Cloud Accounting

Cloud Accounting Comparison – Data Import and Export

Written by Greg Lam

Now that we have established what basic features a Cloud Accounting product needs, let’s take a look at data import and export capabilities. Because, the less data you have to manually enter your software the better, and any data you put in you most surely want to be able to take out.

Automatic Bank Feeds and Imported Bank Statements

All of the accounting software products we reviewed here have the ability to connect to your online bank and automatically import feeds that contain your bank account transactions. The majority of the software use a third-party provider for these bank feeds (Yodlee). This means that the bank feed connectivity among software providers should roughly be the same.

The exception to this is QuickBooks Online, which manages it’s own connections with banks. In theory, this should mean that QuickBooks will have more consistent connections with banks, but I have no way to empirically test this, especially since there are literally thousands of banks around the world.

One weakness in QuickBooks Online is that perhaps because it does rely on their automated bank feed so heavily, the manual upload of bank statements is not as robust and easy as other accounting software. You are able to upload QFX, QBO, and OFX files (which realistically covers the majority of upload formats), but it does fail to allow the import of CSV files, which is a nice fall-back format (since it’s so universal). Most other accounting software can import bank statement files in a CSV format.

In my experience, I’ve encountered problems with all accounting software in terms of connecting to banks. That is why I think being able to manually upload bank statements is so important. This is even more true seeing that most accounting software can only get up to 90 days worth of data through a bank feed, meaning that if you’re dealing with data older than 90 days, you’re going to have to get it into your accounting software via a manual upload of a bank statement.

In regards to manually uploading bank statements, the more formats the accounting software offers, the better. There is QBO, QFX, OFX, CSV, Excel, and QIF. The only format that can easily be read by spreadsheet software is CSV and Excel, yet CSV and Excel are the hardest formats to import into accounting software (as there is no standard data format within a CSV or Excel file) whereas QBO, QFX, OFX, and QIF all are standardized formats (which is why they’re not so easy to read for those who don’t know computer coding).

My advice, when trying to figure out whether a particular accounting software will be able to receive data from your bank, is to set up a test account with the accounting software you’re considering (most accounting software offer a free trial). Try importing your own banking data through a bank feed and via a manual import. That’s the simplest and fastest way to see if the accounting software you’re looking at will play nice with your bank.

Data Import

For the purposes of this comparison, data import is only going to consider data that you can bring in via the import of a file. This means we won’t be taking into account software APIs, which will be talked about in the integration part of this comparison. Importing a file is a manual but relatively easy process in comparison to using an API. Using an API can be an automatic process, but can be (but is not always) difficult, expensive, and time consuming to set up.

The clear leader for importing data is Xero. On top of being able to import initial set up data (like a trial balance and contacts), it also allows you to import daily transactions (like journal entries, customer invoices, and vendor bills).

QuickBooks can import roughly the same type of data as Xero, but a third-party plugin, Transaction Pro Importer (listed in the Intuit App Center) is needed.

Most accounting software can import contacts, except Wave, which can’t. FreeAgent only allows the import of contacts via Outlook, Gmail, Mac Mail, or Basecamp.

Kashoo and Xero are the only software that will allow you to import a trial balance (which means it sets up your chart of accounts and their opening balances).

Data Export

Most accounting software will give you the ability to export the type of data you’d need (like your trial balance and general ledger) to file taxes in coordination with an account.

What you won’t be able to do with most accounting software (with the exception of QuickBooks), is export a data file that you can use as a local backup. What does this mean? If you’re looking to switch accounting software, you’re going to have to rebuild your data from a smattering of exported data and reports from your previous accounting software. It won’t be something as easy or simple as importing one data file. You’ll most likely need to spend at least a few hours setting up your new accounting software.

In general, you should be aware that if the accounting software has a report, it’s probably exportable. We’ll get into what reports the different accounting software have in the reporting part of this comparison. If you’re looking to export data on a regular basis for use in different software, you may need to look at an API, which is probably something you need a custom software developer to help you with.

Kashoo, Wave, and FreeAgent have a nice feature that allows you to export all your data in a single click, which I think all software should have. These reports come in a spreadsheet file format (CSV or Excel). Kashoo, is the most comprehensive from an accounting stand point, as it contains: aged receivables, aged payables, balance sheet, profit and loss, trial balance, chart of accounts, customers, vendors, customer invoices, vendor bills, transfers, adjustments (journal entries), and checks. The only standard accounting report it doesn’t contain, is the general ledger / general journal (which you can actually export from the transactions section in Kashoo).

See Part 3 of our Cloud Accounting series – Automation.

For a complete list of the articles in this series – Cloud Accounting Introduction

Now Available!

