Your Payroll needs to be well managed

Most business owners I know are a little bit frightened of payroll.

If you don’t manage it properly, you can end up with a big bill at the year end.  If you agree to pay an employee’s wages on an after-tax amount – agreeing to pay, say, € 500 into the hand –  you could find yourself having to pay a very large gross pay to leave the employee with the agreed after tax amount.

You need to get it right and the best way to do that is either to have access to a good payroll package or else to outsource your payroll to somebody.

Collsoft ( is one of the most popular payroll packages for Ireland.

In this video, I am going to provide a quick review of the software focusing on:

How easy is Collsoft to Navigate and use?

Are the Collsoft Payroll calculations reliable?

Are the Collsoft Payslips user friendly?

Does Collsoft Payroll provide the essential Revenue Reports?

Does Collsoft Payroll provide good management reports?

Is Collsoft Payroll Cost Effective

What are the alternatives to Collsoft?

What payroll package do I recommend??

The video takes about 22 minutes.  If you are short on time, go straight to 17:30 mins and you can pick up a summary of the review from there.

After viewing, if you have any questions please feel free to leave a comment or else contact me.

Choosing new accounts software can be a challenge.  You want something that you can use yourself so that you won’t always be dependent on someone else.  You want it to be reliable so that when your review your Profit and Loss you can believe it and you can be confident when you are submitting your VAT and any other returns. Finally, if you are hiring you want to know that there are plenty of people out there with experience in your software.

On top of that, you may have well-intentioned people giving you advice.  Your accountant may prefer to use a particular package.  Your office staff may be familiar with another package and want you to choose that so that they don’t have to learn something new.  You will hear and see advertisements from companies telling you how good and popular their particular product is.

It can all become very intimidating.  You are running a business after all – an expert in your own area.  You don’t want to have to become a software expert as well.

The bottom line is that you want software that will be a good fit for you and your business.  You want something that will give you the information that you need as efficiently as possible.  I have a separate blog post call “How to choose accounting software” that will help you decide on selection criteria.

For now, I want to look at one particular accounting software package called Sage 50.  I have been working with accounting systems now for more years than I want to remember. I have worked on large sophisticated systems and worked on the smallest systems.  In this article I will draw on that experience to help you understand the features of Sage 50 and make a good decision.

History of Sage 50

Sage 50 is a long established product dating back to the 80s.  For a long time, it was market leader and it is widely used throughout Ireland.  Sage also produce software that helps accountants produce annual accounts in the annual accounts format (Sage Accounts Production).   This software can import data directly from Sage 50 which simplifies the annual accountants task.  For that reason, many accountants will be members of the Sage Reseller plan and will recommend Sage to their clients without always being fully transparent about any possible conflict of interest.

In recent years, there have been a large number of challengers to Sage 50 including Quickbooks and Xero.  Sage have been adapting and updating their product in recent years to meet these challenges.

What’s good about Sage 50

  • The product itself is long established and proven. It does what it is supposed to do – when it is used well it works.
  • The product has a large user base so there is lot of information available to help you use it. There are a lot of articles available on its different features and on how to deal with common problems that might arise
  • There are a lot of people around with experience using Sage 50 so that if you need to hire or replace one of your accounts staff if should be fairly easy to find someone with Sage 50 experience.
  • Most accounting firms will have clients who use Sage 50 so they will be familiar with the software and will be able to help you if you need help.
  • Sage 50 is pretty good at VAT. Because it started out as a UK system and we share similar VAT systems to the UK, Sage probably does VAT better than most other accounting packages.
  • Sage 50 handles Bank Reconciliations well.
    On the reconciliations screen you match transactions against what have appeared on the bank statements.  There are good reconciliation reports available.
  • Sage 50 and Foreign Currency
    Some versions of Sage 50 offer the ability to handle foreign currency.  Basically, you set up currencies and input exchanges rates whenever you want – usually month end.
    The software will allow you maintain bank accounts and suppliers or customers in foreign currencies and revalue at month end.  The only issue seems to be that once you set up a customer or supplier for foreign currency you can only transact in that currency – you cannot handle a once of local transaction for that supplier.

What’s not so good about Sage 50

The underlying technology of Sage 50 – multiusers

Sage 50 was originally developed in the 1980s and the database technology that it uses is not as good as what the newer software is using.  In particular, if you have a multiuser environment you will find that you cannot do certain things while other users are active on the system.  I have often been in office where someone is calling out “Who’s in Sage? Can you log out?”  I have only  experienced that with Sage and its very frustrating for all involved.

Interface for Sage 50

The user interface looks like something from the 80s or 90s.  I know that you will get used to it but its not as neat or as intuitive as modern software.

Year End in Sage 50

One thing that really frustrates me is how Sage 50 handles year end.   At Year End you run a close off procedure which transfers all of the profit and loss accounts to the balance Sheet.  You can only do this once and you should wait until your accounts have been finalised so that you transfer correct figures.

However, many small businesses don’t finalise their annual accounts for several months after year end.  Those several months can run to 9 in many cases.   While you are waiting to finalise last year’s accounts, all of this years transactions are classified as future.  You cannot get a monthly profit and loss for the current year until last year is closed out.

As an accountant who strongly recommends that my clients should produce regular management accounts, I find this to be a major weakness.

Drill down in Sage 50

Drill down is a feature that is now very common is modern accounting software.  What is means is that if you run a report and display it on screen you can drill down ie click on a number in a report to see what that number is made up of.

Drill down is really useful for when you are reviewing accounts and trying to better understand why you are getting the results that you are getting.

For many years, Sage 50 did not have drill down.  In recent years they have added it to some reports but not to all.  It’s kind of there – but not fully there.

Correcting Errors in Sage 50

There will always be errors to correct in any accounts package.  People do make mistakes.  At year end, I often find items misclassified and I want to correct them.

For many years, Sage 50 did not allow corrections as they took the view that this weakened the audit trail.  Rather, you had to post a journal to transfer the original figure. What you were left with in your accounts was an incorrect transaction and a correcting transaction.  This makes it harder to follow what had happened.

They have amended that in recent versions but its not perfect.  Some, but not all, transactions can be corrected but often to correct those all other users have to be out of the system – the multiuser issue.  Additionally, finding and editing the transaction is cumbersome.  Overall, I don’t like how they do handle corrections.

