Accounting is traditionally one of the most difficult –and most feared– tasks handled by individuals and small businesses, and it’s been the goal of many software producers to develop a solution that helps make this necessity easier and more in touch with the preferences of users. Xero is a cloud-based accounting service that’s built not only on the need for simplicity, but on reaching a fairly wide user base that’s free from many of the restrictions imposed by localized cloud solutions.
Combining a nice interface and several convenient features into its basic offering, Xero may be an attractive option for many users, from individuals who want to tackle their personal finances to small businesses with an on-board accountant in search of a shared organizational scheme. Reservation of some of the service’s best options for the most expensive membership level, however, along with a lack of focus on security, may give some potential users a bit too much fodder for second thoughts.
Zooming into Xero
As accounting is often considered a burden due to complicated organizational requirements and sometimes arcane formulas and data entry processes, Xero’s fresh-looking, simplified setup and interface provide the right start for showing users that handling finances can be a fear-free activity. Getting started with Xero is an intuitive process helped along by straightforward instructions, and most users should be ready to explore the service in a matter of minutes. A basic tabbed layout is headed by a dashboard feature, which allows users to take a quick look at various financial statistics and to navigate to various application components to get a more precise view of something or to perform a task.
Xero’s layout, along with its module labels, are presented in a clean design that, while nothing particularly special in terms of creativity, should allow for a quick adaptation to the service and the location of its features. Along with its standard web-based version, Xero offers a mobile version that manages to remain uncluttered and useful despite the limitations of the medium. Competent without being masterfully designed, Xero’s interface and navigation should suit the majority of users after a fuss-free accounting solution.
Dealing with Data
The specific utility and power of the application’s various modules are of course also central to Xero’s overall usability, and the service presents a worthy set of features to cover most accounting needs. Both accounts receivable and payable are available, along with banking, invoicing, and expense claims, the sum of which provide everything needed for most individuals and small businesses to catalog their financial information. These modules do require a fair amount of data entry, as is to be expected, but the ability to cross-reference items and to handle entire customer or merchant accounts in a single location stands to help cut down on administrative time.
Fueling meaningful reports and creating essential financial statistics, Xero also offers a number of features “for your accountant,” presuming that individuals and business owners themselves won’t want to dig into the nitty-gritty of their numbers. Providing more fluent users and professionals with ledger, cashbook, auditing, and budget variance calculation capabilities, Xero doesn’t neglect the advanced accounting angle despite its focus on simplicity and accessibility to the inexperienced. The service’s core features, both at the new and the intermediate user levels, present a degree of usability and thorough data management that makes it a viable option for a range of individuals and businesses.
Xero comes with a few extra modules and perks that help distinguish it from other cloud accounting offerings. The ability to create and view customized progress reports (and to add them to the dashboard), record data concerning fixed assets, and compile an extensive contacts list helps squeeze some extra utility out of the service, and an admirable attention to encouraging third-party application and service connectivity means there are many existing programs capable of working seamlessly with Xero.
Security and Pricing Woes
Though the cloud has been overcoming general concerns about data security for many years, some services have fallen short of doing their part to assure users about the reliability of their security measures, and Xero seems to have fallen into this regrettable category. Virtually no information about Xero’s security policies is available through the service’s own site, a move that may reflect Xero’s attraction to simplicity, but which yields a poor impression to anyone interested in knowing how their sensitive financial information will be handled. What’s more, the service works with various modules and plug-ins, not all of which are themselves known for high standards of security. As a result, potential users concerned about their data’s privacy and integrity may need to start a dialogue with Xero support before diving in.
Xero’s pricing pyramid may also be a point of dissatisfaction for some users. Though a free trial is available, there isn’t a free membership level, and the smallest monthly investment is remarkably stunted at just five accounts receivable entries and five invoices per month, along with a twenty-item cap on bank transaction lines. The “Medium” membership level unlocks unlimited item and entry numbers, but doesn’t include Xero’s multi-currency option –that’s something only the highest bidders can enjoy, which mars the service’s global potential.
Promising, but Not Perfect
Getting the face and utility of accounting just right for busy professionals and individuals is a feat that makes Xero a major contender within the sphere of cloud accounting options, and many users will find that managing their data and staying organized is greatly helped by Xero’s design and core modules. Useful opportunities for program integration are also positive aspects, but an imperfect attention to security (or, at least, to its explanation and presentation) and unforgiving pricing scheme are likely to rob Xero of plenty of potential users.
Likely worth at least a spin or two with the free trial, Xero may well be a great tool for those in search of simplified accounting that isn’t crippled in terms of its capabilities.
Try Xero fo free, with no credit card required at https://www.xero.com/signup/
Edit – thanks for feedback about security. Whilst we still think there is a lack of emphasis on security, once you dig deeper into the site, there is an excellent security page at http://www.xero.com/security/ which is one of the better ones we’ve seen.
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