TAS – Zebra review

simple accounting system for small businesses
Photo of TAS – Zebra
£49.99 including VAT, plus yearly maintenance fee

TAS Zebra is an unusual name for an accounting program, but the program itself is a tried-and-tested implementation of traditional double-entry bookkeeping. Where it differs is in pricing: less than £50 for a program accredited by the Institute of Chartered Accountants and backed by parent company Sage is something of a bargain.

There’s an ongoing subscription fee of £48 per annum to continue using the program after the first year, but as this covers free updates and unlimited telephone support it’s as reasonable as the initial purchase price.

To keep the price down, certain features have been omitted, but those that remain are fully implemented. The most notable omission is invoicing. Zebra permits invoices to be recorded using analysis codes such as Professional fees or Goods sold, but you can’t itemise an invoice or produce a printed copy.

If this is what you need you can voluntarily increase your annual subscription to cover the additional features. For example, pay £66 p.a. instead of £48 and you can print an invoice complete with free-form text that describes the items or services involved. Pay £84 and you can generate an invoice by picking products and services from a maintainable list. However, if you need full invoicing capabilities you’d be better off buying into one of the modular accounting systems from TAS/Sage or Intuit.

Zebra (simple accounting in black and white, if you’re wondering how it got its name) is best seen as a program suitable for uncomplicated businesses rather than a stepping stone to an integrated system. It’s ideal for cash traders who don’t need to invoice items sold over the counter, and for professionals and consultants who produce a limited number of invoices which can easily be word processed or hand written.

Business structures of any type are covered by Zebra, from home traders and sole traders to partnerships and limited companies. Up to 18 different VAT rates can be accommodated and VAT can be calculated using either the Standard or Cash schemes.

Where possible, confusing jargon has been avoided in favour of everyday terms, and tasks are grouped by function to make them easy to find. For example, in the Customers section, click Activities and you’ll be presented with a list of tasks that includes recording invoices, issuing credit notes, receiving payments and logging bounced cheques. Click Reports and you can list sales by date or customer number, produce individual customer statements and print lists of outstanding invoices.

Graphs are used where they make information easier to understand. Pick any customer or supplier and click Summary to view a chart comparing transactions with the chosen company over a three year period. Charts can be customised and printed out, if desired. To Do notes and reminders can be freely added, and these are displayed in a pop-up window as they fall due.

Zebra will also remind you of system-generated events such as overdue invoices, bills to be paid or the execution of a recurring transaction. For security, you can set Zebra to save a backup of its data onto the hard disk every time the program is closed, and it’s also advisable to automate a backup onto some form of removable drive, perhaps at the end of every month.

Zebra runs on Windows XP or Windows 2000 and is supplied in a DVD-style case that rattles around inside the obligatory giant cardboard box. There’s also a 32-page small-print guide to installing and setting up the program, and a copy of this is installed on the hard disk along with a comprehensive reference manual covering all of Zebra’s features and incorporating many helpful tutorial sections.

The only thing not mentioned is the sixty second wait after clicking the Install button before there’s any indication on screen that the program is responding to your request. Ever heard of an hourglass, TAS?

Company: TAS

Contact: 0845 245 0266


Verdict
If Zebra meets your accounting needs (i.e. you have a single company and don't need invoicing, payroll or stock control) it's hard to beat. It's cheap, cheerful, stable and easy to use, yet it comes with big-company backing and support.