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Expensify Is a Great Start, But No Guarantee

Small-business accounting on the Web -- in particular, nasty little bits such as expense management -- is turning out to be one wicked business problem.

Tracking all the money the 25 million or so American small businesses make and spend has turned into one of the Web's darlings. Small-business software giants such as Intuit (INTU - Get Report), which host online products including QuickBooks Online, and TurboTax Online, continue to post nutty-for-this-economy numbers such as a return on assets that's up close to four times year over year.

This hurricane of cash has spun up a dust storm of nouveau-accounting wannabes. Some are well known, such as H&R Block (HRB - Get Report), Paychex (PAYX - Get Report) and FreshBooks. And others are not, like Credit Sesame, Pageonce and Receivables Exchange.

And the sophistication here is only just beginning. San Francisco-based Expensify, started in 2008 by David Barrett, focuses on just one piece of the bean-counting dark arts: expense reports. Considering that expense management is literally job one for most small firms, I have been testing this product since early last year.

And in about a year and a half of use, some valuable lessons about managing small-business fiscal processes on the Web have become clear.

WHAT YOU GET Expensify is unquestionably a fresh approach to managing company expenses.

What Expensify does, where possible, is automate the process of capturing, tabulating, filing and getting reimbursed for purchases you make in the course of doing work. The backbone of the system is the so-called Guaranteed eReceipt, which the company says is the full digital replacement for some credit card purchases under $75. Expensify, once authorized by you, imports these eReceipts from online credit card statements and mixes them with hand-entered cash spending and car mileage allowances. It can even import photographs of paper receipts taken by a smartphone. And all of that is automatically cooked up into an IRS-ready expense form for reimbursement. Which, in turn, can be e-mailed, tracked and managed in an accounting package such as QuickBooks and FreshBooks or exported as a PDF for hard printing. All very clever.

By and large, for certain types of basic expenses, the system works. Once set up, my company American Express (AXP - Get Report) card spending did feed Expensify automatically. I was particularly impressed with the mileage reports, which were eerily accurate.

Overall, I can recommend Expensify as a good first step for making sure your company money is going where it should.

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