Category: Accounting Software

It’s Time for Two Factor Authentication, SaaS Vendors. NOW, not later.

You’ve heard about the security issues at a number of organizations in the last few weeks.  Thankfully, there haven’t been any breaches at software companies who serve professional accountants (except maybe for Evernote – although I don’t know that I would put HIPAA or taxpayer data in that service).  One of the important things that is coming out of this is that major software vendors like Evernote and Google are planning to implement a security approach called “Two Factor Authentication”.  While I won’t go into much detail on how it works (although there’s a good Wikipedia article here), the basics are as follows:

Security tokens, like the RSA SecurID above, have a formula which generates a new six digit code every minute that is used as a one time password.

There are three basic ways to validate someone’s identity

  • Something they know (username, password, PIN, etc.)
  • Something they have (cell phone, RSA token, USB key, etc.)
  • Something they are (biometric identification like fingerprinting, face identification, or iris scans).

Historically, we’ve used only one factor of authentication – a username and password – to access most online systems.  While this is adequate for some information types, the sophistication of phishing attacks and other techniques used by the “bad guys” requires a more sophisticated approach to security.  Two factor authentication normally requires users to validate their credentials to two servers – one which controls the username and password, and a second which validates that they have a particular device or item through a one time password.

I’ve used a number of two factor authentication devices in my career, including:

All of the devices worked well, and I still use some of them to authenticate to many services.

One important point is that the use of factors other than passwords (something you know) is not a panacea.  Use of any of the items listed above in lieu of a password doesn’t accomplish anything.  The real benefit comes from using these tools in ADDITION to a username and a password.  Even if a person with bad intent knew your username and password, they would be screened out by the second factor, whether it is biometrics (fingerprint, iris, or face) or a device you have (token, cell phone, smart card, USB key).  Just like high security installations have more than one layer of security, you want the same layers of security verifying that you are really you online.

The ugly reality of the accounting profession is that a significant breach would undermine the confidence that others have in the profession, and could send us back to the ‘90s with some technologies used in business today.  It’s hard enough to be a small business in our economy without having to deal with concerns about security of data.

It’s time for two factor authentication with online services, people.  Ask your vendors about their support for it, and look for opportunities to protect your data with these types of authentication regimes.  It’s time for this technology – we can’t wait for some practitioner to lose their house over an online information breach to deal with this significant issue.


Xero to Simplify Accountants Work by Building Out Export Capabilities

Online accounting software publisher Xero announced today that they have created a direct interface to two applications commonly used to work on business tax data – Intuit’s Lacerte Tax and ProSystem fx Engagement. This is the Company’s first foray into exporting data from Xero into U.S. tax and accounting applications, although the local versions of Xero for Australia and New Zealand have already created integrations with acquired products like Spotlight Workpapers which automate work for accounting professionals.

Xero’s US President, Jamie Sutherland, said, “We know our accounting and bookkeeping partners who prepare tax returns are looking to get data from Xero into tax software this tax season. We worked hard to create an easy export from Xero to Lacerte Tax and CCH ProSystem fx Engagement. Accounting and tax professionals will spend less time worrying about getting the data and writing up tax forms and more time advising and guiding clients on tax issues.” “We recognized that ProSystems fx and Lacerte Tax are the major players in the tax space but we’ll be looking at other tax software as their SaaS solutions come to market to make the accounting and tax workflow even more seamless.”

Xero partner and accountant Steve Chaney, CPA, owner of Chaney and Associates, a Roseville, California accounting and consulting firm is excited about the new feature and its immediate impact on his practice this tax season. Chaney said, “When you are managing tax filings for hundreds of clients, these efficiency gains add up and go straight to the bottom line.” Chaney’s firm was established in 2002, serves clients in six states, and positions itself as a leader in the effective use of new technologies by accounting firms.

Online accounting software Xero has a strategy of reducing and eliminating data entry for accountants and clients where possible by importing transactions from financial institutions and using user-defined rules to assign accounts to the transactions. Last month, the Company announced an integration with time tracking and invoicing application Harvest, and in 2012, the company launched a proprietary tool (the Xero Practice Manager) for its US accounting partners.


The Passing of Newt Becker

As many of you know, I’ve taught the Becker CPA Review for the last 15 years.  I learned this morning of Newt’s passing in the following e-mail from the Becker organization, which I am publishing in its entirety.

It is with sadness that I’m sending you this message. Newt Becker, the founder of Becker Professional Education, died Monday evening in Los Angeles after being ill for quite a while. Newt was 83 years old.

