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2010 Review of Trial Balance & Engagement Systems

Engagement & Trial Balance: Do You Need A Standalone System?

the July 2010 Issue

Trial balance and audit engagement
management programs share a few essential basics: creation of financials and
client deliverables, account manipulation, consolidations, reporting, and analysis.
After these areas, however, trial balance usually stops and engagement systems
are just beginning, and the two types of systems very rarely find a home or
a need in the same professional accounting practice. This is largely due to
how the profession and corporate oversight have evolved over the past decade.


  • Basic System Functions
    • General Navigation/Ease-Of-Use
    • Trial Balance Features
    • Templates/Guidance
    • Customization
  • Engagement Management
    • Electronic workpaper organization
    • Review notes/tickmarks
    • Financials Generation
    • Managerial Reporting
    • Doc Mgmt
  • Workflow & Collaboration
    • Multi-staff, with data checkout/overwrite
    • Engagement checklists
    • Storage of misc file types
  • Integration/Import/Export
    • Data Import/Export
    • Productivity Integration (MS Office)
    • Third-party systems
    • Research Integration
  • Help/Support
    • Built-In Support Features
    • Support Website/Documentation
    • Live Support
  • Summary & Pricing
  • Overall Rating

Not too many years ago, there were a dozen or more trial
balance programs on the market, providing professional accountants with the
key tools they needed when closing client periods and books. But two things
have happened over the past 10 years that have caused trial balance software
to almost disappear. The major reason is that, as the market for professional
accounting and tax compliance systems has evolved and coalesced into a handful
of software suites, many of the functions key to trial balance are now found
in write-up programs, audit engagement systems or tax compliance packages. Add
to this the effect that Sarbanes-Oxley had on turning most practices into either
a write-up firm or an audit firm, and the result was amplified.

Brian F. Tankersley, CPA.CITP, a consultant, former
practitioner, and a regular columnist for our publication stated it this way:
“After Sarbanes-Oxley, firms found that they needed trial balance functions
either for audit engagements or for write-up and financials generation, but
rarely for both. And as programs developed for those practice areas and specialties,
it became less necessary to take on the added investment of a stand-alone trial
balance application.”

While there are still a number of technology vendors
who offer module-based trial balance utilities, especially as add-ons to professional
tax compliance products, only two dedicated trial balance systems are still
offered to accounting professionals by the major vendors serving the profession.

That there are even two left, Tankersley sees as probably
the result of “legacy users,” professionals who learned a particular
program and are accustomed to it, and so continue to renew or purchase it even
though the same functions are available in other programs they also have in
their practice. This can result in a redundant and, probably, unnecessary application
and cost to the practice. But these users remain loyal to the products and the
vendors, and so the vendors continue to produce the systems.

Of course, in defense of these users, there are business
taxation clients for whom a practice may not be providing write-up or other
services to throughout the year. For these annual “one-time” engagements,
such a trial balance system can offer a quick and simplified method of generating
financial statements and analysis, performing tasks like accessing and adjusting
accounts, modifying income basis, performing tax reconciliation or grouping

While all of these functions are available in professional
write-up systems or as an add-on to tax packages, the ultimate factor of whether
a product is still viable is the market. For the continued users of these systems,
the value is still present through intuitiveness, workflow and the ease-of-use
of working with a system to which they are accustomed. So do you need trial
balance software or are the tools you need and want already in your other programs?
That’s a question to which each professional or firm has to find their
own answer.

Engagement programs are the focus of much of the innovation
taking place in accounting firm software today. Such programs traditionally
include all of the core features of a trial balance system, along with advanced
tools focused on the needs of an audit-focused firm, such as electronic workpaper
management, collaboration and workflow tools, checklists, greater research functionality,
integration with office productivity programs, and additional features that
aid in review and analysis. So if you answered yes to needing trial balance
capabilities, the next question is this: Does your firm need an engagement management
system for more complex A&A and compilation engagements?

– – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –

CaseWare International, Inc.
– CaseWare Working Papers
The Working Papers system from CaseWare is an engagement
management system that offers powerful assurance and reporting functions,
along with tools for streamlining workflow, multi-staff collaboration,
folder lockdowns and roll-forwards. The system includes full reporting
options; integration with third-party accounting, tax, productivity and
research tools.
CCH, a Wolters Kluwer business
– ProSystem fx Engagement
CCH’s ProSystem fx Engagement is
designed to be used as an integrated part of the vendor’s comprehensive
suite of professional accounting, tax and practice management systems,
providing advanced workflow tools, collaboration capabilities, automation
of tasking, integration with external programs and strong oversight for
audit managers.
Thomson Reuters – Engagement
Engagement CS is the audit engagement component
of the CS Professional Suite from Thomson Reuters, providing a workflow
and process management solution that includes comprehensive trial balance
capabilities along with multi-professional collaboration tools, advanced
document archiving, integrated research and confirmation services, and
additional practice tools.

CCH, a
Wolters Kluwer business – ProSystem fx Trial Balance
The ProSystem fx Trial Balance system can
be used as a stand-alone trial balance program or used in conjunction
with the ProSystem fx Suite of professional accounting and tax
applications. The system offers import capabilities from most small and
mid-sized business accounting programs, allowing users to easily work
with data from multiple clients and systems.
Reuters – Trial Balance CS
Thomson Reuters offers Trial
Balance CS as a stand-alone program that can be used as an integrated
component of the larger CS Professional Accounting Suite. The system can
support any number of client businesses and includes an array of tools
for generation of financial statements, testing balances, customizing
client-ready output and performing consolidations.

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