User Review of QBO: I'm Leaving QuickBooks Online... Should You?
Are you looking for accounting and payment processing system that’s willing to cripple your business and hold your clients’ funds hostage? If you answered, “Yes! Sign me up!” then QuickBooks Online and Intuit Payment Solutions may be your answer.
I switched to QBO and its payment processing service after hearing great things about it from colleagues. Now, I expect to close my account over the next few days.
Simply put, if this can happen to me and my clients, then it can happen to you and your clients too.
Off to a Good Start!
In October 2014, I signed up for Intuit's QuickBooks Online.
I was very excited because I’d been hearing great things about it from colleagues for years and finally decided to take the plunge. I wanted to be sure everything was set up just right, so I had an accountant and a bookkeeper set up the chart of accounts and the technical accounting stuff. It took several months to get all the necessary data in for the full 2014 fiscal year, and enter products and services available, client information, vendor information, and everything else, as well as for orientation and training on the new system.
I had a few bumps along the road, for example:
- Back in fall 2014, QuickBooks Online claimed it synced with PayPal. It never synced for me, and the last I checked QBO stopped representing that it works with PayPal.
- QuickBooks Online doesn’t apparently sync well with CitiBusiness bank or credit card accounts either. I don’t know whether the problem is on Citi’s end or QBO’s end, but my accounts were regularly disconnected and I had to manually ask QBO to reconnect. (This problem has since escalated.)
For most part, we got it sorted out. January 2015 came along and I was determined to start the new year fully integrated into QBO. I also applied for and received an account for payment processing through the affiliated Intuit Payment Solutions so that I could send client invoices and receive payment all within the same accounting system.
I sent client invoices, and they paid with the “pay now through QuickBooks” button…
We were good to go!
(Note: From now on, I’ll generally refer to QBO and Intuit Payment Solutions collectively as “QBO” or “QuickBooks Online,” which is what the employees I spoke to seemed to do.)
On Friday morning, March 27, 2015, a client emailed me to say the “pay now” button on her invoice wasn’t working so she couldn’t pay the invoice:
“Good morning, and happy Friday. I am trying to pay for the resume services, but it is not allowing me to pay via credit card. When I try to click on the purple button in the top right corner, it says there are problems paying through the system. Is there another way I can pay or do you have suggestions for fixing it?”
I figured this was a pretty simple glitch, so I called QBO and spoke to a representative who said her name was J_____. She informed me QuickBooks Online had decided I had an “unacceptable business type” and had shut down my payment processing account on March 26 — the day before.
(Note: For the sake of privacy, I won’t include QBO’s employees’ names here, just the letter of their first names.)
Wimpy in a T.A.R.D.I.S.: “I will gladly pay you Tuesday for a hamburger... yesterday!”
Surprised, I mentioned I hadn’t received notice from QuickBooks Online that there was any problem or concern with my account. J_____ told me QBO intended to notify me on Saturday.
Er… what? QuickBooks Online planned to tell me on Saturday that it shut down my payment processing two days before?
Yes, J_____, insisted. QBO planned to tell me on Saturday. (Note: They never did send notice.)
Huh. Okay. Moving forward…
I asked for clarification on the “unacceptable business type” problem. She insisted QuickBooks Online would not process payments for any “coaching or consulting businesses” because such businesses are “unacceptable.”
How can this be? I personally know similar businesses that run payments through QBO without incident and have done so for years. Plus, nowhere on QBO’s website does it say it won’t process those payments. Plus, QBO had in fact been processing those payments for nearly three months.
And if QBO thought there was a problem with my business type, why didn’t they let me know before shutting down my ability to conduct business?
As it turns out, one *can* simply walk (or be pushed) into Mordor. The problem is getting out.
In response, J_____ emailed me this link from the generic firstname.lastname@example.org account: http://kbgopayment.intuit.com/intuit/index?page=gopayment_content&id=INF21840 This page defines “unacceptable business type”:
“An unacceptable business is a type that Intuit is not allowed to board as an account or provide the ability to process transactions. A list of these business types can be found here: http://intuitpayments.com/legal.
If you are operating as one of these business types, you will be declined or have your account closed.”
The embedded link redirects to a January 2015 Acceptable Use Policy http://quickbooks.intuit.com/legal/payments/acceptable-use/ which details the types of unacceptable businesses. You’ll notice that although J_____ insisted “coaching or consulting businesses” are “unacceptable,” they are not listed:
- “Prohibited merchants” includes non-U.S. businesses, merchants “involved in any fraudulent or illegal activity (for example, child pornography, illegal drugs, counterfeit or stolen items, prostitution)," and those who are “sponsor[s] of international terrorism.”
