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Microsoft Invests in Portal for CPAs

Here's an investment that probably caught the attention of Microsoft's accountants. The Redmond giant last week announced that it has teamed up with The Thomson Corporation to commit $50 million to help build a soon to be launched New York-based Portal called cpa2biz.

Sponsored by the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants (AICPA) and the 50 state, district and territory CPA societies, cpa2biz will be the first Web portal with the exclusive imprimatur of the industry's 425,000-member professional associations.

Set to launch this spring, the portal will provide accountants and small businesses with a Web-based infrastructure for doing business. CPAs will be able to connect with their clients electronically through cpa2biz, and the portal will better enable them to contribute valuable services and content to make core business processes easier. These services include general ledger systems, payroll, 401(k) administration, customer relationship management, human resources management, procurement and online banking.

So why is Microsoft so interested in a portal for CPAs?

According to cpa2biz CEO Brett Prager, market studies demonstrate that CPAs are the most trusted advisers to small businesses. Prager notes that the average small business owner is highly influenced by his or her accountant in virtually all business decisions .

"So far, no one has cracked the code to the small business market, which represents roughly 50 percent of the U.S. Gross Domestic Product. But with more than 400,000 CPAs working within or on behalf of small businesses, we believe the CPA - with the support of the cpa2biz portal - has the ability to crack that code. Microsoft and Thomson recognize the potential for growth in this area."

According to AICPA President Barry Melancon, the level of capital provided by Microsoft and Thomson is an outstanding kickoff for cpa2biz.

"Combined with cpa2biz's existing strategic partnerships and expected future partnerships, we believe cpa2biz is well-positioned to be an asset to CPAs. Cpa2biz is the exclusive provider of AICPA products and services, and of best-of-breed third-party content, goods and services," says Melancon.

One Seattle-based company that has been servicing the CPA professional for some time now, is Pro2Net.

According to Pro2Net Vice President of Marketing and Co-Founder Shane Gillispie, third-party content will be a key to cpa2biz's success.

"It is all about providing the professional with choice and empowering them with the tools to do their job better," says Gillispie.

Gillispie doesn't see cpa2biz capturing the entire market. For example, a company like Robert Half has a strong hold on careers and there are more than a dozen players in the continuing education market. "They will face a lot of competition," says Gillispie.

Gillispie believes that the business model behind cpa2biz validates the strength of his company's business model. Pro2Net was founded in 1995 under the name of Accountingnet.com. It later changed its name to Pro2Net to reflect its branching out into other industries such as law and human resources. The company focuses providing services and information to professionals throughout their entire career life cycle.

What will be interesting to see is how a non-profit entity such as the AICPA will be able to make the transition into a for-profit entity.

According to Gillispie, Pro2Net has received numerous letters to the editor in its online discussion forums with both positive and questionable concerns regarding the new entity. Letters range in content from the positive outcome of bringing more CPAs to the web to raising the potential conflict from the switch from a non-profit to a for-profit mind frame.



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