Newt started Becker CPA Review in 1957 in Cleveland, his home town. From humble beginnings and with a handful of students, he found a successful formula for dedicated CPA candidates to pass the difficult CPA exam. He was a pioneer in interactive learning for exam preparation, engaging his students in every facet of mastering the curriculum – through lectures, mnemonics, homework, etc. Most importantly, he truly cared about each student who selected the review course that bears his name. His goal was fulfilling their dream to earn the CPA credential and to ultimately enrich their lives.

All of us at Becker owe Newt our gratitude for the painstaking effort that he and his early team of colleagues expended to produce the best product for CPA exam preparation. His legacy of putting the student first resulted in the Becker culture that thrives today. We care about our students and we care about each other.

Newt devoted his life to making the world a better place. When he handed over the CPA Review reins to DeVry in 1996, he immersed himself in charitable and altruistic social endeavors, including the exploration of clean air alternative energy resources. He was truly a generous and good man.

So let’s remember Newt Becker for what he gave to us… A thriving business for sure, but also a commitment to excellence and caring about student success. We honor his legacy.

John P. Roselli

President, Becker Professional Education

At the CPA Tech Blog, all of our thoughts and prayers are with Newt’s family in this difficult time.  Many CPA’s I know are very grateful to Newt and the Becker organization for helping them pass the CPA exam, and I am thankful to have worked in his organization.


Analysis on the Cheap

I often remind participants in my seminars that every accountant I’ve ever met shares a common favorite four letter word.


That word is, of course, FREE.

With that in mind, I’ve run across some tools over the last few months that I haven’t blogged about, and wanted to pass these along to you all.  The tools are available for the low, low price of….. wait for it…. FREE.

Analyzing and manipulating large data sets has long been the job of accountants, auditors, and analysts, and the classic tools for these tasks like CaseWare IDEA, ACL, and others have always been very expensive and required a week or so of training so that you can be proficient with them.  With the general availability of quad core processors, workstations with 8 GB+ of RAM, fast 1 TB hard disks, end users no longer need to wait on someone to create a report for them.  Get the right tools, get access to the data, and get to work.

Basic Tools: Microsoft Query and Excel PivotTables

Although they aren’t technically “free” since you need to purchase Microsoft Office to get them, Microsoft offers a couple of tools which are just as useful to analysts as an adjustable wrench (a Crescent wrench) and a claw hammer are to those doing home repair.

  • Microsoft Query is a tool for selecting, joining, sorting, filtering, and extracting data from databases.  Query is one of those “helper” applications which is hidden from most users – I have only executed MS Query from within the Data tab of the Excel 2007/2010 Ribbon (Data, Get External Data Group, From Other Sources, Microsoft Query), but it is invaluable for entry level work with databases, and is compatible with any ODBC compliant database which you can use on your PC, including MS Access, MS SQL, and many, many other formats.  Queries can be created, edited, saved, and executed from a simple menu structure, and a wizard makes the hard task of writing SQL statements into child’s play.
  • Excel Pivot Tables make it possible to summarize large data sets into interactive tables.  Although a full discussion of Pivot Tables would take all day (I actually own entire volumes written on Pivot Tables, and teach TWO half day classes on them (1) (2) through K2 Enterprises), suffice it to say that Pivot Tables will change your life, and do just about anything you want except make your teeth whiter and make you more attractive to members of the opposite sex.  Seriously – they’re that good.

ActiveData For Office

My friends over at have a couple of nice products which meet the needs of accountants, engineers, and other professionals who need to perform sophisticated analysis on large data sets.  While my favorite one, ActiveData for Excel, is still a pay application, there is a version of this powerful tool called ActiveData for Office, which is now available for the low, low, price of FREE.  ActiveData for Office (also referred to as “ActiveData for SQL”) uses standard ODBC connections to talk to large databases, and will perform routine calculations like verifying the accuracy of an A/R aging report based on the dates in an open item listing, stratifying a sample, and evaluating sample results.  I’ve been somewhat confused by the move to give away this product, as I think it’s more powerful than the Excel tool – but pricing decisions are above my pay grade.  For more information, visit’s page on ActiveData for Office.


ActiveData for Office is a FREE data analysis tool which is invaluable for Accountants and other information professionals who need to slice and dice large data sets.

PowerPivot for Office 2010

With the release of Microsoft Office 2010, our friends at Microsoft have come to the table with one of the best tools for summarizing huge (100K+ records) data sets.  While the tool does require that you become an early adopter of Office 2010, the price is definitely right, and the tool has been used to analyze data sets with hundreds of millions of records.  PowerPivot (free from is a self-service business intelligence tool designed to let end users create their own business intelligence (BI) solutions which combine data from disparate sources using an Excel add-in.  For seasoned BI professionals, PowerPivot creates pre-summarized tables which are periodically updated and can be queried similar to cubes for almost instant calculations on data sets with millions of records.