- “Prohibited activities and businesses” include things like “mail order bride services,” “human or animal parts,” and items that promote “hate, violence, or racial intolerance.”
I hoped we could all pretty quickly agree my business, my clients, and I don’t fall into either of these two categories. I’m a former practicing attorney and now career strategist for lawyers, the author of six books for lawyers and law students, and the author of a career advice column circulated to nearly 200 law schools. My one-on-one clients — those most directly affected by QuickBooks Online’s actions — are generally attorneys at leading companies, law firms, and government entities with career transition and development related needs like resumes, LinkedIn Profiles, and coaching.
However, J_____ kindly informed me there was no appeal and no one I could speak to about the mix up. She also insisted she had no last name, no employee id, and no telephone number. The email address she used to send me the information on “unacceptable business types” says “Please do not reply to this message - this address is used for outgoing email only.” Her supervisor, R_____, was unavailable. R_____, she told me, has no last name, no employee id number, and no telephone number either. R_____ also had no supervisor — lucky guy!
Can R_____ please call me when he is available?
Nope, she told me. Their telephones can't make outgoing calls.
Are you at least the only “J_____” there?
Nope. J_____ was not the only person named “J_____” in her department. And of course R_____ was not the only “R_____” there either.
So if I need to talk to you again, how would I reach you? How can I reach R_____?
“Well, you can call back and hope it's during our shift.”
J_____ was clearly a dead-end.
The most positive thing to happen in my call with her is that she transferred me to S_____ from Payment Solutions. (S_____ willingly provided his last name, email address, and phone number.) S_____ instantly agreed I have a legitimate business.
But he also confirmed QBO has no appeal process. If someone at QuickBooks Online decides to shut down your account, there’s no one you can talk to about it. And you can never set up payment processing again.
Is that a light at the end of the tunnel?
He proposed a work around. We set up up a new payment processing account through a different email address.
Back in business! Hooray for S_____!
There and Back Again
March 31, I received this notice from QBO: “We recently identified unexpected activity on your account. As a precaution, we won’t deposit money from the following transaction(s) until we investigate.” They demanded I fax or otherwise send them about 10 pieces of information — most of which was already in their cloud-based system — before they would release client funds. On April 4, I received the same notice about a second transaction.
My bookkeeper and I called QBO — over and over and over again. We couldn’t get anyone to help us. I emailed and left messages for S_____. She emailed and left messages for S_____. We couldn’t get much response.
My bookkeeper continued to try to contact QBO (trying several different methods). Although she’s an authorized user on my company’s account, QuickBooks Online refused to talk to her. She got nowhere. Meanwhile, I switched back to my old payment processing system and used other workarounds to shield the business and other clients from the QBO problems as much as I could.
I finally spoke to S_____ on Wednesday, April 22. It was my fourth call that week.
We talked about the problems.
At that point, I wanted to refund my clients’ payments that were being held by so they could pay through other methods. But QBO had disabled my ability to do so. QuickBooks Online had my clients’ money, but wouldn’t process it through to me and wouldn’t refund it back to them.
What was going on?
S_____ said QBO Risk Department shut down my account *again* and said there was nothing he could do. (Note: Again, QuickBooks Online didn’t provide notice of the payment processing account shutdown. I was left to infer it when I saw the functionality had disappeared.)
Further Down the Rabbit Hole
S_____ transferred me to Risk, where I spoke to A_____.
A_____ said “G_____ W_____” was “the case manager” on my account who had shut it down as “unacceptable risk.” I asked for G_____ W_____’s contact information, but A_____ told me G_____ W_____ didn’t have a phone number.
I asked what exactly the risk was, but A_____ couldn’t or wouldn’t say. He just kept repeating “it” was “too risky for the company.” A_____ is the sort of customer service rep who doesn’t speak much, leaving me to wonder — several times — whether he was even on the other end. I’d ask a question, sit there in silence watching the seconds tick away, and after 20 seconds or so of dead air, finally ask, “Hello? Are you still there?” Then he’d repeat, “It’s too risky for the company.”
I asked what the appeal process was, but A_____ told me there wasn’t one. Here’s the best A_____ could do: “I can make a note to ask G_____ W_____ to contact you if he wants to.”
A_____ did insist I hadn’t responded to the March 31 and April 4 notices, even though my bookkeeper and I had repeatedly called and emailed. Our cries for help didn’t count as a response, apparently. I pointed out that most of the information the QBO notices demanded was already in their cloud-based system.
Incredulous, I asked him: “You want me to fax you a copy of the client invoice you already have?” The answer: “Yes.”