Collaboration in Sage 50

If you want to collaborate with your accountant using Sage 50, you have to share a backup. The accountant can make changes, if they also have the software, and then they send you back a backup.  You can’t work on your data while the accountant is working on it as restoring his backup will overwrite the work that you have done.

This is very cumbersome compared to what’s possible with any of cloud packages where the data lives in the cloud and anyone with a browser can work on it, more or less, at the same time.

To overcome this issue Sage have introduced Sage Drive.  I have read about this feature but have not yet met anyone who is using it.   I have been looking at the Sage Guides for Drive and its seem complicated enough.

Reporting in Sage 50

Reporting in Sage 50 is mixed.   They have lots of reports and often many variants of the same reports.  Almost everything that you need is covered within the reports.

Reporting can be slow – you can monitor the status of the report as it is being built and it does seem slow.  The bigger your data base the slower it will be.

Some reports have little settings that can catch you out.  For example, if you are running an aged customer balance report for your year end, the report automatically defaults to including any payments after the year end.  This means that it won’t be showing you the actual customer balances as at the year end.  For me, that’s a strange default.

The Profit and Loss and Balance Sheet Reports all come from an element called Chart of Accounts.  With this the user can edit/configure the Profit and Loss or Balance Sheet to suit themselves.

Once you have set it up, you can add or edit accounts. If you don’t update your Chart of Accounts to allow for the changes that you made, this may put your chart of accounts off.

I regularly see balance sheets that do not balance because of adding new accounts.  Its not difficult to fix but it can take a bit of time and not everyone notices the reports are out of balance so could be working with incorrect information.

If you want to create a new report, Sage provide a Report Builder.  I have yet to come across any one who uses this.  For most businesses, writing a report is a rare requirement and most businesses don’t have the time to learn how to use the report writer to do one report.

One alternative is to outsource the writing of the report.  Another alternative is to export the report to Excel and play around with the data to get the report that you want.   Again, not everyone wants or can do that.

Overall, while there’s a lot that is good about Sage 50 Reporting there remain  a number of problems.

Integrating Sage 50 with other Applications

I am not aware of any applications that integrate with Sage 50.

Sage is a large company with many other products. Sage want you to buy their products so they don’t make it easy for you to buy another module, say an inventory management module, from someone else and integrate it with theirs.  They prefer you to buy their inventory module.

Overall Cost of Sage 50

Sage 50 was always expensive compared to other products.  They seem to have reduced the pricing so that they are more competitive now.

If you are buying it today, you have three options.  Sage 50c Essentials cost € 25 per month.  This is a basic package for 2 users and one company. The next package is the standard package.  This allows for 2 core users and up to 10 companies and allows you to track stock and have multiple departments.

The Sage 50c Standard Package costs € 80 per month.  This allows 2 users work with up to 10 companies and it handles stock and projects/departments.  It doesn’t have multicurrency.

Finally they offer the Professional Version which adds departments, projects, sales orders and purchase orders and foreign currencies.  This costs € 155 euro per month.

The essentials compares reasonably well with competitive products. The Standard seems more expensive than the competition and the Professional is very expensive compared to alternatives.

Is Sage 50 right for you?

If you use accounting software mainly for compliance purposes then Sage will do that for you.  On the other hand, if you want to be more hands on and to use your accounting software to get good information about what exactly is happening in your business then Sage is not as good for that.

In my experience, the way things are developing, business owners are much more comfortable with software and they want software that they can use themselves.  The want to be able to access their business information on a phone or a tablet and Sage 50 is not a good fit for that.

Sage 50 is not a product that I recommend to my clients.  If you have read some of my other blogs, you  will realise that I encourage my clients to “own their own accounts”.  In my opinion, Sage 50 doesn’t support that approach as well as the competition.  For the money they are asking, you will usually get a better solution elsewhere.

Over to you

What do you  think?   Have you experience of Sage 50?  Am I missing something?  Let me know if you agree or disagree.

Review of Xero – the cloud accounting software

If you run a business, the likelihood is that you will have heard of Xero, the online accounting system.  It seems to be everywhere these days. That is why I found it important to make a review of Xero.

Are you wondering if this is something that you should be using?  Maybe you are frustrated by your current accounting system and you think that Xero might be better.  In this blog post, I review Xero so that you will be better able to decide if it is suitable for your business.

I have been working with accounting systems for over 30 years now and I have been exposed to a wide range of solutions – from complex systems integrated into ERP packages down to the most basic solutions used by microbusinesses.   This experience includes leading the selection and implementation of solutions in large manufacturing industry and also being the accounting specialist on teams to help clients select large ERP (Enterprises Resource Planning) Solutions.

I approach this review  of Xero in the same way as I approached a review of any accounting software – looking at approach, functionality, costs and ease of use

Before evaluating – begin with the end in mind

Before getting into the evaluation, you need to be clear on what exactly you want your accounts software to do.

Do you want to use it simply for bookkeeping – keeping track of customer balances, supplier balances, bank balances and vat owing.  Or will you be using it to get analysis and useful insights into your business.  For more on this see our blog post

What type of transactions do you have?  How many sales invoices per month? How many purchase invoices per month? Do you give and/or take credit? Can you download your bank statements from your online banking – if yes, what format?

Who will be using it – just you, staff members?  What levels of computing skills do you have?

How much support will you be getting from your accountant?  Will they be supportive of this or will they leave it to you?

What reports will you  want to run?

Xero’s Philosophy

Xero is cloud based and they take advantage of the fact that it is easier to share information between cloud applications than it is with desktop applications.

With Xero, you enter your sales invoices and purchases invoices as you do with most other software. Then you import your bank statements and you assign the various transactions to your income and expense classifications.

Pretty quickly, Xero “learns” from the way you have assigned, or coded, the transactions and soon starts to make suggestions as to what they are.  You can accept or edit, those transactions.

Once the transactions are entered and coded, you can run any of the usual reports.

That is the core approach.  However, Irish banks don’t facilitate the sending of statement information to Xero (bank feeds) so, for Irish users, a major advantage is lost.

Ease of Use

Setting up Xero

When you first go into Xero, you will see a dashboard which is customisable.  This should show all of the elements of Xero that you want to access regularly.