While you can do many of the same things using MS Access, update queries, dummy databases, ODBC connections, and pivot tables, PowerPIvot is both more powerful (smarter) and easier to use (better looking) than the alternatives, and it’s free.

If you haven’t tried it, PowerPivot is available from


Got Tick Marks?

One of the more common things I am asked from people who are implementing a document management system is how they can include their “tick marks” in their documents.  My usual responses are to look at PDFlyer or Tick, Tie & Calculate in Acrobat (or alternatively, create your own stamps), and to either use graphics or a symbol font like wingdings in Word, Excel, and everything else.

My wife and I recently started using SendOutCards to send some of her follow up correspondence as part of her work as a mortgage loan officer.  One of the things you get with SendOutCards is the ability to create a custom font based on your handwriting.  I have sent mine off, and am somewhat anxious about what it’s going to look like when it is complete (my handwriting really, really stinks).  This effort, however, has opened my eyes to how easy it is to create your own, personalized font to do things like tick marks and other symbols.  While you can purchase applications for $50 to do this, the geniuses over at LifeHacker had a great post in February which mentioned YourFonts, a web service which does this for you for free.  You fill out a form, scan it, and it encodes the stuff you wrote as images in a Windows-compatible TrueType font.


If you needed to create a font for tick marks, you could simply create your own font using this tool, and instead of making the letters correctly, you could assign a tick mark to each character on your keyboard.  And it’s free.  You will need to share your tick mark files with anyone who would print out your documents, and will probably want to render the final versions to PDF (and embed the tick mark font in the PDF files), but if you do this, it’s a fairly elegant solution to one of the more vexing problems associated with annotating documents.


Fiber Optic Internet and New Software Business Models

I’m in the middle of getting fiber optic internet installed today (through TDS, my phone company – even though I don’t have a land line), and am excited about it.  I’ll post more, as well as some speed tests once I get things set up.  Speed on the line is advertised as 25Mbs down, 10Mbps up.  Hopefully this will eliminate the occasional flutter in my VOIP conversations. Intuit recently announced that they have 50,000 ProAdvisors, which is a pretty significant milestone.  For comparison, AICPA has 300,000 members – so there’s plenty of room for growth – but 50K is going to be far and away the largest in the segment (as you would expect).  If you haven’t looked at the partner programs from Intuit (ProAdvisor Program), Sage (Sage Accountants Network), and Microsoft (Microsoft Professional Accountants Network) as well.  One can join all three for a total about $1,200 per year, and get close to $30K in software…. good stuff, people. Not to be outdone, Sage and Microsoft have both announced some initiatives through their partner programs which are very innovative.  Sage has offered ads on job site for SSAN members, is giving away a free license of Peachtree Complete Accounting (plus six months support) for clients of CPA’s switching from Quickbooks (see their site, for details), and has a number of innovative offerings to help their members meet the needs of clients, including payroll tax subscriptions and a five user license of Peachtree Quantum for SSAN-Peachtree members.  Microsoft’s MPAN program recently announced a co-branding initiative where MPAN members can put links to their own website in copies of Office Accounting and Office Accounting Express for clients, which is pretty interesting.  I’ll write more about this later, but Microsoft still offers the Microsoft Action Pack to MPAN members in public practice or consulting.  This subscription is basically everything Microsoft you would ever use in a 10 person CPA firm for $299 a year.  They also are linking to the MPAN Certified Consultant directory from within the software – so if someone has the software and tries out a sample company, they can go to the “Find a Small Business Accountant” page on the Microsoft site, and find an MPAN member to help them (search this database under zip code 37922, and you’ll find me as an “MPAN Consultant”, which means that I have passed their certification exam on Office Accounting).  (Side note – take and pass as many of the certification exams as you can – my phone rang yesterday with a potentially very lucrative opportunity because I was on the QuickBooks ProAdvisor site for Enterprise Solutions.  I personally billed and collected about $4K off of leads from my ProAdvisor listing last year, with an average rate over $100 per hour, and actually turned away a lot of leads from this source.  This would not have been possible without taking and passing the ProAdvisor exams for the standard and enterprise editions of QuickBooks). On the software subscription vs. purchase front, Microsoft is now selling MS Office Home and Student on a subscription basis.  The new product is called “Equipt”, and is bundled with some Windows Live / Office Live services, including Windows Live OneCare and Office Live Workspace.  This seems like a great offering for students and others who need MS Office software, but get sticker shock at the initial price of purchasing this software.