I asked A_____ to refund the client money QuickBooks Online was holding, but A_____ said QBO can’t do that: “We rely on the merchant (i.e., me) to refund the money, but since we shut down your account, you can’t refund it.”
A_____ acknowledged I didn’t have access to client funds; QuickBooks Online was holding their money in limbo. He said the only way QuickBooks Online would refund my clients’ money back to them was if they called their credit card companies to issue a charge-back on *me* even though QuickBooks Online was the one holding their money. (Note: I’ll leave it to consumer protection attorneys to say whether this is legal or good business practice.)
Exhausted — we’re now about three weeks into these problems — I asked QBO to at least refund the money I’d paid them for payment processing, since they weren’t in fact processing payments.
“That’s a different department.”
A_____ in Risk transferred me to K_____ in Merchant Services.
I explained to K_____ the problems. She offered to transfer me to Risk.
Ah, no thanks. I just want a refund.
K_____ informed me, “Refunds are approved by a different department. I have to ask for approval to request approval for a refund.”
“Refunds are approved by a different department. But before I can ask them to approve the refund, I have to get approval from my supervisor to make that request.” She seemed apologetic.
Elvis has left the building
After leaving me on hold for about 10 minutes, K_____ comes back to tell me she couldn’t get approval to ask for approval. The reason? “Risk shut down the account.”
“Is there anything else I can help you with?” she wanted to know.
If you’ve been considering switching to QuickBooks Online, all I can tell you is don’t. My experience has been a labyrinthine nightmare. Here are my takeaways:
- Thousands of QuickBooks Online customers (and their clients) must be at risk if “coaching or consulting businesses” are “unacceptable" and thus ineligible for payment processing under QuickBooks Online’s January 2015 Acceptable Use Policy.
- There is no accountability at QuickBooks Online. Critical decision-making about your account, your business’s ability to function, and your clients’ money is capricious at best. Faced with their “logic,” I was left muttering, like Gene Hackman in The Birdcage, “I feel like I’m going insane.”
- QuickBooks Online does not communicate with its customers. Good luck getting someone to return your calls or emails, and forget about expectations they will notify you of events that may adversely affect your account. Sure, they’ll communicate with you now and again. But they can and will shut you down without warning. By the time you figure out something’s wrong, it’s too late.
- There is no consistency. It's nearly impossible to reach the same person twice and different people give you different information. QuickBooks Online employees are not well informed about their own products or processes. Or perhaps they are and they just refuse to be helpful. Either way, a lot of what they say is demonstrably false, circular, nonsensical, or inconsistent. Guess what? No soup for you!
- Even if you find someone willing to help, the person is likely powerless to do much. Once you’re sucked inside The Matrix, there is no way out.
I spent a chunk of the next afternoon apologizing to the two clients most affected and making contingency plans for the remainder. Among other things, I had to tell a lawyer at a major company that QuickBooks Online had seized his money. I had to ask an attorney who has practiced before the U.S. Supreme Court to dispute a credit card charge.
I’m not sure what the effect will be on my business or my credit. I don’t know how long it will take them to get their money back. I have no answers for them, and my only assurance is that — if it comes down to me absorbing the loss or them absorbing the loss, then of course I will do so.
Why am I sharing my Kafkaesque tale?
I’m not a reviewer of small business software or law firm technology. (Note: There are some great sites that are, including the American Bar Association’s www.lawtechnologytoday.org, Sam Glover and Aaron Street’s www.lawyerist.com, and Robert Ambrogi’s www.lawsitesblog.com.)
As a lawyer / entrepreneur / small business owner / nonprofit board member (many of our members are also small business owners) for a combined 20 years or so, I know there are a lot of you out there who research products and services carefully before signing up. You want to know the experiences and opinions of like-users. You want to know whether it’s worth investing thousands of dollars worth of your time and capital on expenses related to getting up and running on a new system: consulting, training, data migration, and so on. Moreover, lawyers and some other professionals have rules governing how they handle money; I suspect QuickBooks Online’s treatment of funds may put some of you at risk.
So, yes, I’m a disgruntled QuickBooks Online customer. But more than that, I feel obligated to share my experience and opinion with you — my colleagues and clients, as well as fellow lawyers, entrepreneurs, small business owners, and others of you who considering entrusting QuickBooks Online and its payment processing with your critical operational functions and reputation.
Again, I know business owners who have happily used QBO for years. But before you sign up, you might want to flip QBO’s question and ask: is QuickBooks Online and its payment processing too risky for your company?
I’m now looking into exporting my data, shutting down my account, and switching to another program.
April 27, 2015
* Update: For those wondering, I switched to Xero and I'm happy to report that I've had xero problems with Xero.