Setup is straightforward.  You enter your company name and your VAT number etc.  You may need to get opening information from your accountant so that your opening position is correct and you should tailor the list of income and expense accounts to get the information the way you want it.

Once you have it set up, you can start to enter sales invoices and purchases.  For each customer and supplier, you will need to enter their details.  You can do that up front, but most people do this as they are first creating the transactions for that customer or supplier.

You can tailor your invoices to suit the way you want them to look.

Day to Day transactions in Xero

Entering invoices and purchases in Xero is easy.  You have the option of having comment lines on your sales invoices.  Once the invoice is entered you can email it to customers and the system records that the invoice has been sent and when.

You can set up recurring invoices or bills.  You can also copy an existing invoice or bill to create a new one.

Training for Xero

Xero provides online training which you can use to get familiar with the product.  They also have a test company that you can use to practice on and get familiar with the product.

There are also independent online training options available on online training providers such as Udemy.  Just search for Xero in these training providers.

Correcting Errors in Xero

One area where I find Xero a little bit awkward is correcting transactions.  As you enter transactions, you may make mistakes in coding or maybe in the VAT rates.  Some accounting packages allow you edit these quite simply, much as you would in Word or Excel.

With Xero, you have to drill down to the basic transaction and then you have to put it into edit mode before you can edit.  It’s an extra step which can be a bit slower than I like.

Reports in Xero

Xero has all of the standard reports that you would need – Profit and Loss, Balance Sheet, Aged Customer Balances, Aged Supplier Balances, Bank Reconciliation Reports and Trial Balance.

Report Dates in Xero

When you go to the Profit and Loss in Xero, they present current month plus last three months plus YTD.  You also have other options – year to date, month to date, current financial year – which is monthly report.

What I find I need most frequently are last month or last month YTD. I can get those but I have to do a little bit more work to get them.

I would prefer if those reports were options to just click on.  It’s a small thing but it just adds to the time needed.

How Xero handles VAT?

VAT is an important element of any accounting software.  On paper it looks like Xero can handle VAT the way we, in Ireland, need it to.   However, its not that simple.

Irish users are given the global Version of Xero and users are reporting difficulties with that.  The more sophisticated users can work around it.  Other users seem to struggle.

For Ireland’s cash basis of VAT, sales are invoice based and purchases are cash based.  Xero can only do either “all invoice” (i.e sales and purchases) or “all cash” but not the Irish Hybrid.  You can get around this by running the reports both ways but that’s messy.

VAT in Xero needs to be well setup at the beginning so that the data is set up for easy analysis.  You need a good understanding of VAT and the software to do that.  When you do set it up well, the EU reverse charge and the RTD reports can all be run with some workarounds.

Another issue to be careful with is the closing off of filed periods so that a late transaction for a VAT closed period does not get missed.

Drill down in Xero

Drill down is a feature that I find invaluable.  If you are looking at a Profit and Loss and see a figure that looks wrong, you can click on the figure to open a new screen showing the make-up of that item.

From there, you can drill all the way down to the lowest level transactions making up the queried figure.

Xero has drilldown and it works well.

Using Xero to Collaborate with your accountant

One of the big advantages for me as an accountant is the easy ability to access clients accounting information.

If the client is having a problem entering transactions, they can ring me and I can check it out quickly by just logging on.  I no longer have to travel to their premises.

If the client is concerned about results and wants me to look review his/her accounts, that’s easy to do as well.

Xero allows the accountant to help with the setup, possibly even to complete the setup, and to help with VAT returns or reconciliations.  Overall, it makes it much easier for the client to have timely  and reliable accounting information to support them in managing the business

Exporting from Xero

You can export most reports from Xero to Excel.  The export works well, you get an excel sheet that is formatted well.

With some other accounting software, I find the exported sheets have merged cells which make working with large blocks of data awkward.  And let’s face it, you are usually exporting the data because you want to analyse or edit it in some way.  You don’t want to be hindered by merged cells.  With exports from Xero, I don’t find that problem.

Bank Reconciliations in Xero

The big breakthrough with Xero was the automation of the bank reconciliations using bank feeds directly from your bank.

Unfortunately, as mentioned above, Irish Banks are not yet providing those feeds.

We do have a work around however.  You can download transactions and import them to Xero.

Most, but not all, banks allow you to download bank transactions to a csv file.  Once you have the csv file you can open that file and edit it so that the data is presented as Xero needs it.

Once you import the file, it’s as if the automatic bank feed had worked.  You will be presented with a reconciliation screen where Xero shows you all the transactions imported and offers you its suggestion for what each transaction is.  If it doesn’t know what the transaction is, typically the first time it comes across that transaction,  it waits for you to tell it how to analyse it.

Working with csv files is a bit fiddly and I often get files rejected for reasons I don’t fully understand.  I then waste time playing around with file, deleting rows or columns to make it importable.  If you are not comfortable with csv files then you are not likely to be able to use this.

You can always leave the reconciliation to your accountant.  However, that’s losing out on probably the best feature of Xero.

Departments or Projects in Xero

Xero has always had the facility to organise your transactions around departments or categories.  This could be useful for larger businesses that want to track profits or costs by departments.

It only added the facility to track by projects recently.  This would be useful for any business that works on projects such as building contractors or event management companies.

Foreign Currency

Xero offers three different user plans – Starter, Standard and Premium.  Only the Premium plan handles multi-currency.

If your business needs to be able to handle foreign currencies then you will have to choose the most expensive plan.

The foreign currency feature is neat in that they pull the exchange rates from online rate providers so your exchange calculations are always reliable.

If the exchange rates change between the time the transaction (sales or purchase) was first recorded and it was paid, the system can handle the foreign exchange gain or loss and record them correctly.

Cost of Xero

The cost of the plans are as follows – Basic $20 per month, Standard $30 per month, Premium $40 per month.  (I am surprised to see dollar pricing.  I thought they priced in € but dollars are what they are showing for Ireland as I write this.)

They regularly have discounts for three to six months so you may be able to avail of that.

Remember that this is an ongoing monthly cost so if you are on the standard plan then that is going to cost you $360 per annum.  This seems expensive when you consider that you can still buy Quickbooks desktop for about €180 and you will usually get 3-4 years out of that.

