SMB Mobile Accounting Software Buyer Trends – 2017

on January 20, 2017

If you want to conduct your business accounting on the go, you’ll need a mobile accounting solution. However, some vendors have muddied the waters around what “mobile accounting” actually means by leveraging “mobility” as a key benefit of using cloud accounting software.

While cloud-based solutions can improve ease of access, mobile accounting is not the same as cloud accounting (see next section).

To find out how prevalent mobile accounting is among small and midsize businesses (SMBs), Software Advice surveyed current accounting software users about their vendor’s offerings.

This report, which highlights our findings, is a resource for prospective buyers as they search for the right mobile accounting solution for their SMB.

What Is “Mobile Accounting”?

For a helpful reference of how Software Advice defines terms such as “application” and “cloud-based license,” visit our glossary.

Mobile Accounting Cloud Accounting
Native mobile accounting applications (i.e., downloaded from iTunes, Google Play or the Microsoft Store), specifically designed for a mobile device interface. Software hosted remotely, on the vendor or service provider’s servers. Users access the software through any compatible device* with an internet connection.
Supplement a user’s licensed business accounting software (often free with the purchase of a software license). Stand-alone business accounting software, sold via subscription license.
Users can perform some or all of the same functions using their mobile devices, e.g., smartphones and tablets, as they are able to while accessing their full accounting software from a PC. Full software capabilities when logged into the system from any internet-connected, compatible device.
*Although a web browser on a mobile device can access cloud accounting software, it is not always designed for a mobile interface. This can result in display issues and a poor user experience.


Prevalence of Mobile Accounting Applications

We first asked respondents if their accounting software includes a downloadable app designed for mobile devices. Thirty-eight percent say their vendor offers a mobile accounting app, compared with 62 percent that do not.

Vendor Offerings for Mobile Applications
Vendor Offerings for Mobile Applications: Cloud vs. On-Premise Deployment

Although some on-premise solutions have a companion mobile application—for example, BillQuick and AccountEdge offer mobile apps designed to enhance their desktop offering—it is less common than with cloud-based solutions.

Intuit only offers a companion mobile application for one version of their QuickBooks accounting software—QuickBooks Online. Pro and Premier users do not have a corresponding mobile app.

David Mitroff, founder and chief consultant for Piedmont Avenue Consulting, says that one reason for this is because non-cloud software must sync up with and pull data from the desktop computer, or wherever the business data is stored, a process which depends heavily on the user’s network configuration.

To work around this, some vendors such as AccountEdge will use a third-party hosting service, e.g., Dropbox, to sync files between the mobile app and desktop solution.

Despite the data sync and transfer process being easier between cloud solutions and cloud mobile apps, the fact that over 50 percent of respondents say their vendor doesn’t offer a mobile app shows that both cloud and on-premise accounting software vendors are lagging behind the mobile accounting trend.

It will be interesting to see how consumer demand for mobile accounting apps impacts vendor offerings in the future.

What this means for your SMB:
As shown by the results of our survey, SMBs have limited options when it comes to mobile accounting solutions. If you need mobile access to your accounting system, don’t assume that a cloud-based software will work on your mobile device.

Look for a vendor that has specifically created a companion mobile application (e.g., downloadable app from iTunes, Google Play or the Windows store) that complements the software license.

Discuss your mobile accounting requirement with vendors prior to investing in an accounting solution to ensure their mobile app runs on the operating system and devices you and your team use, i.e., iOS or Android.

Leading Mobile Accounting Trends Among SMBs

We then asked the 38 percent of respondents with access to a mobile accounting application for specifics on how they use the app. This revealed some mobile accounting trends including:

  • Top mobile accounting functionality
  • Main sources of dissatisfaction with applications
  • Mobile accounting popularity among age groups

Top mobile accounting functionality:
Mobile application users report that they most often use the app to perform the following accounting functions:

Most Common Use of Mobile Accounting Apps
common use of mobile accounting apps
Mitroff says that the number one reason people want to do mobile accounting is convenience. These top features reflect that desire for efficiency. Users can log time while away from the office, reconcile business transactions and bank statements from the car, take pictures of receipts from business travel and upload them to expense reports and invoice clients on the spot.

Main sources of dissatisfaction with applications:
Although most respondents report they are “very” to “extremely” satisfied with their mobile app, those with moderate to low levels of satisfaction have the following complaints:

Sources of Dissatisfaction Among Mobile Accounting App Users
mobile accounting app users dissatisfactions
These issues can all contribute to a negative user experience with an application. According to Curt Mastio, creator of FoundersCPA consulting firm, he has yet to see an application truly excel in this respect.

“Mobile applications only have so much space on the screen, which can make it difficult to quickly and efficiently perform all of the necessary steps needed in accounting,” says Mastio.

“At some point the applications will improve their functionality to provide even more utility to the end user, but I just don’t believe they are quite there yet.”

Mobile accounting popularity varies amongst age groups
We found that mobile accounting use is highest among users in the 26 to 35 age group. Not only do they make up the largest percentage of current mobile accounting app users, but they report a higher frequency of use, e.g., using their mobile app multiple times per day compared to a few times a week.

Frequency of Mobile App Use: By Age Group
mobile app use by age

What these trends mean for your SMB:
Most accounting mobile apps are going to offer limited or paired down functionality compared to the full-featured software licensed for your PC. This means SMBs that need mobile accounting not only need to find a vendor that offers a mobile app, but one that offers a mobile app that supports your on-the-go requirements.

For example, a vendor might build a mobile app that allows you to upload receipts and travel expenses, but not invoice clients, or vice versa. Make sure the solution you’re considering supports the needs of your team.

Additionally, keep in mind that mobile accounting is more popular with certain age groups than with others. If you have a team that spans several age groups, you might have to offer some users greater encouragement and training to use their mobile app than with others.

Expected Impact of Mobile Accounting on the Industry

Perhaps the most telling statistic from our survey is that, despite relatively low numbers of current mobile accounting users, 55 percent of respondents say that a vendor offering a mobile app would impact their decision to purchase that product over another in future investments.

Likelihood of Mobile App Influencing Buyer Decision
mobile app buyer influence
This indicates that mobile accounting will be a growing trend. Vendors looking to stay ahead of their competition should take note and work to improve their mobile app offering—both by improving user experience and increasing depth of functionality.

In the meantime, prospective mobile accounting buyers should carefully weigh their options and invest in a system with mobile capabilities and functionality that aligns with their business needs.

What is your experience with mobile accounting applications?

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For more information about the mobile accounting systems available for SMBs, email me at I’m available to answer any questions you might have and can help get you set up with a free software consultation, price quote or demo.

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