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Boutique Work-Style Payroll Review — 2005

In our August 2005 issue, we reviewed Service Bureau Style Payroll applications, programs built to enable accountants to handle a large payroll client base, comprehensively covering all aspects of payroll processing and compliance.

From the September 2005 Issue

In our August 2005 issue, we reviewed Service Bureau Style Payroll applications,
programs built to enable accountants to handle a large payroll client base,
comprehensively covering all aspects of payroll processing and compliance. This
review of Boutique Work Style Payroll programs looks at systems geared more
toward professional accountants who don’t necessarily consider payroll
a key component of their business model, but still have the need to process
payrolls for a few clients, at least periodically. Such professionals are often
called upon to perform after-the-fact payrolls, as well as “live”
runs, and also need to assist their clients with compliance issues and third-party

Despite the significant consolidation in most other parts of the accounting
software industry, payroll software has not seen this phenomenon to much extent.
Dozens of disparate offerings are still in the marketplace, from accounting
software add-ons to stand-alone programs. These systems have a wide variety
of interface designs, with some having screens that still resemble their DOS
forebears. Many of the longer-lived programs have dropped in price considerably,
but they may lack the features of the newer ones.

With the potential volatility of payroll taxes throughout each state and in
many other jurisdictions, and the potential penalties for incorrect withholding
and reporting, state support is a key element of a payroll application. While
all of these programs can be used for any state and all support multiple state
taxing issues, not all provide tax tables for every state, which could require
manual entry of some tables. State support is noted in each review. All of the
programs include the first year of updates with the license cost, which is noted
at the beginning of each review, and all offer plans to keep the tables up-to-date
past that year. The costs associated with these plans vary widely.

In short, each of the products in this review address payroll tasks in their
own way. With consultation from professional accountants and vendors, we identified
the following areas as key to selection of such a program:

  • Ease-of-Use/Data Entry addresses learning curve requirements
    and general navigational elements. Additionally, it looks at data-entry elements
    and the intuitiveness and accessibility of primary features such as client
    lists and processing functions.
  • Features identifies key capabilities within the system,
    from support for multiple departments, job cost capabilities, how it supports
    direct deposit, how pay types and deductions are handled, as well as additional
  • Reporting notes MICR support and forms capabilities, as
    well as standard reports for earnings, liabilities, deductions and other items.
    It also considers the report customization capabilities.
  • Integration/Import/Export looks at whether the program
    can interface with general accounting software for GL purposes, as well as
    the ability to import data from time clock programs. Also of note is export
    capability of reports into a common format such as Excel or Word for simplified
    sharing of the documents.
  • Training, Support & Updates. Tax rate updates are
    crucial, so how does a vendor provide them? Online or on CD? Also, how much
    does the update or maintenance package cost in order to get the updates? What
    support and training options are available?

Finally, an Executive Summary follows the review section,
providing a brief synopsis of the reviews along with a summary chart showing
products and their ratings in each area.

AMS Payroll — 1099-Etc
& A-T-F Payroll
Advanced Micro Solutions offers A-T-F (After-the-Fact)
Payroll as an add-on to its 1099-Etc tax and information return compliance
package that focuses on 1098, 1099, W-2, W-3, 940, and associated form
CheckMark Software — Payroll
for Windows
CheckMark Software offers Payroll for Windows,
a low-cost payroll solution that supports an unlimited number of employers
and users, with support for tracking benefit accruals and multiple deduction
types, as well as providing compliance reporting tools.
Cheque-Mate International —
Insta-Pay for Windows
Insta-Pay for Windows provides a comparatively
low-cost payroll program that supports an unlimited number of companies
and employees per company, with benefit tracking, unlimited deduction
and pay types per employee…
Cougar Mountain Software —
Cougar Mountain Payroll
Cougar Mountain Software produces a range of accounting
software for financial professionals, businesses and nonprofit organizations,
including its self-branded Cougar Mountain Payroll.
CYMA Systems, Inc. — Accounting
for Windows Payroll Module
The Payroll module for CYMA Systems’ Accounting
for Windows offers support for an unlimited number of client companies
and employees per company, and integrates with the FMS accounting software
to provide a comprehensive application.
Intuit — QuickBooks Enhanced
Payroll Plus for Accountants
Intuit has been offering payroll services for several
years, both through a do-it-yourself small business version and as an
outsourced bureau-style provider.

PayCycle — PayCycle Wholesale
Program for Accounting Professionals
PayCycle offers an online automated payroll solution
with an accountant focus that enables financial professionals to offer
the payroll service to their small business clients. Accountants pay a
discounted wholesale monthly price and can charge clients whatever price
they want. The system is geared toward a paperless environment, with direct
deposit included in the cost.
Phoenix Phive Software —
Industrial Strength Payroll
Industrial Strength Payroll from Phoenix Phive
Software Corporation offers payroll processing live or after-the-fact,
geared toward public accountants with multiple clients or businesses with
multiple independent divisions. It supports up to 998 companies or divisions
with up to 5,000 employees each, with up to three concurrent states per
company, with multi-state support for employee taxes, as well.
Red Wing Software — Red
Wing Payroll
Red Wing Payroll from Red Wing Software offers
live and after-the-fact payroll support for accountants representing multiple
clients or can be used directly by small and mid-sized businesses. The
stand-alone system can integrate with Red Wing’s accounting applications,
which include solutions for agricultural and small business concerns,
as well as for municipalities.
Sage Software — Abra Payroll
Part of the Sage Abra HRMS suite of payroll and
human resources management software, Abra Payroll supports all states
and any number of client companies and employees, with multiple pay types,
multiple banks and any number of deductions, in addition to more advanced
payroll functions, account reconciliation and analysis capabilities.
Sage Software/CPASoftware Division
— Sage CPA Accounting Payroll
Sage CPA Accounting’s Payroll from Sage Software’s
CPASoftware division, is a comprehensive payroll processing system that
was intentionally developed for practitioners who manage payroll for multiple
clients. The system can be used as either a stand-alone application or
as an integrated component of the CPASoftware suite.

Boutique Work-Style Payroll —
Executive Summary
With the recent trend of accountants returning to
payroll services, I anticipate increased acquisition activity in the payroll
software market in the coming years. While in the short term this can lead
to decreased competition, in the longer run it may lead to more consistent
high-quality programs and moderate pricing levels as major companies vie
against each other for this very lucrative market.