don’t automatically become part of their business. You form your own business and enter into a deal with the franchisor. You may be able to choose your own business structure, or the franchise agreement may require it to be set up in a specific way, such as a company.





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