On the other hand, Xero is constantly being updated and, it being a cloud product, you are always working with the latest update.  Also, unlimited support is included in the monthly fee and you also have access to an online user community.  With desktop products,  you typically have to pay extra for support.

Also, you won’t’ have to run a server if you are a multiuser site and you won’t have to worry about backups as Xero look after that.

What platforms can you use Xero on

Xero is a cloud product.  You can access it through a browser  (on Windows, Apple or Linux) or through apps for Android or IOS.

In my experience, the apps are best kept for creating and entering transactions.   For working with reports or for importing bank transactions, you are better working in a browser on a desktop or maybe a large screen tablet.

Xero Add-ons

A really attractive feature of Xero is the number of add-ons that are available for it.

Xero can communicate with other applications using APIs (Application Programming Interface).  In practice, what this means is that lots of other cloud products have been developed that provide additional functionality to what is in the standard Xero.

A small industry has emerged of developers who create products to fill the perceived gaps in Xero.  For example there are inventory apps, receipt management apps, crm apps, time tracking apps, job costing apps, integration with paypal etc.

A full list of apps can be found here –

Not every company seems to manage stock, or inventory, in exactly the  same way.  The standard Xero stock may not give you all the flexibility you want. In that case, there are likely to be add-ons that will help you.

Its good to have that option to expand functionality.

Xero is constantly being updated

One of the things that I am very conscious of with this article, is that, like most cloud apps, Xero is constantly being updated and those updates are automatically rolled out to all users.

I plan on updating it as often as I can and definitely for all major changes.   But when you are reading this, keep an eye on the date and realise that there may have been new features added or problems since it was written

What other products compete with Xero

Right now, the main competitors are Quick Books Online and Sage Online.  In Ireland we also have The Big Red Book Online , Sortmybooks and Surf Accounts.

I think Quickbooks is likely to be the biggest challenger to Xero.  Xero was first to market but Quickbooks had an excellent desktop product which they have been migrating to the cloud.  A few years back, QB started to move to the cloud.  At first, I thought their cloud product was a long way behind the desktop offering but it has improved.  Quickbooks pricing is slightly cheaper – € 14, € 21 and € 29 – and there is currently a 70% for the first year.

If you want cloud accounts and haven’t already switched to Xero, I think you should also keep an eye on Quickbooks Online.  In recent months, I have been looking again at their cloud solution and I think it’s now probably as good as and may be getting better than Xero.

They seem to be bring a lot of the features of the desktop product into the online product which can only be a good thing.  They also have the bank feeds functionality which, I hope we will one day be supported by the Irish Banks for all cloud solutions.

Their desktop product also has a weakness with VAT and I assume the online is similar.  Like Xero, there are workarounds but it’s not ideal.

Unlike Xero, they have a companion desktop app that addresses slow internet speeds.  You enter transactions into the app which buffers the transactions and uploads them as fast as your connection allows.  I think that will address the complaint many bookkeepers have about cloud accounting performance.


I have been using Xero for my own accounts for a couple of years now. Before that I used Kasfhlow, another cloud accounting solution, for many years.

I think that for Xero to be a good fit for you, you will likely have

  • A good broadband connection. Even with fast broadband, experienced bookkeepers entering large numbers of transactions, report that online accounting software is slower than desktop.
  • Created your sales invoices on a computer already so entering them in Xero will replace what you are currently doing and not creating more work.
  • Little or no purchases on credit. Won’t be entering many bills and your expenses will be made paid by bank or credit card transactions.
  • Had either no inventory transactions or a small number of inventory transactions.

That mix of transactions will not be affecting as much by performance issues.

I have been happily using Xero for almost three years now and its a good fit for me.  If you have high volumes of transactions or you have inventory items, it could still work but you would want to make sure that you can process those transactions fast and efficiently.  That may require the use of add-ons.

Your Turn

Have I missed anything?  Do you disagree with anything?  Let me know.  Every user and every business has their own way of doing things.  I would love to hear other views on Xero.

AIB Online Banking v BoI Online Banking

Do you use internet banking in your business?   Maybe you’re a bit frustrated with the online banking product that you are currently using and you are trying to decide if you should switch.  You might just be frustrated with your bank for other reasons and want to know what the alternative bank’s banking online is like.

Through my work with SME clients over the past 20 years, I have experience of both AIB’s offerings and BoI’s (Bank of Ireland’s) offerings. In this article, I set out the key elements of each product so that you are better able to choose between them.

AIB and BoI both have two offerings.  One offering for smaller businesses and another offering for larger businesses.

For AIB, the product for small businesses is called Internet Banking and for larger businesses the product is called Internet Business Banking.  While for BoI the product for larger business is called Business On-Line and the product for smaller businesses is called 365 Online.

For each of the products, I will now set out the key aspects below.

AIB Internet Business Banking (IBB)

Who is AIB IBB for?

IBB is for larger businesses where two or more people are required to authorise transactions.

Functionality of AIB IBB

With IBB you can view and print bank statements. Set dual authorisations for transactions. Initiate and authorise payments in both euro and foreign currency.  Export bank Statements to CSV format.  Set limits as to what individual users can do.

In addition to that, you can’t stop cheques with IBB

Does it have Mobile Apps?

No, there is no mobile app for IBB

Does it support Online Accounting?

No.  There is currently no facility to link your AIB account with an online accounting, such as Xero or Quickbooks Online, as is possible in other countries.

Is it easy to use?

The product uses a device called a digipass which is like a little calculator that generates security codes to authorise transactions.  For example, you would enter a payee’s IBAN number to generate an authorisation code for that payee.

How much Transaction History does AIB IBB hold?

The system can hold up to 180 days of transactions.

Browsers supported – AIB IBB

In my experience IBB works with all browsers – Chrome, Firefox, Safari, Edge and Internet Explorer  You can use it on a mobile phone if you have the digipass with you.

Security – AIB IBB

To log in you will be given a user ID and a password that changes regularly. To authorise payees and payments you will use the digipass to create security codes.

Cost of AIB IBB

IBB starts at 62.5 per quarter €250 pa) for one company.

AIB Internet Banking

Who is AIB Internet Banking for?

AIB internet Banking is for smaller businesses where one person manages all of the banking transactions.

