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Buyer's Guide

by Eileen O'Loughlin,
Market Research Associate
Last Updated: March 22, 2017

At first glance, "mobile accounting" sounds like an easy thing to define: accounting software that can be used on mobile devices such as phones and tablets.

However, a fuller definition is more complex. Depending on the vendor, different mobile apps will provide different levels and types of functionality. Making things more complex, mobile accounting will likely be just one feature of your larger business accounting software suite, which you may or may not already be under contract for.

This buyer’s guide will help you figure out which type of system best fits your mobile accounting needs so you can choose a software vendor with confidence!

Here’s what we’ll cover:

What Is Mobile Accounting Software?
Common Features of Mobile Accounting Apps
What Type of Buyer Are You?
Benefits and Potential Issues
Market Trends to Understand

What Is Mobile Accounting Software?

Mobile accounting refers to general accounting software that can be accessed away from the office and/or desktop computer. This can be one of two kinds of systems:

  • Apps specifically made for mobile devices (which provide the best user experience and user interface)
  • General cloud-based accounting software that can be accessed through a mobile device

In this guide, we’re talking specifically about the first option listed above when we discussing mobile accounting apps.

Mobile accounting for businesses has lagged behind mobile apps for personal financial management. For years, banks have had mobile apps allowing individuals to view their balance, check their accounts and pay their bills while on the go, but providing the same features for large and small business needs has taken a bit longer.

Now, however, as mobile applications grow in popularity in all factors of life—personal and business—many accounting software vendors are offering companion mobile accounting apps (many of which are fully-featured) for iOS, Android and Windows devices. The number and types of features offered differs from vendor to vendor and from package to package within the offerings of particular vendors, allowing for a huge amount of variety and flexibility in terms of what "mobile accounting" actually represents for an individual business or firm.

Common Features of Mobile Accounting Apps

The most typical mobile accounting features are explained in the following table.

Database access Check financial records and review transactions in real-time. Without the ability to access your home financial database, a mobile accounting system would not be of great use to you.
Core accounting functions Perform basic financial tasks required to manage the accounting needs of your business, including: general ledger functionality, accounts payable (AP) and accounts receivable (AR), fixed assets and bank reconciliation.
Receipt and expense management Scan and upload receipts while on the go. Some apps even allow you to turn receipts into instant expense reports, making it easier to track and manage expenses incurred on the road or otherwise away from the office.
Payroll management Track and process employee payroll while away from the office. Access your core payroll system to compose and send paychecks, automatically withhold and pay government taxes and generate the necessary legal and tax reports on a regular basis.
Billing and invoicing Automate the collection of payments from customers to enable timely and consistent collection with minimal human error. Most mobile apps will assist these functions by allowing you to accept online payments through PayPal, credit card, e-check etc.
Inventory management Track inventory levels to maximize profit, avoid overspending and minimize costs associated with inventory depreciation. Some mobile vendors provide this functionality so, even on the go, managers can monitor inventory by tracking product levels as well as orders, sales and deliveries.
Calendar and time tracking Stay on top of deadlines and monitor the amount of time spent on particular tasks. Many mobile accounting systems help do this by providing a calendar that notifies you of important moments on your schedule and tracks how you spend your time.

Invoice creation in Freshbooks' mobile accounting app


Mobile invoice creation in the Freshbooks mobile app

What Type of Buyer Are You?

Most businesses require accounting software of some kind, and increasingly those businesses need mobile accounting as a part of their larger system. Thus, there are many different types of mobile accounting buyers; however, the majority of them will fall into one of the following three categories:

  • Growing small-business buyers. These are businesses that want to upgrade very simple or basic systems to more robust small business accounting systems that will support more sophisticated functions, including mobile accounting. This also includes those businesses that may already have a fairly robust system, but now want to add mobile functionality. These upgrades may be for any of a variety of reasons, though often they are the result of a small business growing to a certain size threshold and finding it necessary to implement new industry-specific functionality as well as specialized time-saving features (including availability of a mobile app).
  • Enterprise buyers. These buyers are businesses and organizations that need the functionality of a larger enterprise resource planning (ERP) software suite. Usually, these systems will include robust, complex functionality (such as international finance and market considerations) that is only useful to large entities.

    Seamless integration may be more important to these buyers than specific features, but buyers should be ready and able to examine both. (For example, both SAP and Oracle, two of the largest ERP vendors, have some of the most feature-rich systems on the market.) Given the tremendous scope of these organizations, mobile functionality and accessibility is crucial so that the large number of company stakeholders in play will be able to access and update financial data whenever and wherever necessary.
  • Best-of-breed buyers. In contrast to the integration-focused enterprise buyers, these buyers are interested in very specific functionalities. Law firms, for example, may need accounting software that can perform trust accounting as a key feature, while nonprofit organizations will need software that can track fundraising data.

    Some best-of-breed buyers will thus require mobile accounting as a key functionality. These might include sales organizations with team members frequently on the road, smaller businesses that require the financial officer to multitask and one-person firms (such as realtors) where more than half of all business may be transacted away from the office.

Benefits and Potential Issues of Mobile Accounting Software

The greatest benefit of mobile accounting software is that users can access their company’s accounting system from anywhere. This helps surface costs and expenditures and encourages more financially responsible decision-making.

A specific benefit of mobile accounting relates to legal and tax compliance. When it comes to business transactions happening across the country, or even across the world, different localities will have different laws, regulations and taxes related to those transactions. Robust mobile accounting systems will take those local concerns into consideration when processing transactions.

However, businesses should be sure that they purchase mobile accounting software that fully suits their mobile needs. Though the mobile app will be synced with your licensed account, some apps will have limited functionality while others are fully featured (with a potential price differential as a result).

In addition, buyers in certain industries with business-specific needs (such as law firms, nonprofits, manufacturing companies etc.) should be sure they are purchasing accounting software (mobile or otherwise) that fits those specified functionalities.

Market Trends to Understand

Here are some market trends you should consider as you select a product:

Mobile functionality. Mobile accounting is one of the key trends in accounting software today. Many firms consider accounting software that doesn’t contain mobile functionality to be vastly out-of-date and not worth consideration.

Cloud-based software. Most mobile accounting apps are independent systems that link up with a company’s license for desktop software. However, some mobile accounting systems will integrate more directly with a core cloud-based desktop product at the home office. Cloud-based systems, which are increasingly popular, require less hardware than on-premises software. They also require less IT knowledge, have lower upfront costs and are more quickly implemented, making them a good choice for smaller firms and businesses, in particular.

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