2012 Review of SmartVault — SmartVault

SmartVault, Inc. - SmartVault


From the January 2012 Review of Client Portals.


Best Fit:

Professional firms and also businesses wanting a web-based document management system that includes client portals and integrations with common small business applications.


  • Integrated Toolbar for QuickBooks
  • Customizable firm and client-side branding
  • Familiar expandable folder structure
  • User-by-user access right customization
  • Automated synching to desktop or server folders
  • Support for most mobile devices

Potential Limitations:

  • File retention and deletion processes are manual


SmartVault initially came into the market in 2008, but the system has undergone significant enhancements and expansion since then. Initially, it was designed as a tool to help get clients to go more paperless, by adding a toolbar into QuickBooks that let accountants and their clients attach receipts, invoices and other documents to transactions. But the system quickly grew in popularity and now can be integrated with several small business bookkeeping systems to provide greater document management and collaboration between firms and clients.

Firm User Experience - 4.75 Stars

SmartVault is both a document management system for the firm as well as a client portal application that enables secure document sharing. When initially setting up the system, the administrator user defines system defaults and settings, and creates other users, each of whom can be set to have different access rights and functions. The Professional version reviewed here includes five full-access users (with the ability to add more) and can support any number of client portals with access to any number of users at each.

For firm staff, the portal opens in their browser a document management-like utility, which uses a split screen that displays the firm’s expandable folder menu on the left. The top-level folders represent the accounts that a user has, if more than one. This accommodates users who manage multiple companies as well as multi-partner firms that wish to keep their functions, processes and documents separate. All of the portals can be custom branded to show linked firm logos and contact information. And in the case of managing multiple accounts, each can have their own branding. Emails sent from the system to clients can also be branded with firm information.

Within their account, firm users can set up completely customizable folder and subfolder structures to meet firm needs, such as creating folders for internal firm documents. They can also setup client folders and subfolders that can reflect engagements, years, or client departments or locations. Clients can also be grouped by partner or other factor. Folder templates can also be set up to ensure consistency, i.e., every time a new client is brought on, a template can be used to create a common folder structure across all clients. Users can create personal vaults for storing documents and images. When any folder or one of the subfolders from the expandable menu is selected, the panel to the right shows the individual files it contains. An additional panel shows the amount of remaining online storage space the firm has and offers links to portal account tasks and resources.

Each of the folders offers tools for managing user permissions and security, allowing users to give access to specific folders and documents to only certain users at a client. Notifications can also be configured by vault and by folder, allowing users to receive automatic email notifications when files have been uploaded or downloaded to folders to which they have access. A full-text search feature allows users to search for files using keywords. Commonly stored documents include tax returns, financial statements, bank statements, budgets and engagement letters.

SmartVault uses the data hosting services of CyrusOne, whose Houston, Texas, facilities are SAS 70 Type II audited. All interactions with SmartVault by firm staff and clients take place over secure, encrypted connections, and data remains encrypted at all times. The system includes redundant data backup using Iron Mountain, which is also SAS 70 audited. These processes ensure compliance with all federal and state laws and regulations regarding protecting client data. The company does not guarantee uptime in user agreements, but the data hosting centers it uses have greater than 99.999 percent uptime reported for the past 12 months.

Client User Experience - 4.75 Stars

When clients are first invited to their SmartVault portal, they must create a user ID and password, which are not controlled by the firm. Users can easily reset or be reminded of passwords using a feature on the login page.

Clients can access their portal and shared documents by clicking on links sent to them by the firm, or firms can include a login link on their website. When logged in, clients see only the folders and documents to which they have been given access by the firm. They see a simple expandable folder-based interface that allows them to create their own folder structures and upload any kind of files to the accounting firm, including data files from their bookkeeping system, tax documents, etc. Clients and firm users can also edit files while they remain on the portal.

The client-side portal is an extension of the accounting firm’s account with SmartVault, and is totally free for those with whom the firm is sharing files. However, the system is also available to small businesses, which can have their own full SmartVault account that allows them to have online document storage and offer portal access to their own customers.

As an option for clients and firms using QuickBooks, a SmartVault Toolbar can be added into that program to make it easy to attach document such as invoices or receipts to entries and transactions. The system also offers additional integrations, which are discussed in the “technical aspects” part of this review.

Portal Capabilities - 4.75 Stars

Both firm staff and client users can upload and download any type of file, including documents, images and data files, and SmartVault makes it easy to share entire folders or individual files, each with their own access rights. In addition to being able to upload specific files, firm staff can map a folder on their desktop or server to a folder on the SmartVault drive.

With the system synching files, this provides drag-and-drop functionality for putting items in the web-based document management system. Firms then have remote access to those files, or the SmartVault drive can be set up so that files in specific folders are automatically shared to a client’s portal. Users can also save directly to SmartVault when working in other applications such as Microsoft Office, tax programs, etc.

All actions by staff or clients in SmartVault are tracked by an audit trail feature, and firm administrators and authorized staff can view activity logs that show when a user uploaded, downloaded, deleted or changed the properties of any document, as well as when user access permissions were changed and by whom.

All files stored on SmartVault, whether in client-accessible portals or in firm-only folders, remain on the system until deleted by a user with appropriate access rights. The system does not include automated retention or expiration options.  

Technical Aspects - 4.75 Stars

SmartVault is available in four packages, with each varying on the amount of data storage and number of firm users. The Professional version offers up to 30GB of total storage, and no restrictions on uploading or downloading of files.

The portals can be used on all major browsers and on web-enabled mobile devices, including iPhone, iPad, Android, BlackBerry and others, with full access to functions, such as accessing and uploading documents. This includes the ability to take photos of receipts or other documents and upload the images or documents to the portal.

In addition to the SmartVault Toolbar for QuickBooks users, the system also offers integration with Results Software for QuickBooks CRM functions, SpringAhead for web-based time and expense management, XpandedReports, which expands QuickBooks reporting capabilities, Fujitsu ScanSnap scanners, and the sync function that connects PC and server folders to the portal. When working in Microsoft Office, users can save documents to the portal, and the drag-and-drop functionality also works with Outlook email messages and attachments.

Help/Support - 4.75 Stars

Firm users with the SmartVault desktop program can access Help functions within the application, while portal users have quick access to the resources on the support website. This includes a knowledgebase, learning center, user guides, tutorial videos and access to training and technical support. The learning center and guides include best practices and examples for creating vaults and folder structures, as well as videos and guides for client users. Live phone-based support is included on all plans and is available weekdays during business hours, Central Time.

Summary & Pricing

With great customization of foldering structures and automated synching with desktop and server drives, the SmartVault system is probably better described as a web-based firm document management system with the ability to offer portals to securely share and receive files with and from clients. The program is available in various versions, with the Professional Plan priced at $99 per month (effective January 2012), inclusive of all features.

2012 Overall Rating: 4.75