Functionality of AIB Internet Banking

With AIB Internet Banking you can view and print bank statements.   Initiate and authorise payments in euros.  Export bank Statements to CSV format.  But, you cannot set limits as to what individual users can do.

Furthermore, you can stop cheques with AIB Internet Banking

Does AIB internet Banking have Mobile Apps?

There is a mobile app for AIB internet Banking for both Apple and Android

Does AIB internet Banking support Online Accounting?

No.  There is currently no facility to link your AIB account with an online accounting, such as Xero or Quickbooks Online, as is possible in other countries.

In theory, you could give your login details to the online product but this violates your agreement with the bank and you would be liable if someone used online banking to steal from the account.

Is AIB Internet Banking easy to use

The product uses a device called a card reader which uses your account debit card to generate security codes to authorise transactions.

Transaction History

The documentation says that the system can hold up to 24 months of transactions and 7 years of e-statements.  In my experience, it seems to hold about 60 transactions for each account.

Browsers supported

In my experience, AIB Internet Banking works with all browsers – Chrome, Firefox, Safari, Edge and Internet Explorer.

You can use it on a mobile phone or tablet with the app so you don’t need the browser but the browser would also work.

AIB Internet Banking – Security

To log in you will be given a user ID and a password that changes regularly. To authorise payees you will use the card reader to create security codes.  Once you have the payee created, you don’t have to authorise individual payments – once you are logged into the system you can transfer money to payees who are already set up.

Cost of AIB Internet Banking

AIB internet Banking is free.

Click here for more information.

BoI Business On-Line (BOL)

Who is BoI BoL for

BoI BoL is for larger businesses where two or more people are required to authorise transactions.

Functionality of BoI BoL

With BoI BoL you can view and print bank statements.  You can set dual authorisation for transactions.  More so, you can initiate and authorise payments in both euro and foreign currency.  You can set limits as to what individual users can do.

Note that you can’t export bank Statements to CSV format and stop cheques with BoI BoL.

Mobile Apps

No, there is no mobile app for BoI BoL.

Supports Online Accounting?

No.  There is currently no facility to link your BoI account with an online accounting, such as Xero or Quickbooks Online, as is possible in other countries.

You can only export your statements to PDF so you can’t get a CSV which you would be able to reformat for import into Xero or Quickbooks Online.

Ease of Use?

The product uses a user id and passwords to log in.

There are two types of user – administrator and user.  You will need at least two administrators to authorise most of the administrators’ actions.  This can be awkward and in my experience, in smaller companies, one person holds all administrator passwords which cancels out the security benefits.

To set up payees, the system sends an authentication code to a designated mobile phone number for that user.  They are currently rolling up an app for ios and android whereby the app will generate the authentication code rather than rely on text messages.

Once you are logged in you use a digital certificate password to authorise payments.   You can only authorise transactions on pcs where your digital certificate is stored.

If you make mistakes with your password you may be locked out of the system which will require an administration to reactivate the locked-out user.

The system uses Java and can be a bit temperamental. If you do something, like use an unauthorised back button, you could be logged out and can’t get back for 15 minutes which can be frustrating.

As you can probably tell, in my experience BoL is the most frustrating of all the options out there.

Transaction History

The system seems to hold several months of transactions.  I haven’t tested it fully but it seems to go back for at least a number of months.

Browsers supported

Their product information says that it works on Internet Explorer and the latest versions of Chrome and Firefox.  In my experience, BoL only works with Internet Explorer.  You can log in with Firefox and Chrome but you will not have all the functionality.

BoI BoL uses Java for security and I don’t think recent versions of Chrome and Firefox support Java.

You can view transactions on Safari but I don’t believe you can use the digital certificate on Safari.

Security of BoI BoL

To log in you will be given a user ID and a password that changes regularly. To authorise payees and payments you will use the digital certificate, which is stored on that machine to create security codes.

As far as I know, Internet Explorer is the least secure browser out there now and I am very surprised that this is the main platform for online banking for anyone.


BoI BoL starts at € 10.00 per month (€120 pa) for one company.

BoI – Business 365 Online Banking

Who is 365 Online Banking for?

BoI 365 Online is now open for smaller businesses where one person manages all of the banking transactions.

Functionality of 365 Online Banking?

With BoI 365  Online you can view and print bank statements.  Euro and foreign currency payments can be initiated and authorised.  Bank Statements can be exported to excel format.  Limits can’t be set as to what individual users can do.

Cheques with BoI 365 Online can’t be stopped

Mobile Apps for 35 online Banking?

There is a mobile app for 365 Online for both Apple and Android

Does 365 Online Banking support Online Accounting?

No.  There is currently no facility to link your BoI account with an online accounting, such as Xero or Quickbooks Online, as is possible in other countries.

In theory, you could give your login details to the online product but this violates your agreement with the bank and you would be liable if someone used online banking to steal from the account.

Ease of Use of 365 Online Banking?

The product uses a user id, a PIN and some security questions to login and to authorise transactions.

Transaction History

I can’t find what BoI states that it holds but I can see that for some accounts it goes back at least one year.   That may be because it has low numbers of transactions.

Browsers supported

In my experience BoI 365  Online works with all browsers – Chrome, Firefox, Safari, Edge and Internet Explorer.

You can use it on a mobile phone or tablet with the app so you don’t need the browser but the browser would also work.

Security of 365 Online Banking

To log in you will be given a user ID and a password that changes regularly. To authorise payees you will also use security questions.  when you have the payee created, therefore you don’t have to authorise individual payments – when you are logged into the system you can transfer money to payees who are already set up.

Cost of 365 Online Banking

BoI 365 Online is free.

Click here for more information.


Want to have admin staff create payments for you to authorise later, then you must use either IBB or BoL.

Are a smaller business, where you do the full initiation and authorisation then you could use the free versions.

The free versions are both easy to use.

Want to link your Xero or Quickbooks to online banking then you have to use workarounds as the Irish banks are not making it easy for you.

Your Turn

I have compiled this information based on my own experience with the various products.  Think I have missed something or have given incorrect information please let me know.  Have any questions, feel free to contact me.

How to choose accounting software

Are you looking for new accounting software?  Do you need help in making that decision on how to choose accounting software? You could be a start-up or you could be a mature business that has realised the existing accounting software isn’t doing what you need it to do.