Written by video blogger and online accounting expert Greg Lam (aka “The Small Biz Doer”), this new book from The Sleeter Group explains, compares, and contrasts 185 features found in today’s leading online accounting software products.Online Accounting Software: Finding the Right Match

Online Accounting Software: Finding the Right Match evaluates:

  • QuickBooks Online (small business)
  • Xero (small business)
  • Cheqbook (microbusiness)
  • Kashoo (microbusiness)
  • Wave (microbusiness)
  • Zoho Books (microbusiness)
  • FreshBooks (invoicing)

Greg gives you everything you need to assess the software and “find the right match” for your own accounting firm or for your clients’ small businesses.

Order your copy today and you’ll receive Greg’s first update FREE!

About the author

Greg Lam

Greg Lam is a passionate small business guy who loves technology and automation. He holds a BBA from Simon Fraser University, Canada. He's a Certified QuickBooks ProAdvisor, Certified Xero Partner, and Kashoo MVP. His business interests are focused on online accounting and how it can be used to streamline and automate a company’s accounting processes. He currently lives in Tokyo, Japan.

Greg operates the Small Biz Doer website, an "Entrepreneur's Guide to Small Biz Bookkeeping." He is the author of Online Accounting Software: Finding the Right Match, published by The Sleeter Group.

Connect with Greg on Twitter, Google Plus, YouTube, LinkedIn, or Facebook.


  • Greg, this is an ‘outstanding’ comparison of ‘data related aspects’ of the various cloud based accounting solutions. Good Job !


    • Thank you, Steuart. I’ve used some of your other excellent products, I think that this particular product can be helpful in situations where someone has an Excel bank download that can’t otherwise be imported into a cloud accounting product.

  • Your terrific posts only outline some next generation accounting features.

    It is terrible that new users must learn to set up new accounting programs. It is often the hardest part of accounting programs and new users only do it once. Fortunately, Xero now has free QuickBooks conversions for everyone and free account set up for Partners. We also have historical conversions from more than 150 different programs to Xero, supplemented by 24/7 GoToMeeting help.

    Our free 0CPAs program saves all converted or daily Xero entries, for all accounts and companies, in less than 15 seconds of your time. It is so fast, easy and automated that we do a repeated free save all if anyone invites us into their Xero account.

    The fast free Xero email help also is terrific, compared to the slow (on hold) and expensive QuickBooks help. Intuit also recently fired 1/3 of its QuickBooks ProAdvisor support staff, so our best help is now much slower.

    Intuit supposedly gave us the tech-support-backed user-to-user forums, which many wanted, several years ago. However, they short-changed us on the tech-support backing and outsourced phone support to India (even for QB Enterprise), though this let them dump 1/7 of total staff.

    (continued due to possible post length limit)

  • For further automation, 0CPAs exports Xero Bank Rules to Excel, so you can find and quickly fix errors. It will then import any exported or manually edited Bank Rule file to any Xero account.

    A second 0CPAs program gives Xero, QuickBooks and other accounting program users a master list of payees and accounts. This is the fastest, easiest and most accurate way for even novice users to assign new payees to accounts. It can pre-load my master Xero payee/account file and/or any Excel files that Xero (via 0CPAs) or users create. A new version will save mismatches in editable Excel files, for Google searches or client emails. I look forward to updating it with input from other professional accountants, so I will send you both free copies. You will soon be able to give them to your clients with your contact information. That should soon give us editable local and national tables, with reviews and voting.

    QuickBooks 2014 is much better, but only because it is the QuickBooks 2014 Xero Edition. Here are some QuickBooks changes, which many discussed extensively with Intuit CEOs and top assistants, from 1999 to 2005:
    Automatic bank statement downloads and imports (QB Online only)
    One-button bank statement downloads and imports (QB desktop only)
    Automatic account assignments, using flexible rules
    A free open industry-standard interface for add-on programs
    Free workflow, contact and correspondence manager
    (Integrating accounting, tax and To Do items)
    Web hosting for all of these
    (Long delayed and made more expensive by Intuit)
    Client collaboration (with trails), web portal, editable newsletters
    (Integrated with local systems, forums, text and video chat)
    Requiring tests for all Advisors or Partners
    (Users waste a billion/year on so-called QuickBooks ProAdvisors)
    (Intuit surveys showed ALL complaints involved untested Advisors)
    (You could pass old ProAdvisor test by answering all A, then all B)
    (Each time you learned your wrong answers, so a 100% was sure)
    Feature request and bug tracking website (with votes and awards)

    Xero has almost all of this and will have the rest momentarily. QuickBooks sandbags us, by saving its best for when it has competition. It did so with Microsoft and is now doing it with Xero. That is why we should not let any company have the near monopolies Intuit had for many years.

    Intuit is still not doing many of these things. It also has a long legacy of disregarding and damaging professional accountants (see my recent, “Professional accountants, Xero and Intuit” post).

    I most respectfully submit that product reviews do us a disservice, unless they mention the damage Intuit has done and is still doing.