The best apps for CAs

By Guy Clapperton

7 October 2015

From receipt tracking to creating mind maps, there are thousands of apps to simplify your life and work, and many of them are free. Guy Clapperton rounds up the top apps for accountants.

One thing about smartphones and tablets is that they've made us all accustomed to using very cheap, often free, software in the form of apps. So, which are the most useful? There are thousands to choose from, so here are just a few. Excluded are full-blown office suites, although you can certainly download Microsoft Office, for example, from the app store on Apple systems. We've tried where possible to ensure the apps in question are available for both Android and Apple platforms.

1. Evernote  

For many people Evernote is the definitive note-taking app, coming in free or premium versions, available on desktop and all major operating systems of phone and tablet. The principle is deceptively simple. You take notes, you organise them into notebooks and they're synchronised across all your devices. Notes can be typed, handwritten and then photographed straight into the app, spoken or video-recorded.

You can also clip web pages into Evernote, forward email to it, set up to-do lists and create a notebook for all your receipts so they don't go missing (every accountant should tell their worst- organised clients about Evernote!), and many other apps sync with it. It can also be used as a team app. Extras are available.

We looked at Evernote-branded Moleskine notebooks, which you can photograph and import into an Evernote notebook, but we weren't impressed – you can do that with any piece of paper. If you're feeling flush or your organisation has the budget, a better bet is the Livescribe smartpen: armed with special notepaper it sends handwritten notes via Bluetooth straight to your smart device through its own app, and you can export them straight to the relevant note in Evernote or Microsoft's competing product, OneNote.

Apple: Evernote (free)

Android: Evernote (free)  

2. Trello 

Trello is a freebie that works on your phone, tablet or the web. Essentially, it's a series of "cards" you can organise on "lists" which attach to "boards". You can make as many boards and cards as you like and then drag and drop the cards between the lists. You can click the cards and add people, tasks, links or whatever. Using "cards", "lists" and "boards", Trello is a useful, and free, project management tool.

The user community reports using Trello for recipes and household tasks, among many other things. In business terms it's a deceptively simple project management tool. You can track articles pitched to a single magazine, and project-based practices could have a list for prospects, move them to another when they become customers, another when there is work outstanding for them – there are many possibilities. It's shareable across teams and virtual teams, even on different email networks. You just invite them and they can move cards about and add details.

Apple: Trello (free)

Android: Trello (free)

3. Shoeboxed receipt tracker

For practices with small and possibly disorganised clients, Shoeboxed or something like it is a must. Put simply, it takes every email that comes in with the word "receipt" in it and saves it securely. Your clients will have no excuse for losing a receipt ever again.

Apple: Shoeboxed (free)

Android: Shoeboxed (free)

4. Pocket Informant

Every smartphone or tablet comes with its own calendar app, and if you're happy with yours that is fine. However, they have their limitations. Informant, or Pocket Informant if you're using the phone version, has multiple time zones, a to-do list in which you can subdivide all your tasks, multiple views and full integration with Evernote, making it a powerful note-taking and calendaring combination.

The only disadvantage is that it syncs over the air with your cloud- based calendar either every 45 minutes or whenever you input a change, so if you make a change on a different device – say on your desktop or laptop – and then check something on Informant soon afterwards, the alteration may not yet have registered. It is, however, a good way of extending your basic calendar function. 

Apple: Pocket Informant (free)

Android: Pocket Informant (free)

5. Wunderlist

This is one of the better to-do list apps for businesses. Set yourself up a free account, make multiple to-do lists with dates attached, and add sub-tasks on clicking on the task. Business versions allow specific people to be attached to tasks very easily. If they could combine this with the moving- from-list-to-list facilities of Trello and integrate it with Evernote, they would be on to a winner...

Apple: Wunderlist (free)

Android: Wunderlist (free)

6. iThoughts

People process things differently sometimes. Your correspondent runs his life on Evernote and Trello, which tells you that he is a word person (no bad thing for a writer!) – organising into lists, moving assignments through as they progress and crossing things off as they are done is basic but almost completely verbal. Some people think more visually and Heather Townsend, author of The Go-To Expert and co-author of How to Make Partner and Still Have a Life, is one of them. As such she uses mind mapping and finds iThoughts very useful. "It is probably the most usable mind map app I have tried with an iPad and iPhone," she said.

"All of my creative thinking and large project mapping is done on this app. It integrates very well with the external environment and mind maps can be exported to other mind mapping formats and PDF. You can easily add photos and links to the mind map. What probably sets it apart for me is its usability and flexibility. If you want you can add doodles to the mind map." At £7.99 this is one of the costlier apps; then again, to those of us who remember the days of the £450 software suite just so you could type, that sounds like a steal. 

Apple: iThoughts (£7.99)

Android: Currently unavailable

7. Dropbox

Sometimes apps can be so simple you could barely call them an "app". Mark Lee, speaker and author of the BookMarkLee blog for Accountants who want to STAND OUT from the pack (his emphasis), points to the simple point-and- click motion with a camera. "It is becoming very common to snap photos of new client identity verification papers when away from the office photocopier," he said.

"The photos can then be saved to a Dropbox folder or sent to the firm's email and online client folder." So that would be a vote for Dropbox or any of the many other online filing systems. Hightail, Box, a link to Google Docs or Microsoft OneDrive, or any of the others would all work here, as would Evernote or OneNote, allowing the user to add notes too. 

Apple: Dropbox (free)

Android: Dropbox (free)

8. Other notable mentions

Other useful apps include those which are the front ends of services rather than pure play apps in their own right. Echofon (Apple and Android, free) and Hootsuite (Apple and Android, free), for example, bring together Twitter and other social media feeds into an easy-to-digest form. 

Feedly (Apple and Android, free) presents any RSS feeds to which the user subscribes in an easy-to-read manner. Social media, however, is no longer restricted to the purely social.

You might have noticed that sharing information and links is easier using social structures such as Facebook or LinkedIn than sticking to straight email. Perhaps you would like something like that but restricted to your own company and/or clients? Try playing with Microsoft's Yammer (Apple, Windows and Android, free), which lets your invited colleagues loose in a Facebook lookalike environment that's private or, if you're Microsoft-phobic, Convo (Apple and Android, free) allows searchable, structured group conversations online.

9. CA Today's top pick - Microsoft Office apps

Since this article was first published, a number of other excellent apps have been released.

Our top pick is the Microsoft Office suite of apps, including Microsoft Word, Excel and Powerpoint, which allow you to view and edit Office documents on your phone or tablet. These apps are free for both Apple and Android devices and are very handy for working on the move. They also integrate with Office for Mobile, but you no longer need an Office 365 subscription to edit documents or store them in the cloud if using your phone.

Apple (all free):

Microsoft Word         

Microsoft Excel

Microsoft PowerPoint

Android (all free):

Microsoft Word         

Microsoft Excel

Microsoft PowerPoint

Guy Clapperton is a freelance business journalist specialising in technology. The full version of this article previously appeared in The CA magazine. Additional reporting has been undertaken by the CA Today Editorial team.


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