It’s important to note the following:

  • Same EULA as Home and Student (e.g. use for the student only or the parents when helping students with homework).  Accordingly, this is NOT and SHOULD NOT be used in a business environment.
  • Software can be installed on up to three PC’s.
  • Office updates are pushed out automatically, and upgrades during the subscription term are automatic.

Some links for those wanting to know more:

If you’re doubting that software subscriptions are the wave of the future, let me remind you that Intuit announced a restructuring last week which realigns their workforce to focus on subscriptions and online services.  From Intuit’s press release:

The changes better position the company to deliver on its comprehensive “Connected Services” strategy. The strategy increases Intuit’s emphasis on developing value-added services for its desktop products and innovative online offerings. The company plans to focus on both traditional and new markets across the globe, while embracing social networking and mobile technology trends.

While I’m a serious technophile, I plan on celebrating the 4th with my family by taking my son and niece to a drive-in movie while they still exist.  (There’s plenty of time to watch  HDTV and surf the internet over fiber later.)  Life is, after all, all about relationships, isn’t it? Brian Tankersley is a Knoxville, Tennessee based CPA and consultant, and is an Associate with K2 Enterprises.  You can read more of Brian’s writings either on or at 



The Future’s So Bright, We Have to Wear Shades

There’s a very interesting article by Andy Kessler on the editorial page in the Wall Street Journal this morning which discusses the coming war in technology; the link is here.  While Microsoft and Google are the armies currently fighting the skirmishes around the future of technology, this is really simply a proxy war about how we will use technology in the future.  Just as there are different methods of transporting goods around the country (think: rail vs. truck vs. airplane), there are also different models of computing

(browser vs. local vs. mobile).  Processing power (thanks to Moore’s Law), bandwidth, and wireless technology have changed the level of real time information sharing.  HP has even come out with a laptop (HP Compaq 6720t) which is designed to be used as a thin client into corporate systems and which doesn’t even have a hard drive!.

Many accountants are rightly concerned with the security and information control implications of using online services for their

mission-critical applications.  While these are legitimate concerns, the reality of our digital infrastructure has generally made these concerns less of a problem now than in the past.  High speed internet is getting faster.  Last week, I received a flyer from my local telephone company offering a fiber internet connection which would have 25Mbps down/10Mbps up connectivity to my home.

While I’m still mulling over whether or not I really need that fast a connection at home since my current connection is 10Mbps down/1Mbps up through my cable provider, it’s really interesting that this level of service is now available in Knoxville, Tennessee, which, although a nice-sized city, is admittedly not one of the first cities you think of when you imagine fast internet speeds.  My current internet connections (cable and Sprint wireless) continue to impress me with the speeds which are possible; my cable connection averages 8 Mbps down, 970K up whenever I test the speed, and my wireless connection (backup) has been running over 1.1 Mbps down/300K up on the road lately with EVDO Rev A.

Anecdotal evidence suggests that telecommunications and other utilities are also more reliable than we have had in the past.  Where I used to reboot my router and modem every morning, I now go for months without rebooting these devices, and they seem to just work now.  My collaboration with others within K2 suggests that their experiences are similar:  I have noted only two critical outages among the team during the first four months of the year.  When I started my career 15 years ago, we would have two or three power outages during the busy season which would shut us down and cause us to lose work.  While utilities aren’t sexy, they certainly seem to have made significant improvements in the last generation.

If you haven’t tried some of the latest evolutions in Web-based applications, here are some for your consideration:

While the future direction of computing hasn’t been finalized, there are really interesting things happening in technology, and some things (like those pages or CD’s for reference materials) are on the way out. The future appears to offer more choices for how tools are delivered to users, which will make it much easier to work from anywhere – even a condo in the middle of the Pacific Ocean.

Brian Tankersley is a CPA and CITP based in Knoxville, Tennessee.  You can learn more about him at



QB Accountant’s Copy Issue with Importing Edits

Since today is March 14th, many of my friends who do predominately
taxes for a living are working away trying to get those client trial balances adjusted
so they can complete those last-minute C and S-Corp tax returns. If you’re one of those accountants who uses
the great functionality of the Accountant’s Copy in QuickBooks (and you know who you are), read on. If you aren’t using Accountant’s Copy (e.g.
you don’t have files with a file extension of QBX, QBY, and QBA in your
QuickBooks directory, please ignore this issue).