Many businesses get recommendations from their accountant.  In some cases, the accountant recommends something that suits the accountant but may not suit the client, or else maybe a solution that works well for another client but may not be right for a different business.

It would be better to identify what you need and then compare the options before deciding what to buy.  This is because you are likely to have this software for a long time so you don’t want to have regrets.

Over the course of my career in industry, consulting, and in accounting practice, I have done a lot of work helping both small and large companies select and implement accounting and operations software.

If you are a startup or a smaller business, you may think that you don’t have a lot of choices – you will just have to buy a cheap solution.  That’s not the case.  Even in the most basic, entry-level software, there are differences that could make life easier or more difficult and it’s better to understand what you need and what the various packages offer.

In this article, I will guide you through the approach that I use in helping clients identify the accounting software that is best for them.   I focus on a few key areas.

Integrated or Standalone Accounting Software

The first question relates to any other software that you already have in your business.  In case you have software to manage your operations – whether that be manufacturing, distribution, retail or something else – then you should investigate if there is already an accounting package that will easily work with your operations software. For this situation, that will usually be the best solution.

Accounting software is now a mature product and core functionality is common to many packages.  I feel strongly that accounting software should support the business.  For this reason, a key philosophy to adopt is to let the needs of the business determine the type of accounting software needed.

I am going to assume that most readers of this post will be looking for a standalone package.  Finding accounting to suit different operations software will be much pretty much specific to each business

Accounting software functionality

The key area to spend time on is functionality – what I mean by that is getting clear on what you want the software to do.  Every business is different and different owner-managers can slightly differ in how they run the business. Therefore, you need functionality to support what is needed.


How do you make sales?  Do you have specific items that you sell repeatedly or do you have large one-off unique items?  More so, do you buy and sell in one currency or do you buy and sell in many currencies and need to manage foreign exchange?  Do you have repeat or recurring invoices where it would be good to automate the repeating elements?

Creating Sales Quotes

Do you create quotes for customers that you hope will be converted to sales invoices later on?  If you need that and the system can support it, just how easy is it to do?

Purchases Invoices

The requirements here can be similar but opposite to sales invoices.  Can you have recurring invoices?  Furthermore, do you manage specific parts and will you be buying by part number?  Will you have to use your suppliers part numbers or you own in-house part numbers.

Purchase Orders

Do you want to create purchase orders and match these to supplier invoices as they are received?

Completing Bank Reconciliations

Most systems now support bank reconciliations.  How well is that done?  Can you import the bank statements into the accounting software to automate the reconciliation?  What sort of reports are available?

Tracking Stock items

Do you want to track stock items ie the system keeps track of stock and each sale will reduce stock while purchases will increase stock?  Will you want reports showing items on hand and the value for those items.

VAT Compliance

How well does the accounting system handle VAT?  Can it handle both allowable ways of handling VAT – the cash basis or the invoice basis?  What about invoices that come in late – ie June invoice that comes in after the June VAT return has been submitted? Are they treated properly?

Is there good reporting and a good trail to support a VAT audit if required?

Tracking margins on sales

Does your business have fixed cost prices for each item sold which would allow you to calculate margin either by invoice or by line item within invoice.

Supporting Budgeting

Do you want to set budgets and then compare actuals to budgets.

Importing and Exporting Data

Do you want to import data from other systems. For example, import your bank statements or import a listing of sales invoices for other software.  Maybe you have time tracking software for service personnel and you want to link that to your accounts.

Do you want to be able to export data – maybe for analysis in excel?

Locking Accounting Transactions

When you have finalised your accounts you don’t want late transactions to get added into closed accounting periods.  Will you be able to lock transactions once you have finalised the accounts for a specific accounting period.?

Accounting for Jobs or Departments

Do you want to gather income and/or costs by jobs or by departments?  For example, a building contractor might want to be able to see the revenue and costs for each individual job.   On the other hand, a larger business may want to report on costs by department – maybe sales, manufacturing, distribution, admin etc.

Creating/Restoring Backups

Things can, and do, go wrong so do you want to make makeups and be able to restore those backups.  How easy is that?  Where will be backups be stored?

Remote Access

Will you want to give anyone remote access – an employee at another site or maybe your external accountant?  How easy is to do this?

Financial Reporting

What sort of reports do you want?  The basic reporting includes Profit and Loss, Balance Sheet and Lists of customer balances and supplier balances.

Do you want to have flexibility in reporting periods?   In addition to that, do you want to be able to compare actual with budget or actual with the equivalent period last year?  Do you want to give department managers figures only for their own department?

Drill down in reports

A very useful feature that many, but not all, accounting software has is the ability to drill down when working with reports.

For example, if I am reviewing a Profit and Loss, I might think the travel amount looks high.  With drill down, I can click on the travel number and it will open up a new window which will show me the makeup of the number.  I may be able to drill down on a number in that window and eventually drill all the way down to the lowest level transactions that make up the total number

I find that a very useful feature and would be reluctant to work with software that doesn’t does it well.

Correcting Transaction Errors

If you do find something wrong, how easy is it to correct?

Some systems will not let you edit a transaction, instead forcing you to enter a reversing transaction and then a new transactions.  I find this very cumbersome and it clutters up the database.

How easy is it to distribute accounting reports from the system.

Can you email them?  Can you export them to excel or csv formats?  Moreso, can you push them out to pdf or MS word?

Audit Trails

If somebody does something wrong, can you easily find out what happened and can you identify the user responsible so that you can train in how to do it right?

Does the system provide an audit trail that can be queried by date, by user or by account type?

How does the system handle Accounting Periods

How does the system deal with the end of an accounting period?

Most modern systems are date driven but some older systems are period (month) driven.  The problem with the older systems is that you may be still finalising last year but cannot move on properly to the new year until last year is fully closed off.  It just makes reporting for the first few months more difficult until the last period is closed off.

There is a lot of features listed above.  They may not all be relevant to you.  What you need to do iis to look at your own business and understand what functionality your business needs and then you need to match that to what the software delivers.

User Experience

How easy will it be for users to work with the system?  If its awkward or cumbersome, users will find it harder to work with and this can lead to inefficiencies.

What do the screens look like?  How easy is it to navigate around the system?  The only way to know this is to play around with the system.   Talk to other people who are using the system, if you can.

