The leading provider of small business accounting software in the UK, Sage lags behind smaller rivals when it comes to delivering an online, Software as a Service (SaaS), product. It’s first attempt—Sage Live—appeared and was hastily pulled around three years ago and it’s taken from then until now to come up with Sage One, a relatively modest online accounting service aimed at sole traders and micro businesses.

Sage One is, in fact, a collection of four services. For our review we looked at Sage One Accounts which offers the usual facilities to raise invoices, reconcile bank accounts, handle VAT and so on, all of which can be had for £10/month (ex. VAT). Clearly targeted at limited companies and partnerships, sole traders can save money by opting instead for Sage One Cashbook, a cut-down cash-based service, costing just £5/month (ex. VAT).

An add-on payroll service is also available which can be integrated with both Sage One Accounts and Cashbook services, starting at £5/month for up to five people. Plus there’s an Accountant edition of Sage One to enable professional advisers to setup, customise and manage client accounts online.

Easy to use

 

The emphasis in Sage One is very much on simplicity, with little or no assumption of either accounting knowledge or IT expertise. As with other hosted services, all that’s needed to run Sage One is an Internet connection and a Web browser with support for all the leading browsers both on Windows PCs and Apple Mac systems. According to Sage the software can also be used on tablet computers and smartphones although, unlike some competitors, it has yet to develop custom iOS or Android apps.

We found the interface clean, clear and very easy to follow with a summary dashboard when you first log on showing the current financial state. Response times on a high speed broadband connection were good and there was lots of online help available throughout the product.

Naturally some setup is required when you first start, but this is limited to basic business details with a standard chart of accounts applied and dummy bank accounts created ready to be customised with the correct sort codes, account numbers and balances. Likewise, the VAT regime can be modified to handle both cash accounting and flat rate schemes. Note, however, that although Sage One can generate VAT returns, it can’t file these directly online with HMRC.

Sales processing and more

 

Invoices can be raised by Sage One Accounts for both product sales and services, with contacts and product items either entered on the fly or added separately for later use. Invoices are created in PDF format for printing or e-mail dispatch with four templates to choose from. Templates can’t be edited, but there is a facility to upload a custom logo.

Customers can also use the Sage online payment gateway—Sage Pay—to receive payments, with an option to add a simple “Pay now” link on invoices. However, there are no facilities to work with PayPal or any other payment services or integrate Sage One with e-commerce sites and other applications—eBay sellers take note!

Purchase invoices can be raised and other expenses entered and accounted for using Sage One Accounts. Bank reconciliation, however, is fairly basic requiring manual input of figures from bank and credit card statements. We couldn’t find any way of setting up standing orders or direct debits and there are certainly no facilities to import electronic statements, learn and apply reconciliation rules or integrate directly with online bank accounts as in Xero, Crunch and many other online accounting packages.

Onwards and upwards

 

Customers expecting an online implementation to match the various standalone Sage accounting products are likely to be disappointed by Sage One. It’s certainly no match for the popular Sage 50 Accounts package, added to which it falls quite a long way short of what a lot of online rivals are offering.

We were a little concerned also to find no assurances as to where customer data was held and, despite claims that everything was secure and backed up, little detail either as to how this was achieved. There is a privacy statement on the website, but it doesn’t say much. The Web site also uses SSL encryption but that’s about all we could ascertain.

On the plus side more functional Sage services running on the Microsoft Azure platform are in the pipeline. But then details and dates of these services have yet to be announced so, for now, Sage One is the only online accounting solution the company has to offer. Moreover, despite carrying the Sage brand, it’s a very basic one designed to deliver the bare accounting essentials to the smallest of SMEs.

The bottom line is that Sage One is a single-user, single currency, product with limited customisation options, basic manual bank reconciliation and no real mobile support to talk about. Rival products offering a whole lot more, including the ability to scan in receipts using a smartphone, are readily available and have been for some time.

A lack of integration with other Sage products is yet another disappointment although, in its favour, Sage One Accounts is very easy to get to grips with, and affordably priced with 24/7 telephone support included as standard. A full payroll service complete with online filing can also be added and there’s a free trial for those who want to experience the service first-hand.