Here’s the issue:

systems using the QuickBooks 2008 Accountant’s Copy can sometimes fail to
import edits when converting data from a QBY to a QBW file (e.g. importing the
Accountant’s Change file into the client’s production QuickBooks file).
This happens only under certain circumstances (some examples below).  This
can be a very small problem if the accountant has made very few edits.
However, there is also the chance of losing large sets of data when an
accountant makes extensive edits. 

2008 Update Release 5, due March 13, 2008, addresses most of the existing
circumstances under which the above issue occurs.  However, we know that
not all ProAdvisors install all releases for many reasons (such as the extreme
workload compression we all experience this time of the year).

error may occur under the following circumstances on unpatched systems:

  •  If
    reconciled account names contain special characters
  •  If
    the accountant enters and then modifies a journal entry
  •  If
    the accountant modifies a deposit, then enters a new line
  • If
    the accountant enters an account number that duplicates a number that the
    client has entered while the accountant has the file

 Here’s what you
should do:

  1.  If you are using
    the Accountant’s Copy feature, you should download and install all available
    updates for QuickBooks 2008 as soon as possible.
  2. You should also
    advise your clients of the risks here, and pay extra attention to confirm that
    your client’s adjusted trial balance (e.g. after importing the QBY file)
    matches the values on the accountant’s final adjusted trial balance.

If you have
questions about this, please read Intuit KnowledgeBase Article #1009092
, or contact
Intuit support.


Notes from 30,000 Feet

I recently completed an article titled ‘The Technology of Financial Services’ (as well as one called “Just the Apps, Ma’am“) for the CPA Technology Advisor. It was an interesting project, and I even got to interview a man named ‘Batman’- Tony Batman, that is. (I had to work on the wordings to avoid phrases like ‘According to Batman’ and ‘Batman says’, as I enjoy the writing, but don’t want an excerpt to end up in Jay Leno’s monologue. All kidding aside, thanks to Tony and all of those who made time to allow me to interview them- I think the article came out well.

Big thanks to Averatec for replacing my Averatec 3715-EH1 with an AV2260-EH1 this week. The 3715 had been a lemon from the start, and had spent almost as much time in the shop as it spent in use. The new laptop has a 1280×800 12.1” screen (very bright), a Turion 64 processor, and weighs four pounds. The 2260 also has an easily accessible service panel on the bottom- a welcome change from the 3715, which in addition to being cheaply made, required technical skills beyond most mortals to upgrade the RAM or HDD. Seriously- the old machine required me to remove no less than 10 screws, the keyboard, three ribbons, the processor fan, and disassemble the screen from the base, and took me (a guy who has worked on PC hardware starting with an Apple II+ in the 1980’s) a full half hour of concentrated work to perform this work. Thanks for standing behind your product, guys. I’ll be reporting how well the device holds up to the demands of a road warrior.

My HP Compaq nx6125 is on its way to recovery after a corrupted registry. It’s in Kansas now, recuperating from its recent illness (owner overinstallation disease). I’m looking for a good comparison of the performance of VMware vs. MS Virtual PC/virtual server, as I’m in the process of moving my testing to a virtualized environment- maybe this will help me keep my teaching machine leaner & meaner. Any tips and tricks from readers on how to max out the performance of VM’s would be appreciated. I’m particularly intrigued by the concept of booting to a 64 bit version of Linux which would be locked down and let me just run virtuals of Windows, Linux, and Windows Small Business server. I have two desktop boxes at home which I’d like to get more out of than I’m currently receiving. I also have a four year old who needs an environment which can be easily refreshed- so I’m going to be playing with the VM products in the next few weeks.

I am currently working on an article about Portable Apps and the new computing models which it ushers in. An example is my 2GB Kingston u3 drive- I run the following apps directly from the drive:
– Firefox Browser
– Thunderbird E-mail
– Zinio Magazines (PC World and PC Week, of course)
– Skype (!)
– Open Office
(it’s worth noting that I would prefer to run MS Office 2003 instead of OpenOffice for my portable office apps, but have no clue how to set up Office as a U3 app. It occurs to me that portable apps could be combined with an MP3 player (think iPod with Linux) to allow you to present Powerpoints from the iPod’s video out (and use the Apple remote to control the slideshow). This, combined with video clips of software demos could make it possible for a guy like me to use my iPod video as a backup to live presentation. Ahhhhh…. the projects for the Fall conference season. (Lots of new toys in my future, for sure.) If anyone knows how to boot an OS on a PC from a thumbdrive or an iPod (with a universal setup like the ones out there on the Linux boot disks), please drop me a line with any useful links.