Does it look like you would need to be an accountant to use it or is it easy to use, with little or no jargon.  Will you be able to run your favourite reports or will you always have to rely on accounts staff?

Quality and Form of Support available

What happens if you have a query or something goes wrong?  Is support readily available?  Is this support by telephone or by email? How much does it cost?  How responsive are they – will you be long waiting?

Cost of Ownership

When buying any software, you should always consider how long you will have it and what it will cost over that time-period.

Typically, you would want to have it for at least 5 years. What will the total cost of ownership be?

This will be made up of the upfront cost.  Then add in support cost over the full life of the software.   Will you have to invest in additional modifications or customisations?  Will you have to invest in additional hardware?  And will there be obligatory updates that you will have to buy?

Add up all of these costs to determine the total cost of ownership for the lifetime of the software.

Technology Platform

Do you want software that runs on desktop or on the cloud?

The cloud comes will a lot of advantages but may have disadvantages.  If you have slow broadband it may not suit.  Some book-keepers find data entry on a cloud much slower.  Against that, some cloud solutions have data import facilities that overcome the data entry issues.

Also, it’s good to pay attention to the underlying software used to write the product.  There are still software packages out there using older database technology.  They can be harder to work with and can hit size limits – sooner than you expect.

I came across a client a couple of years ago who had database size problem because they sold a lot of small value items.  It was the number of transactions that counted and not the value so they quickly ran into database size problems.

Single or Multi User Accounting Software?

Will you be a single user site or a multi-user site?  If there are multiusers, does that put any restrictions on other users.  For example, I am working with a client and regularly, the software will prevent a user doing something – running reports or procedures – because another user is going something else in the system.

Who should be involved in the software selection decision?

The people who will be working with the software on a day to day basis should be involved.  If you have some staff with more experience with other software you may give more weight to their opinion.  Your external accountant may be familiar with many different types of software and may be able to help.

The amount of effort you put into the software evaluation should match the amount of money you will be spending and the consequences of getting the decision wrong.

Evaluation Matrix for software selection

At the end of the day, you will have done your research and there may be a lot of factors to consider.  You may feel confused but you want to make a decision.

What I find helpful in these situations is to create an evaluation matrix and use that to guide the decision.  Have a read of another of my blog posts about creating a decision matrix.

What I find is that the evaluation matrix will help you to organise your thoughts and to identify your priorities.  It will not make the decision for you but it should trigger a discussion about just how important some elements are and it’s important to have that discussion.

At the end of the day, you are going to be living with the software you select for a number of years.  Unless your business is very straightforward, the chances are that some software will work much better for you than other software.  It’s well worth investing time up front to get it right.

I would love to help you identify the best solution for your business.  We hope you found this blog post helpful and wish you all the best in your journey to find the best accounting software for your business.  If you have any questions or comments, please feel free to contact me on 086 2323525 or by email at jim (at) accountsplus (dot) ie.

Xero Certified Advisor

What is Xero?

Xero is a cloud accounting application that provides similar functionality as most of the standard accounting packages such as Sage 50 or QuickBooks.

Being a cloud service, the data resides in the cloud and the application is accessed via a web brower.   Xero is  an example of software that are classed as Software as a Service (SaaS) and you pay a monthly fee for the use of the service.  Being a cloud service it has some advantages that traditional desktop applications don’t have.

What are the advantages of Xero?

1.     User friendly

The first and the main advantage of Xero is that it is quite easy to use. The online accounting packages tend to be designed for non accountants and they focus on the key actions that the user needs to complete, for example creating sales invoices and logging purchase invoices.  Xero is designed so that its fairly intuitive to use.

2.     Accessibility

As the software is a cloud application, it is accessible anywhere. You can use Xero from your desktop browser.   You can use it from your tablet such as the iPad or an Android tablet.  You can have Xero on your smartphone.

This allows you to check your accounting information wherever you are.  I’ve had a TV documentary maker who was out on one of the Aran islands and needed to check a balance.  He had his iphone and a signal which allowed him to just go online and check it on his phone – that is a big advantage for some clients!

3.     Software is always up to date

The software is always updated, unlike a desktop where you buy an application which you may get as a download or on a disc, and then that application doesn’t change unless you choose to update to the latest version. With Xero, updates are being introduced regularly, so you always have got the latest, most up to date version and it is all included in the price. And every time new features are added, you have access to those features almost immediately.

4.     Integration with other Cloud applications

As Xero is in the cloud, it can easily be connected to and exchange information with other cloud applications. There are lots of cloud applications that can work with Xero such as inventory management applications, CRM applications, banking applications.  Xero has the ability to push data out to these applications or pull data in from them.
Several years ago I had a client who did a lot of work online.  The nature of the work was that he had a lot of small transactions for which he got paid very small amounts of money – usually cents. This money was paid through PayPal.  He was able to set up his accounting package to connect to PayPal and this high volume of small accounting transactions were pulled in, immediately on login, into his accounting application.  This really streamlined his online operation and made it a whole lot more efficient for him.  So the ability to talk to other could applications can be very useful.

5.     Your accountant can help you remotely

Xero makes it easy for your accountant to access your data remotely.  Let’s say my client is using Xero, and they are having a problem. He or she can ring me up, we can go onto a Skype call or use some sort of other conferencing type call.  We can share our screen, so they can be looking at my screen or I can be looking and his/hers screen, whichever we want.  Using these tools we can resolve the question fairly quickly.   This could save a trip out to the clients’ premises for me which then makes the service less costly for the client if all they need is five or ten minutes of my time.

6.     Safe data back-up

Xero is always backed up.  The software provider will have the application and data stored in a number of different data servers, so if anything happens to one data centre, they have a backup  and can be accessed from another  data centre.  You won’t be aware of this happening. You won’t have the need to take backups or store them off site.  With Xero you also have the option of downloading data, just to be sure, to be sure, but in fact, that is not not needed.  They have it backed up better than you would probably do yourself.

7.     Functionality

Xero is a mature product  and at this stage, it has a lot of very useful functionality.  It offers reccurring invoices, multi-currency processing and automated bank reconciliations among other features.

