Xero: looks matter but they're not enough

Profile picture for user gonzodaddy By Den Howlett March 28, 2014
Lawyerist takes a hard look at Xero and comes up wondering if it is worth the switch from QuickBooks. It's hard to disagree and there are lessons ofr Xero along the way.

lawyerist xero
Along with many colleagues, I've been advocating for software that not only does the job but does it in an easy to use and understand manner. Xero claims it is 'beautiful software,' a moniker that sounds odd to accounting ears like mine. And as an accountant, I can say flat out that it is so different from what I am used to that my initial interactions left me confused.

Be that as it may, it is always good to see users coming out with verdicts that draw direct comparisons with other offerings. To that end, here is what Sam Glover at Lawyerist had to say. I will leave my observations to the end of this story.

If you are in the market for accounting software, and would like something that is better than QuickBooks in several ways, worse in several others, and a bit better overall, then I recommend Xero.

OK - I'm already hooked because it starts with an honest assessment.

I have been using QuickBooks for my accounting (for my firm and for Lawyerist) for years, but I have never loved it. We moved Lawyerist’s accounts to QuickBooks Online at the beginning of 2013, but I love that even less. It takes the clunky QuickBooks UI and makes it slower and even clunkier.

Xero is pretty good-looking online software, similar to something like Clio or Basecamp or Freshbooks. Maybe looks should not matter, but I find that they do matter quite a lot when it comes to the way I feel about software. If nothing else, it starts my relationship with the software off on a good footing.

Speaking of saving time, reconciling transactions in Xero is a piece of cake, largely because of those bank and merchant account integrations. With QuickBooks, I used to spend most of a day reconciling accounts and generating reports each month. With Xero, I can do it all in about 15 minutes.

[My emphasis added]

It's not all goodness and light. Far from it.

Although I like the way Xero looks, I don’t understand much of what I am looking at. For example, when I log into my accounting software, it is usually because I want to record a transaction. Xero requires at least two clicks to do this, and neither of them are intuitive...

...Xero is full of these clunky UI features, but they mostly work fine once you get past the fact that what you see on the screen only sort of resembles what you are trying to do. This is more or less the same as QuickBooks...

Until Xero gets its act together on QuickBooks importing, there is only one way to use Xero: starting fresh. For most companies — including law firms — this means you probably only want to choose Xero when you start your firm, or maybe on January 1st. Switching from QuickBooks later on is just too painful.

...there is no way to just call Xero for support. You just have to submit a form and wait (a while) for a response. (I did actually get some phone help from a Xero representative, but I think I was getting special treatment.)..

...Xero’s turnaround time on its support tickets is “as soon as possible, no later than the end of the next working day.” That is reasonable, but it feels pretty slow when you are in the middle of wrestling with an accounting problem.

[My emphasis added]


  1. Anyone reading these extracts out of context might think this is a negative review. Looked at in context it is interesting the reviewer still thinks Xero shades it over Quickbooks. What's going on here? I sense it is a case of a great UI trumping other factors. I also think it is a case of important issues for this user carrying more weight than the downside elements he identified.
  2. The import topic is hugely important. Having a tool that can easily import transactions from a competitive product makes an enormous difference. In this case, the user initially failed. Any failure at this level is an immediate turn off. If Xero didn't know it already, the US SME market is strongly wedded to QuickBooks. Any concerted effort to wean those users away will need this facility to work flawlessly and as table stakes.
  3. The reference to QuickBooks being clunkier is exactly as I expect. Taking old software and porting it to an online 'version' is doomed to failure. Why? Because working online is a fundamentally different approach with different expectations from users.
  4. Despite having a great UI, the Xero UX is less than stellar. The fact the customer is confused is not good. My sense is this is one of those cases where language use doesn't travel so well. Remember the saying (sometimes attributed to Oscar Wilde, at other times GB Shaw) that goes something like: "Britain and the US are two great nations with plenty in common but separated by a common language."
  5. Online systems cut support costs by removing as much of the call center activity as possible. It's a feature. However, accounting solutions are complex and early stage hand holding is critical. Xero is seeing this and should consider how to overcome the obstacles in the US market. There is a QB importer but clearly this user didn't see it.
  6. To its credit, Xero was quick to pick up on this story and is in contact with the customer. Does that scale? No.

Image credit: Lawyerist.