TAS Zebra review
The word “revolutionary” is rarely applied to accounting software, but, in its own way, TAS Software’s new number-crunching program, Zebra, is exactly that. Granted, it may look like any one in the lengthening line of budget accounting packages aimed at sole traders and home-office dwellers, but Zebra boasts one critical difference: it’s subscription-based. For an annual £50 fee, you get unrestricted access to software upgrades and telephone and email support.
The software itself is ideal for those starting out in business. Complex extras are discarded – there’s no stock-control management, multi-currency or multi-user support, for example. But it does offer the core functions that sole traders need: the ability to track invoices and create reports that help you – and your accountant – understand your business.
The benefit of pared-down features is clear from the moment Zebra’s simple dashboard summary first appears. When you open the program, you’re reminded of outstanding invoices or to-dos, while a line of toolbar icons provides speedy access to everyday functions, such as bank details, customers and supplier information and regularly generated reports. We’ve never seen a quicker way to create VAT 100 and IR35 returns.
The main customer and supplier windows show a sortable summary of each contact’s current outstanding balance alongside the last three years’ transactions, allowing you to gauge instantly how your business measures up to past periods.
Usefully, double-clicking a customer or supplier in the list drills down to individual account histories, showing every reported transaction next to a neat chronological graph with their values. The same drill-down technique is used extensively elsewhere; double-clicking a financial total in any summary or report window takes you to the individual transactions that make them up. From there, you can examine the double entry that lies behind each.
There’s a range of reporting options, from standard profit and loss and trial balance to management analysis. The best of these is an analysis tool that shows the balance on all income and expenses, summarising how much profit and loss is applicable to each. It isn’t a foolproof management accounting tool, but as a way of spotting business cash drains it may prove invaluable.
Such analysis of profit centres requires the discipline of applying analysis codes to each transaction. Much of the spadework here is performed by Zebra – it handles the double entry in the background – but it still leaves the user to remember and enter the codes. That isn’t quite as time-consuming as it might sound, thanks to a handy lookup table that appears when you press a function key, aiding you to quickly select from the available options.
Neither is Zebra scared to abandon accounting convention where it conflicts with practicalities. For example, standard accounting practice frowns on the editing of previously posted entries, expecting the user to post a balancing entry to offset its effect. But Zebra’s Account Processor feature lets you edit or delete transactions at will. It’s an approach that may worry seasoned accountants, but it’s sensible given that the inexperienced users that make up the program’s market are likely to post an entry to the wrong account. In any case, a standard register window allows those who know their way around double-entry principles to adjust entries the more traditional way.
For all its undoubted ease of use, Zebra will stand or fall on its subscription setup, and here judgement has to be restrained. There can be few complaints about its value for money: in addition to automatic upgrades and prompt support, the annual fee gives access to a website that promises human resources and business advice, although these weren’t available at the time of testing.