A big advantage of Xero is that it has some very basic “intelligence” built in to the software. For example if a payment goes through your bank that might be for Three or Vodafone, you can set up a rule that this is a telephone bill, and that is normally a subject of VAT of 23%.  Every time that comes through, Xero will let you know it thinks that’s a telephone bill with VAT at 23% and you can accept or reject/edit the suggestion.  You don’t have to do any more with it.  You set up the rule initially, and once Xero recognizes that it’s a payment for Three or for Vodafone, it will code it properly.  It makes the process of coding at month end accounting simpler, easier and faster.

What are disadvantages of Xero?

1.     Slow with high number of transactions

There are some disadvantages to Xero.  You are using an online piece of software and if you have a lot of transactions and/or a slow connection, you may be waiting for a while until the screens re-build.  So if you have a lot of transactions, Xero might not be for you.

Book-keepers who come into a company once per week or month to bulk enter the transactions often find it doesn’t suit the way they work.

2.     Lack of support in Ireland

The Irish Banks don’t support the online accounting packages very well right now.  Elsewhere around the world, banks are providing feeds to Xero, so the bank statement can be pushed straight into Xero and then when you log into Xero, the application will tell you that you have these transactions waiting to be posted, and will use its intelligence to suggest to you what it thinks the posts should be.

There is a  workaround to overcome the lack of a feed – exporting the transactions from the bank and importing them to Xero but its more cumbersome.  Having said that, I use the workaround and I have dramatically reduced the amount of time I spend on monthly accounts.

3.     Cost

Xero costs more than a traditional desktop accounting software.  If you use something like QuickBooks online, you may have bought that for maybe €180-€200 for the licence, and you may get three to four years out of that before you decide to upgrade. So it could cost you €50 a year.

Xero typically costs around €25 a month, so you would be spending maybe about €300 a year on your software, which is a little bit more than you might be used to be spending.

How do you decide if Xero is right for you?

First of all you should look at the number of transactions that you have. If you have a low number of transactions – a low number of sales invoices and a low number of purchase invoices, then I would say Xero would be well worth looking at. If you have a high number of transactions, it might slow the process of entering these transactions down when you try and enter them all into the system.

Think about your  broadband.  Is it fast enough?  If it can handle something like Netflix, then it’s ok and can handle Xero comfortably.  If you speed is 1MB/s or less then maybe no.

If you are already using some cloud apps, like a CRM app or an inventory app or maybe something like Expensify for managing expenses, Xero can integrate with those cloud apps, and can make transferring data from one to the other a lot more streamlined.  If you are using any of these applications, I would strongly consider looking at Xero.

You would have to be comfortable with .csv files.  In Ireland at the moment the banks don’t provide the banks feeds for us, so what you have to do is use the workaround mentioned above where you go into your bank account and export you bank statement into a .csv file, which excel can work with. Then you have to tidy up that file, to make sure that the columns are in the right order and that it is ready to be imported into Xero.  So if you are not comfortable doing that process manually, you should probably shy away from Xero

If you do your own books, you will find that Xero will give you a lot of insight into what is going on in your business.  Xero will help you to really understand your accounts.  Completing the tasks of entering your costs and your invoices, knowing where they go, and being able to run the reports and drill down, will all make a whole lot of difference to how well you understand your accounts.

There are some businesses where Xero would be a good fit because of the type and number of transactions that they have.  For example, I am aware of furniture retailers that use Xero and they don’t have a till system or a point of sales system, all they have is an iPad. They can walk around the shop, they might have a small number of high value transactions per day and they can easily process those with an ipad and Xero. They can be with a customer, enter the sales invoice there and then, print it off on a wireless printer, give the sales invoice to the customer, and that transaction is already in their accounts.

Alternative applications

Xero is not the only online accounting package.

There is also Kashflow – a product that initially came out around the same time as Xero, but hasn’t grown as fast as they chose to grow organically rather than by investing loads of money into marketing as Xero did.  I think it is a bit simpler and a bit more user friendly, but it hasn’t developed functionality to the same extent that Xero has.

A newer product is Quickbooks online.  You may be familiar with QuickBooks – one of the bestselling desktop accounting packages in the last number of years. I heard recently that QuickBooks has made a decision to move online totally and that they will no longer be updating the desktop versions. At the moment I feel that QuickBooks and Xero will be the two main competitors of the online accounting packages. They will probably fight it out. I think they will probably end up having similar functionality.

SAGE have also introduced an online accounting package. The initial feedback was very poor, I know it has gradually been improved but I think they are a bit behind Xero and QuickBooks online.

Some of these online packages are a little behind, and don’t have as many integrations yet. Whether Xero will stay as the main player in the future, I am not sure. But right now, it is definitely the main player and should be considered if you are thinking of an online package.

We have worked with all the main SME accounting packages.  We also have significant experience helping select and implement software for larger businesses.  If you are thinking of going with Xero, or another cloud accounting package, feel free to contact me at

In everyday life we encounter experiences that more often than make Murphy’s law more and more relevant. Here is a collection of interesting but practical Murphy’s laws of IT that you might find very compelling.

  1. When computing, whatever happens, behave as though you meant it to happen.
  2. When you get to the point where your really understand your computer, then it’s probably obsolete.
  3. The first place to look for information is in the section of the manual where you least expect to find it.
  4. When the going gets tough, upgrade.
  5. For every action there is an equal and opposite malfunction
  6. To err is human… to really screw things up royally requires a computer.
  7. He who laughs last probably made a back-up.
  8. A complex system that does not work is invariably found to have evolved from a simpler system that worked just fine.
  9. The No. 1 cause of computer problems is computer solutions.
  10. A computer program will always do what you tell it to do, but rarely what you want it to do.

Acknowledgments to Internet Humour

Our online Accounting Software, Kashflow, is constantly being improved. Sometimes the improvements are obvious like the recent changes to the entry screens for sales and purchase invoices. Other times the changes to Kashflow are in the background and you may not realise that there’s a new option that might be useful for you.

Kashflow publish the changelog here. You can also sign up to receive notifications of changes via email, rss feeds or twitter.

For today, I have copied the change notices from the Kashflow changelog for some of the most recent changes.

Recent Changes

Improvements to Customer and Supplier pages 2nd August, 2010

General Look and Feel Improvements 2nd August, 2010

Defaulting Purchases to Paid 2nd August, 2010

Custom Fields for Customers 2nd August, 2010

Email Templates for Statements 2nd August, 2010