ShareFile - ShareFile for Accountants
From the January 2012 Review of Client Portals.
Accounting practices wanting a simple, yet secure method of sharing files with clients and allowing them to upload files to the firm.
- Firm branding and the ability to place a login field on firm website
- Sharing of files two ways between client and firm
- Multiple users allowed at each client with different access rights
- Dependable hosting, security and uptime
- Outlook plug-in for quick secure sharing with any email recipient
- Doesn’t directly integrate with professional accounting programs but does offer indirect integration tools through drive mapping and sync.
- Limited integration with other productivity applications
ShareFile is one of the most widely known independent developers of online file sharing and collaboration tools, with more than 17,000 businesses and 3 million individual users in 100 countries. The system offers variations for several industries, including the ShareFile for Accountants version, which is based upon the Enterprise version but with greater support and utility for the needs of accounting professionals serving multiple business clients. This system includes integration and syncing with outside programs, offers multiple mobile apps and desktop tools, and includes security and compliance capabilities that match or exceed the requirements of the profession.
Firm User Experience - 4.5 Stars
Initial setup of ShareFile is guided, with prompts asking for basic firm information and then the system opening into a very clean and easy-to-understand browser interface that defaults to a list of client folders. These folders can each contain additional subfolders, thus allowing firms to segregate shared items by engagement type, year or a client’s departmental structures. Additional components of this screen include text links to manage users, send files, request files, settings and the administrator panel, as well as icons for moving to the File Box, sending messages to the recycle bin and a customizable favorites function.
Firms can easily add their own branding elements to both the firm view and to what the client sees, including logos and creating custom subdomains from which all users access the system (such as, https://YourFirmName.sharefile.com). The file-sharing system is centered around the firm, with the number of users based on the version being used (the Accountants version includes 20 firm staff, but more can be added), and the ability to add any number of client portals, with any number of users at each of the clients. Each staff user and client user can be given varying access rights and permissions, including each of the users at the same client. The system does not offer the ability to create multiple clients at the same time, but management tools make it easy to adjust user settings and perform other functions across multiple client portals. As an alternative to the web-based portal view, a desktop widget is available to quickly upload, download and manage files without using a web browser.
An additional tool allows for the creation of non-firm users who can access multiple client portals, such as business owners with multiple entities, or other financial advisors or bankers with whom the firm and clients want to share specific files, such as financials. For all users except the top administrator, permissions are granular and can extend to the ability to upload or download items with or without alerting other users, as well as the ability to access subfolders. When initially signing onto their portal, users are required to change their password from the randomly created one.
All data is encrypted at the time of uploading and at all times while it is hosted. ShareFile stores its data using two of Amazon’s web services datacenters in the United States (on the east and west coasts), which are SAS 70 audited. This meets or exceeds all state and federal data security regulations. The company doesn’t traditionally guarantee uptime on its user agreements, but can do so when requested. During the previous 12 months, they reported uptime of 99.99 percent, which included scheduled maintenance.
Client User Experience - 4.75 Stars
When initially added as a user, clients use a link that takes them to the firm’s ShareFile website, where they then confirm name and reset their password, and are able to set a few personal viewing preferences. Once logged in, the client-side view is very simple and easy for even technology novices to use.
Each user is able to see only the folders and subfolders of his or her own company, and only those specific folders to which they’ve been added. This allows for creating folders for protected data that is perhaps intended for the owner or management of the client business, but not for other staff who may have access rights to other shared documents.
ShareFile also has a unique Outlook plug-in tool that makes it easy to securely share a file with anybody, whether a client that’s already been set up in the system, a one-off recipient such as a financial advisor with one-time access to a file, or something totally unrelated. When installed, the Outlook tool lets users create a regular email, but when a file is attached they can select a button to encrypt and send it using ShareFile instead of email. The attachment is then uploaded to the secure server, where the recipient can view it. The sender can set parameters such as requiring the name and email address of the person downloading it or setting how long the file will remain on the server until it is deleted.
Firms can also insert a login field onto the firm website, allowing client users to access their files from there, while reinforcing web branding. Email notifications sent from the program can also be branded with firm information and with custom messaging. As previously noted, the client-side view can include firm logos and contact information, and only a small and not linked “Powered by ShareFile” line is included on the portal. Within the portal, users can access the files that have been shared with them by the accounting firm and, if they’ve been given permission by the firm, they can also upload files of any kind, whether documents, images or bookkeeping data files.
Portal Capabilities - 4.5 Stars
ShareFile allows for two-way sharing of any file types, with authorized users on both the firm and client sides able to create folders and subfolders and move documents between them or save them to their local drives. The folders structures are common Windows-style, with individual user access rights determining client views and available files. Although a shared, live collaboration workspace is not offered (where multiple people work in a file at the same exact time), the system does have additional collaboration tools. This includes “file versioning” that retains previous versions of files that have been edited, and the ability for staff and client users to add notes or URLs to their folders. Both the client and staff sides include a search utility.
Based on the preferences and access rights assigned by the administrator, the system can alert staff or client users when files have been downloaded or uploaded, and the system maintains a history of actions related to files and folders by all users. Additional graphical snapshots and reporting options allow users to quickly see the amount of storage space used and their file transfer usage. Custom reports can be set to automatically run at specified times.
In addition to the previously mentioned Outlook tool that allows setting deletion dates for shared files, users can create retention and expiration rules on a folder-by-folder basis or by default. Other security tools include the multi-level password system, without further authentication protocols. The system automatically logs users out after about five minutes of inactivity.
Technical Aspects - 4.25 Stars
ShareFile’s Accountants Version includes 20 staff users and unlimited clients and client users, with up to 20GB of data storage and 20GB of data transfer (both uploads and downloads) per month. Firms with different requirements for users, storage or bandwidth are encouraged to contact a sales representative for customized pricing.
The system can be used from any web-enabled phone or tablet device, and ShareFile apps are available for iPhone, iPad, BlackBerry, Windows Phone and Android phones and tablets. The program can also be used across all major browsers, including Internet Explorer, Firefox, Google Chrome, Safari and Opera. The primary integration functions in ShareFile are found in the Outlook add-on utility and the ability to output reports and lists to Excel. No direct integration with professional accounting programs is available.
Help/Support - 5 Stars
ShareFile offers a Help utility on the firm view side that includes a searchable knowledgebase, categorized Help, tutorials, how-tos, and the ability to start an IM chat session with live support representatives or submit a ticket. Contact information for live support with a dedicated account manager is also provided on the site. Phone support is included in pricing and is available weekdays from 8:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m. Eastern Time, as well as email monitoring during off hours.
Summary & Pricing
ShareFile for Accountants is an easy to use and learn tool that makes sharing documents with clients much more secure and compliant than email, and provides additional security and management tools, including automated document retention and expiration settings, that give added firm control over files and folders. ShareFile is available in plans starting at $29.95 for the Basic version and $59.95 for the Professional version, but users like accounting practices who send larger file types back and forth, such as bookkeeping program data files, are best matched with the Enterprise version, which costs $99.95 per month, for up to 20 staff users, and has the ability to create any number of client companies and users, who can all share files, documents, QB data or anything else, depending upon their access rights.