Thomson Reuters - NetClient CS Portals
From the January 2012 Review of Client Portals.
Firms using other programs in the Thomson Reuters CS Professional Suite, particularly those using the document management and tax programs.
- Customizable firm branding and integration of login on firm website
- Two-way firm/client sharing and collaboration
- Broad integration with programs in CS Professional Suite
- Ability to offer clients online access to productivity programs (Word, Excel)
- Dependable hosting, security and uptime
- Must be using other Thomson Reuters CS Professional Suite programs
Thomson Reuters was the first of the large professional accounting software developers to introduce client portals, with its system debuting in 2001, when the company was still called Creative Solutions. Now known as NetClient CS portals, they are the most widely used accountant-client collaboration system, with more than 500,000 active portals. The system integrates with most of the CS Professional Suite, enabling sharing of finished documents such as tax returns and financials, providing invoicing and payment solutions, as well as giving clients access to a wide selection of remotely hosted bookkeeping and office productivity programs.
Firm User Experience - 5 Stars
NetClient CS is offered in packages of portals that enable firms to offer them to all clients who want to use them. The system includes a mass portal creation feature that simplifies activation of portals for multiple clients at the same time. For users of UltraTax CS, this feature is found in the Client Communication center, which lets the firm user set up default passwords, with the client receiving an invitation to log in and manage their features.
For firms not using UltraTax CS, access to a similar bulk portal creation function is found in the NetStaff console, which serves as the central remote access point for firm employees. The NetStaff console gives the firm access to client data, firm data, communication tools, news and information, and programs. Firm users can also easily access files uploaded by clients, such as tax source documents and other materials. These multiple methods of managing the portals and client deliverables simplify working within the system for most users.
The Firm Administration area of NetStaff includes functions for controlling security, access rights, and privileges for staff and clients, including setting up multiple users for each client with different access rights. On the firm side, staff access rights can be varied to suit their role, and those with access to the administration functions can use features for creating new clients, portals, and staff and client groups. Specific users and groups on the client side can be granted varying levels of access, including no access, view-only or full control. This allows client managers to delegate tasks to junior staff, such as time entry for payroll, while not giving them total access to salaries, account information, reporting and other details.
NetClient CS portals can be branded with firm logo and identifying information, and the login panel can be integrated into the firm’s website. The system can support any number of firm users and any number of clients, with multiple portal users for each client, each with their own login and access rights.
All data is encrypted prior to transmission of files and is stored on Thomson Reuters' secure redundant servers in Minnesota, which have undergone an Enterprise Security Audit that addresses external and internal penetration assessments, as well as application security. The encryption and data security processes meet or exceed all state laws requiring protection of transmitted client documents. Over the past year, the Thomson Reuters system has experienced no major downtime, at a rate of more than 99.999 percent uptime. The license agreement does not explicitly guarantee uptime.
Client User Experience - 4.75 Stars
Clients can log into the system from a built-in field on the firm’s website or through links sent to them via email, alerting them to newly shared documents and information. The main client view offers access to documents the firm has shared, along with news and information, payroll functions, and the Virtual Client Office view. This lets them use hosted and SaaS applications such as the client bookkeeping side of Accounting CS, various other programs from the CS Professional Suite, QuickBooks and programs such as Word, Excel and PowerPoint that the firm can offer to their clients as hosted solutions through an ASP partnership. Other available add-on payroll-related modules include remote payroll data entry, remote check printing and employee self-service portals.
The accounting firm determines the programs that are displayed and accessible to each client and each client user, and within Accounting CS, task-specific access rights can be managed. Just as with online banking portals, each client user can, of course, only access their own business data, and those who own or manage multiple entities can access each of them via the same portal and login.
NetClient CS enables two-way sharing of files between the accounting firm and its clients. This enables greater collaboration and provides direct integration or import of data into appropriate programs at the firm, reducing or eliminating data entry. All file sharing capabilities are completely controlled by the firm.
Portal Capabilities - 5 Stars
Through integration with FileCabinet CS, the system’s document and file sharing functions allow storage of any type of files, and the system’s integration with accounting and tax systems promotes a streamlined workflow. These programs include Accounting CS, Fixed Assets CS, Practice CS, UltraTax CS and various tools. The system can be set to automatically share certain types of files with a client’s portal, such as final tax returns, payroll reports, or accounting products like the GL, journals and transaction listings. Firm users can also share items on an individual basis. Additionally, client tax documents can be set to automatically store in year-based folders, along with web-based tax organizers and other files. The system also offers integrated online invoicing and bill payment for clients when used with Practice CS.
When new documents have been stored in their portal, clients receive an email notification of new documents, but the email does not disclose any summary or detail information. This is in keeping with state and federal regulations. Likewise, when clients upload files into the system or submit data through one of the applications, assigned firm users are notified of the activity in the form of an email. From the client view, users access the folders in the document management function.
Files stored and accessible via NetClient CS are not dynamic, meaning the firm and the client do not work on them simultaneously, but rather share documents with each other. NetClient CS includes basic file retention options, with the default setting of 14 days, but with the ability to keep shared documents indefinitely if desired. Additional functions are available in FileCabinet CS. For system access, the password entry dialogue allows users to be reminded of their password if they forget or if it needs to be reset. Firm administrators can also reset client passwords, with notice being sent to the client.
Technical Aspects - 4.75 Stars
Each NetClient CS portal has unlimited data storage, uploads and downloads with respect to bandwidth, although individual files cannot be uploaded if they are over 2GB. The client side of the system can be accessed from any web-enabled mobile device, allowing clients to log in and view or share documents from anywhere. When used as a part of the hosted Virtual Office CS solution, the staff user side also supports such devices. As well, the Mobile CS app for iPhone and Android offers specific tools and access to Practice CS.
As previously noted, the portals integrate with several of the other systems in the CS Professional Suite, including Web Builder CS, FileCabinet CS, Payroll CS, Client Bookkeeping Solution, Accounting CS and UltraTax CS, which when used with the optional Source Document Flow can auto-populate client source document data into returns. Firm users can set the system to automatically push types of documents into the portal (such as final tax returns and financials), or files can be transferred individually.
With the Virtual Client Office offering, which works with NetClient CS, firms can also offer their clients online access to the latest versions of QuickBooks, Microsoft Office, Excel, PowerPoint, Access and other productivity programs that are hosted by Right Networks.
Help/Support - 5 Stars
Firm users have access to the robust Help functions available in the core CS Professional Suite platform, which includes extensive right-click menus and tutorials, as well as the online support website for CS users, which has additional resources, a knowledgebase and update information. The ARNE user community is also available. Live phone and web-based support, based in Michigan, is included in pricing. Hours of support are extended during tax season, but are generally weekdays from 9:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m. Eastern Time.
Summary & Pricing
Thomson Reuters was among the first to realize the potential for portals to enhance the firm-client relationship, and leads in developing innovative uses for the system. With the ability to offer clients extensive access to applications and documents, NetClient CS portals and the integrated programs in the CS Professional Suite combine to provide outstanding collaboration and client service. The system is at its best when used alongside the CS Professional Suite. The portals are sold in bundles of 1,000 for $175 per month, giving firms the ability to offer them to their entire client base, or those who want them, without relying on a per-portal pricing method.