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Intuit, the parent company of QuickBooks and TurboTax products, recently announced that they would be piloting a new support program called QuickBooks Live Bookkeeping. There are many bookkeepers and accountants that have seen this move as undermining to its dedicated group of QuickBooks ProAdvisors. In my opinion, these ProAdvisors are Intuit’s lifeline when it comes to pushing out their platform and software and supporting small business as users of these products to run their small businesses. As a result of this announcement, other cloud-based accounting platforms have received an influx of requests for demos, pricing, partner program packages, etc. Accountant partners are claiming that they are calling Intuit and canceling their partner accounts, they are planning to move all of their clients over to Xero, AccountingSuite, FreshBooks, or Sage. Xero responded to this announcement in support of their own Xero accountant and bookkeeper partners. There’s no doubt about it, the cloud accounting and bookkeeping services industry is being disrupted. But is it for the better?
We’ve seen Uber and Lyft nearly take out the Taxi and Limousine services industry. We’ve seen support and call centers for our service providers get shipped out overseas, that is if they have a live person answering phone calls (most seem to just be automated answering systems).
Is Intuit “uberizing” QuickBooks Online? The simplest answer is that it’s too soon to tell.
With the research I have done and read online through various sources and opinion pieces, this is the info we have: prices may range from $300 - $600 per month. The Intuit Sales Team has not been trained up on this offering as of yet. They have hired approximately 10 experienced bookkeeping staff here in the US to launch this pilot. Customers of this service will not receive an assigned or dedicated bookkeeper. Intuit will not market these services to businesses already connected to an accountant user via QBO. They are currently recruiting bookkeepers and CPAs within their QB ProAdvisor network. They are promoting an “attractive hourly rate” while working from home. Intuit has stated that it believes that this program will provide a benefit to their small business partners ultimately resulting in a win-win for the industry. Most likely, this upsell will not provide bookkeeping services to small businesses, but rather it will provide bookkeeping support.
Let’s be real here: if this is a profitable venture for Intuit, it’s only a matter of time before Xero and the others set up a similar model. I’ve never seen any company say “no” to increased profits. Therefore, it does not make sense for accountant partners to change their entire service delivery models yet. But I applaud the other cloud accounting service providers for recognizing this as an opportunity to break through some of the industry’s barriers to entry that Intuit has successfully kept intact for so many years in the US. I hope this works out in their favor as well.
Let’s explore the primary reason why I think Intuit is piloting this new model:
“QBO has terrible support.”
This is an interesting statement that I’ve heard many times. And each time I hear it, I wonder why this person feels this way. I’ve been using QuickBooks for over 12 years and while not every call to the support line has been wonderful, I would say that their support on average is an 8.9 out of 10. Also, it is very rare that I need to call support, so that’s a plus too!
In my experience, I have found that QBO small business owner users call the support desk looking for bookkeeping help. Recently, I heard from an owner user that the QBO support person told her that if she needed the type of support she called for, that she should reach out to an accountant because he was not in a capacity to provide the type of support she needed.
Through QBO, Intuit can collect data every second of every day (it’s kind of annoying actually). I open QBO for the day and immediately it asks me to take a quick survey. Or after my support chat, it asks, “How would you rate the support you received today?” Data, data, data! And what good is data if you don’t use it to make decisions? How many times does Intuit need to be told that their support is poor before they determine that they need to change something to address the issue? Here’s where any company would see an “opportunity for improvement.”
Intuit has a support desk to help with technical issues. That’s what we all pay for as QBO subscribers. We do not pay for help with bookkeeping. So where shall a small business owner user go if he decides to go at it alone and use QBO to keep his own books? As an example, let’s say a small business owner needed to ask someone why their recent deposit is not sitting in their check register after he properly recorded the payment from the customer. The small business owner attended a training a few months back but they are still stuck. Now imagine that for a second, they call QBO support, support says, “I do not have a bookkeeping background, please call a ProAdvisor.” They search for an accountant near them, they arrive at 3 local accountants. He emails the 3 accountants. He schedules a time to discuss with all 3. The first accountant tells them she’d love to help but first she will need access to their QBO file to see what they are actually referring to, but first, they must get a non-disclosure in place, because, come on, we’re dealing with financial information here. Ok, a day or so later, non-disclosure is signed, access is granted to the QBO company file, they talk on the phone to discover that the payment is sitting in undeposited funds. The deposit needs to be combined with the other checks deposited for the day, accumulated and recorded and matched to the banking feed. Done. Did the accountant get paid for that? It was a quick question with a quick resolution, but the entire process probably cost the accountant a couple of hundred dollars. The user is not interested in on-going services because they’re going it alone, they are entering those expenses themselves, they’ll provide them to their tax accountant at the end of the year. They just don’t have the funds to pay a bookkeeper for this. But no one works for free. And they shouldn’t have to. What next? Does the accountant draw up a contract or just send over an invoice and hope for a payment? Does she give a freebie because everything else will only cost her more time and money than that person is willing to pay? Do they try to get this person on their firm’s QBO support plans? Of course she does but then it’s a no-go for the user because they got their question answered. Next time, he’ll just call the next ProAdvisor listed.
Where’s the win-win?
Intuit has been pushing bookkeepers and accountants to raise their rates for years now. But why? What does Intuit care about how much we are getting paid? Intuit wants bookkeepers to charge more for their services so that they can charge more for their QBO subscriptions and products. Think about it. They are essentially implementing a price floor for services. They are setting a standard for basic support services. Basic support services (support being the key word here) should not be less than $300/month. I don’t suppose that Intuit bookkeepers are going to roll up their sleeves and start inputting data from the bank feed, determining if the expense is business-related or personal, having that conversation with the client, collecting bank statements, and reconciling credit card accounts for $300-$600/month. Are they going to review the financials on a monthly basis to ensure that everything is categorized accurately even when rules are set up in the bank feed? I know technology is incredibly helpful in our day-to-day, and Intuit is working in the right direction in this regard, but it’s not absolute. We catch technology errors daily. It’s not perfect, at least not yet. Are they going to research that $245.23 difference in your credit card reconciliation? Are they going to exclude the duplicate banking transactions that appeared in the bank feed? Are they going to upload the historical transaction info from the .csv file from the bank? Are they going to alert you when your credit card payment is due? For $300/month? I don’t think so.
What are they going to do?
My prediction is that they are going to start answering the helpdesk questions that they have been unable to answer to date. They are going to get better scores on their support desk surveys! And when a user turns to them and says, “I need someone to do this for me, or I need someone to pay my vendors”, they are going to refer out to ProAdvisors just as they’ve been doing for all these years. Hopefully, my optimism will pay off.
Intuit has partnered with accounting services pricing experts like Mark Wickersham, Woodard, and Ron Baker for many years now. These pricing experts have been coaching the industry in providing higher quality consultative services to small businesses at price points that measure directly against the value they are providing. The industry no longer needs data entry clerks; technology (for the most part) has taken care of that. I don’t foresee Intuit abandoning these relationships for a few hundred dollars per month.
Are we jumping off the Intuit ship?
No, at least not yet.