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A review of 5 leading financial apps – are they a good investment?

From budgeting, accounting and tax management to payroll, invoicing, and expense tracking - when it comes to business finance apps, there are no shortage of products available. An incredibly competitive market, most apps offer free trial periods and other inducements such as very cheap start up packages to get you to sign up. However, for most businesses the cost will be much higher than the advertised rates when the trial period is over.
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A review of 5 leading financial apps – are they a good investment?

From budgeting, accounting and tax management to payroll, invoicing, and expense tracking - when it comes to business finance apps, there are no shortage of products available. An incredibly competitive market, most apps offer free trial periods and other inducements such as very cheap start up packages to get you to sign up. However, for most businesses the cost will be much higher than the advertised rates when the trial period is over.
Businesswoman check data in smartphone and tablet

Deciding on the best financial app for your businesses is an important decision. But whatever the product claims, no single app on the market can cover every aspect of your finances and financial management. So, it’s important when thinking about investing in one to prioritise what services you need from the outset.

Many apps claim to offer a fully integrated and comprehensive service, but this comes at a cost. They use a monthly pricing model, so the more features you require, the more you will have to pay. If you don’t want to pay there are a smaller number of free apps available, but they have very limited functionality.

Many apps claim to be able to meet multiple business needs, so which one is right for you? The following 5 financial apps are among the most popular on the market and are heavily promoted, especially to startups and SME’s.

To help you assess which one is right for your business, a short summary of each is given below together with the cost and some positive and negative points about their functionality (all of them work on multiple platforms using both Android and iOS).

Xero

One of the leading names in accounting software, Xero claims to serve as a central hub of all your business finance needs, including:

  • Invoicing – sending on desktop or from the app, creating easy click-to-pay emails for customers
  • Inventory management – keeping track of what’s in stock and what’s selling out
  • Bank transactions – connecting your bank account to the Xero app
  • Paying bills – storing your bills, paying them on time, or scheduling early payments
  • Payroll (through Gusto, an online platform, for an additional fee)

COST

Prices start from £1.50 per month with a minimum 6 month subscription https://www.xero.com/uk/pricing-plans/

POSITIVES

  • Slick interface
  • Very scalable
  • Proven app

NEGATIVES

  • Takes time to master
  • Additional cost for extras like payroll, expenses etc

QuickBooks

QuickBooks is the most well-known name in mobile app accounting, the company claiming that its features are ‘seemingly endless’, including:

  • Income and expenses tracking
  • Sending and tracking invoices
  • Connecting to bank accounts
  • Payroll, complete with penalty protection
  • Inventory management
  • Time tracking

COST

Prices start from £1 per month for a minimum of 6 months https://quickbooks.intuit.com/uk/pricing/

POSITIVES

  • Easy to use and learn
  • Integrates well with other systems
  • Provides good accounting reports

NEGATIVES

  • Limited reporting
  • ‘Advanced’ package expensive
  • Generic support

FreshBooks

Similar to QuickBooks and Xero in terms of its features, the FreshBooks app boasts the following:

  • Easy invoicing – seeing when your invoices are sent, viewed, and paid
  • Expense tracking – so no going through receipts again
  • Time tracking – tracking hours and adding them to an invoice automatically
  • Easy collaboration – securing communication and file sync
  • Double-entry accounting – automatic checks helping to keep your accounts accurate and compliant

COST

Prices start from £7.50 per month with 50% off for three months https://www.freshbooks.com/en-gb/

POSITIVES

  • Extensive features
  • Good support

NEGATIVES

  • Limited reporting
  • Basic model more expensive

Zoho Books

Zoho Books is one product in a whole portfolio of software tools from this publishing house. The benefit is the app can work seamlessly in unison with other software in the range. That means it is easy to ‘plug in’ other additions like expense accounting, billing and invoicing into your standard accountancy package.

COST

Free for businesses with revenue <£35K per annum. See more information at https://www.zoho.com/uk/books/pricing/.

POSITIVES

  • Free for small businesses
  • Easy to use
  • Impressive plug ins
  • Good support

NEGATIVES

  • Lack of payroll
  • Limited use for larger businesses

Wave Apps

Wave is not the prestige offering of Xero or QuickBooks, but the basic package is completely free. However, if you want to add more advanced features like credit card processing you will need to opt to for pay-per-use. Its free features include:

  • Unlimited income and expense tracking
  • Working with collaborators
  • Double entry system
  • Connecting to your bank
  • Running several businesses from the one account
  • Invoicing in any currency
  • Receipt scanning

COST

Starter plan is free https://www.waveapps.com/pricing

POSITIVES

  • Free to use
  • Easy to master

NEGATIVES

  • Limited options
  • No time-tracking
  • Lack of inventory tracking

Conclusion

FeatureXeroQuickBooksFreshBooksZoho BooksWave
Invoicing✔️ Sending on desktop or from the app, creating easy click-to-pay emails for customersSending and tracking invoices✔️ Seeing when invoices are sent, viewed, and paid✔️✔️
Inventory Management✔️ Keeping track of what’s in stock and what’s selling out✔️ Included
Bank Transactions✔️ Connecting your bank account to the Xero app✔️ Connecting to bank accounts✔️ Connecting to your bank
Paying Bills✔️ Storing your bills, paying them on time, or scheduling early payments
Payroll✔️ Through Gusto, an online platform, for an additional fee✔️ Complete with penalty protection
CostPrices start from £1.50 per month with a minimum 6-month subscriptionPrices start from £1 per month for a minimum of 6 monthsPrices start from £7.50 per month with 50% off for three monthsFree for businesses with revenue <£35K per annumStarter plan is free
PositivesSlick interface, very scalable, proven appEasy to use and learn, integrates well with other systems, provides good accounting reportsExtensive features, good supportFree for small businesses, easy to use, impressive plug-ins, good supportFree to use, easy to master
NegativesTakes time to master, additional cost for extras like payroll, expenses, etc.Limited reporting, ‘Advanced’ package expensive, generic supportLimited reporting, basic model more expensiveLack of payroll, limited use for larger businessesLimited options, no time-tracking, lack of inventory tracking

The Conclusion

While choosing the right app is important, all the apps listed here use off-the-shelf software and over time can prove very expensive unless you are content with very limited features. So, from a cost perspective you will need to think carefully about their benefits beyond the trial or introductory period. None of the apps on the market are a substitute for bespoke financial advice tailored to your individual business needs.

Managing Your Finances As Part Of Your Strategy

Financial advice and use of applications, should go hand in hand with financial management as part of your business strategy, but sometimes this is easier said than done.

BCU offers a personal and affordable comprehensive management programme for business called Help to Grow. This government-backed 12-week course is designed specifically to help Senior Managers of SMEs to boost their performance, resilience and long-term growth through addressing key challenges and opportunities. The course covers all the key areas fundamental to business growth including both finance and financial management.

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