Review: Intuit's QuickBooks Accounting Premier 2009

by Theresa Carey

In this year's update, the company focuses on online banking enhancements and international currency. Does it translate 'ka-ching?'

Helping small businesses connect to the rest of the world is a major theme in the recently released suite of QuickBooks 2009 products.  We looked at the Premier version, and find it extremely useful for people who use online banking and other online tools to maintain and grow their businesses. 

We tested the update on a single-user Windows XP Pro setup, connected to the Internet over a high-speed DSL connection.  There are multi-user versions of the program that include QuickBooks Messenger, a built-in instant messaging system, but we did not perform hands-on tests on those capabilities. 

QuickBooks screen shot
Once the installation is complete, QuickBooks interviews you to configure the program for your company’s needs.
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Upgrade in Process

Installing QuickBooks Premier really does get easier from one version to the next, and the 2009 edition is no exception.  Intuit has streamlined the interview considerably, and includes questions that tailor your chart of accounts to your particular business.  The questions it poses, nearly all in plain English, will not require a trip to a dictionary of accounting terminology.

During the installation, QuickBooks installs Office 2003 Primary Interop Assemblies and Visual Studio 2005 Tools for Office. We had to enter a 15-digit license number and a six-digit product ID to verify that we were installing a legal copy of the program.  The QuickBooks installer looks for critical updates online right away, so having a live Internet connection is key to this version. 

QuickBooks screen shot
If your company plans to invoice or to collect in multiple currencies, be sure to answer the question about currency tracking with a "yes."
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Early on in the install process, you’re asked whether this is a single or multi-person setup.  The install screens say that installation will take five-20 minutes; on our system it took 12, which is an improvement from last year’s QuickBooks review. 

The installation replaces the desktop icon for the 2008 version with one for the update; past versions have scattered multiple icons on the screen, so the cleanup is a nice touch.  If you don’t already have Google Desktop installed, QuickBooks prods you to include it for future searches within your data files. 

Banking On Change

One major annoyance for QuickBooks customers is using the online banking capability in previous versions.  According to product manager Pranay Kapadia, only 4 percent of the QuickBooks installed base was using the online banking feature, so the Intuit team revamped it entirely.  Intuit implemented a major change in the way the program connects with financial institutions, allowing business owners to directly download banking transactions into QuickBooks with fewer steps. 

It’s a good idea, when setting up a new accounting system, to start it at the beginning of your company’s fiscal year.  To properly use the online banking features in QuickBooks Premier 2009, you’ll need to have a bank statement from the end of your previous fiscal year.  Then import the transactions for the rest of the year and get them properly classified so that your reports are meaningful. 

QuickBooks screen shot
After starting QB09, choose your industry for file customization and then wait for program reconfiguration.
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The online banking setup involves picking your bank’s name from the long list of financial institutions connected to the Intuit network.  We found our bank, and then entered our user ID and password.  Once authenticated, QuickBooks picked up our account name and number, and then prompted us to download the transactions that had taken place since the beginning of our company’s fiscal year.  When we classified a transaction for the first time, say for our cellular phone bill, QuickBooks classified all subsequent transactions to the same payee, which is a nice time-saver. 

Since we have online bill-paying on our business account, we were able to activate it within QuickBooks.  The updated online banking features let us write checks, pay bills and transfer funds from within QuickBooks, rather than using our bank’s Web site. 

Check with your bank to see whether it charges for synchronizing your account to your QuickBooks files; the program lets you queue up checks to send to your bank in a batch when you sync ‑‑ in case you are charged by the number of times you connect to your bank from within QuickBooks.  Our bank doesn’t charge per synchronization, so we opted to send payments at the time we entered the transactions.

Note: Bank of America customers experienced some problems with QuickBooks' online banking features in the 2009 version.  Intuit expects the connectivity issues to be cleared up during November 2008, and says that the fixes need to be applied by Bank of America.

The Communal Approach

In previous versions of QuickBooks, the opening screen was a visual menu (called SuperNav in Intuit parlance), showing the workflow for typical accounting tasks, such as generating an invoice or paying bills.  You can opt to create a Company Snapshot, which gives you a simple overview of where you stand financially, as well as providing you with a to-do list of action items, instead.  To execute an item on your to-do list, just click on it and you’re taken to the appropriate part of the program to get it done.  We found this more useful than a visual task menu. 

QuickBooks screen shot
Live Community area, seen here on the main menu, provides help from other QuickBooks customers.
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With connectivity being a key in the 2009 version, Intuit has enhanced the Live Community feature, which is displayed on the right-hand side of each screen (unless it’s turned off).  The firm has had great success with this feature in other products, such as TurboTax and Quicken, in terms of getting questions answered quickly and reducing the number of calls to technical support. 

At every step of the way, Live Community displays the most relevant information available.  For instance, when looking at an invoice, Live Community shows questions and answers about invoicing and accounts receivable.  If you’re looking at a bill, you’ll see ways to deal with bill payment and accounts payable. If you post a question of your own, other QuickBooks customers, professional advisers and Intuit's internal customer support staff can answer it.

QuickBooks screen shot
The Coach feature walks you through the workflow for managing various accounting tasks.
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When you ask a question in the “Ask My Question” box, the Live Community first searches through the database to see if the answer already exists.  If you can’t find what you’re looking for, you can post your question to the community.  You’re notified within QuickBooks when someone replies.  The professional advisers try to answer enough questions to earn a ranking on the Leaderboard, which displays the top ten answerers.

Global Change

Intuit took a daring step and added international currency support to the 2009 version.  According to the company's research, approximately 27 percent of small businesses already conduct international trade.  In previous versions, exchange rate calculations were made outside QuickBooks, usually using Excel, and then the results were manually transferred back into the program.

Now you can select pretty much any currency and download exchange rates for the top 50 currencies directly into QuickBooks.  It’s also possible to create invoices in any currency. 

The software works with the U.S. tax model, and the U.K. version handles VAT. If you had a taxi ride in Japan and wanted to charge your Canadian customer for it, you could do that.  It’s a slick feature for a product sold at this price point.

You can even receive payments in international currencies via Intuit International Payments. You’ll need to enter your customer’s banking information to generate a transfer in another currency; you can also make international payments using this utility.  Intuit International Payments will ding you for a fee per transaction. 

QuickBooks screen shot
Each available report is described in the Report Center.
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Home(Stead) on the Web

After acquiring Homestead, a Web site design firm, last year, QuickBooks 2009 lets you set up your own three-page Web site for free for a year.  Click on Intuit.com Services to use this utility. Although it doesn’t let you sell products for free, it’s a way to get your company’s name and contact information out on the Web in a few minutes.  After the first year, the three-page website will cost $4.99 per month, which is a good deal. 

Several areas of the program, such as inventory management, received little attention for this upgrade.  The enhancements made to online banking are worth the upgrade, and if you’re doing any business internationally, the new features will make your life easier. 

The suggested retail price of the single-license Premier edition actually dropped $50 this year, to $399.95.  A two-person edition costs $749.95, and the three-top will set you back $1,099.95.

Theresa W. Carey specializes in financial technology and has written about subjects ranging from online brokers to enterprise accounting systems for Barron's, the Wall Street Journal, Money Magazine and many others. When not checking out programs and Web sites that manage money, she plays and coaches volleyball. Her Web site is InvestorBrain.com

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This article was originally published on Thursday Oct 30th 2008
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