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Part one of a multi-part series.

The opinons expressed below are those of the author in his personal capacity and do not neccessarily reflect the opinions of Find a Professional.

For the past few months we, at FindaProfessional, have been in the process of transitioning our accounting system from Pastel to Xero.

Right up front I must say that our business is very unique in its requirements, and is not really a good fit for any general accounting software. The central issue is that we run our own proprietary database, which then needs to be integrated with the accounting software database. For most small businesses, their accounting system is their customer database, as that is all they require. In many instances it is even their CRM system too and if it is not, then their CRM system does not need to integrate with their accounting system.

The nature of our business also means that our customers (accountants, attorneys and financial advisors) can log into their accounts online and change their own info at any time. This means that we have to regularly update our customer records in our accounting software with our own database info, which is done via custom CSV export that is then imported into the accounting software.  

So far, so good, but the real problem lies in the fact that we offer our customers the payment option of monthly debit orders. I can now see why such a high precentage of online businesses only offer an annual auto-renewing credit card payment option. The vast majority of our office admin and accounting functions revolve around the monthly debit order segment of the business. The minute you have debit orders, you have bounces, arrears and bad debts. And yes, there are plenty of accountants (and attorneys...) whose debit orders bounce!

Despite all of the above unusual requirements, we had a reasonably well-oiled system in place with the desktop version of Pastel. To be sure, Pastel was never without flaws, some of our gripes being:

  • The software interface always felt clunky
  • It is considerably more expensive compared to other alternatives
  • For many years I’ve had the impression that Pastel’s top priority is preventing software piracy.
  • There are never-ending hoops the customer has to jump through in order to allay Pastel’s piracy paranoia, and I’m sure they would have a better overall product if they re-deployed some of their anti-piracy resources to actual product development.
  • Email integration with the desktop version is very antiquated, and is extremely difficult to use if MS Outlook is not your primary email client.
  • There is no Mac version. For software of this scale and price, there should definitely be a Mac version.

In fairness though, Pastel has some pros in addition to cons:

  • It is the predominant accounting software used in South Africa which means it is never hard to find bookkeepers, accountants or auditors that are experienced in Pastel.
  • It seems to be more watertight from an audit-trail point of view than other systems
  • Although it has fluctuated over the years, Pastel telephone support is not bad, especially when benchmarked against other companies like South African banks.

Our move away from Pastel was finally catalysed by our need for a totally online accounting system. When we started out fourteen years ago very little was available. Today, however, most accounting software packages have online versions.

We ran into constraints as soon as we started looking at migrating to Sage One. Because of our unusual business model we had some up-front deal-breaker requirements. One of the most important was that we could import (upload) our list of customers to the service and also import our monthly batch of debit-order invoices. Without the ability to upload our invoices we would have to manually generate 2000+ invoices every month - massively inefficient. And without the ability to upload our customer files, our own database would get out of sync with that of the accounting system.

At the time we investigated, this option was not available on Sage One. As I said, deal-breaker. Of course, Sage Enterprise would likely solve all of our issues at a cost, but for a small business like ours it would surely be overkill in both complexity and price.

So we looked at Quickbooks, another accounting solution with a totally online option. Same story - no facility to import CSVs other than on the desktop version.

It was around this time (2016) that I was interviewed by Accounting Weekly and, when asked what some of the biggest challenges facing accountants today are, responded:

“Integrating data from proprietary databases, to accounting software packages, to bank interfaces and back again can be challenging, especially with all parties continually tweaking their own interfaces.”

It was only when we started having casual discussions about FindaProfessional’s accounting requirements with some of our listed accountants that Xero became considered as a contender. I researched their offerings and finally found that, yes, Xero offered the facility to upload both Customer and Invoice CSVs to their online platform. Bingo!

I must say, the more I looked at Xero, the more impressed I was. This clearly was an accounting software solution that was built online from the very start. And you can see it - the online “adaptations” of a lot of the legacy accounting systems are not as slick.

This is Part One of a multi-part series. In Part Two I will provide insights into the next leg of our migration journey, where we are discovering that there is no easy solution to our unique accounting needs.


See Part Two: Migrating From Sage Pastel to Xero



We realise full-well that we are not experts in every accounting software system out there, and that there might be simple solutions or work-arounds (possibly even within Sage itself) that we have overlooked. We would welcome any suggestions from any of our listed accountants (many of whom are no doubt way more knowledgable than us). Simply shoot us an email with your ideas. With permission we may even add some of the suggestions to this article (with a link to the author's Personal Profile page)


Author: Chris Preen

The opinons expressed above are those of Chris Preen in his personal capacity and do not neccessarily reflect the opinions of Find a Professional.