Melbourne startup Point & Claim has developed advanced optical character recognition technology to make tax time easier

- November 5, 2015 3 MIN READ

Congratulations to everyone for making it through the tax deadline last week. If you spent hours poring over hundreds of receipts that you had hastily ‘filed’ throughout the year, don’t worry, you likely weren’t the only one.

While a number of apps have emerged over the last few years to help speed up this process, Australian offering Point & Claim has steadily climbed up to join the market leaders thanks to its data capturing and reconciliation technology. Rather than helping users sort out their personal and business finances right before tax time, Point & Claim aims to make expense management easier all year round.

The app works by having the user take a photo of a receipt, with the app then capturing the data and filing the information under the appropriate expense type so it can be reconciled and shared with the user’s employer, accountant, or tax agent. Data is processed automatically within the platform rather than being outsourced to a data processing centre, unlike similar services such as Shoeboxed, reducing the chance of human error.

The app is intuitive, learning from each use to categorise further purchases and expenses down the line. Of course, the platform also offers easy integration with different accounting software, as well as the ability to nominate a preferred accountant or tax agent with whom they can securely share their information.

The idea for the app came when founder Anthony Pettiona, group strategy manager at Carsales.com.au, was stuck at home with a broken ankle. Given tax time was creeping up on him and he had a shoebox full of receipts staring him down, Pettiona decided he would use the extra time to think of ways to get around it.

Pettiona initially thought an app that could simply scan receipts and sort and save the data for reconciliation and sharing with third parties would be a lifesaver for thousands of ordinary users; if it could also manage businesses, that would be even better.

Simon Bishop, appointed director of Point & Claim this year, said that while the team recognised that there were already a few optical character recognition (OCR) technologies on the market, they believed that none were powerful enough for what they needed.

“We invested a lot of time and energy into R&D around OCR and creating our own intelligent data extraction software. Underneath our patented tech there now sit six unique nodes that capture and categorise data from an image. The benefits of all our initial hard work is that as smartphone cameras and operating systems improve, so does the accuracy and efficiency of our app,” Bishop said.

Many tax time apps that allow for data capture via smartphone camera are used for just that – tax time. Australian budget and expense tracking app Pocketbook, for example, released its Tax Returns app earlier this year. The app is designed for use while completing a tax return, allowing users to snap a photo of a receipt or document which is then filed and sent to an accountant as part of the whole tax return for them to review; it’s not really an as-you-go type app.

Point & Claim, which is fully ATO compliant, has ten whitelabel partners. With these including big accounting firms like Sage and ITP, the platform is available to one in three accountants in Australia. Through these partners the app is free to download and use; there are 14,000 active users on the app, a number which Bishop said is growing organically by around 100 a day.

“To be honest, it wasn’t really a tough sell to get our foot in the door with some of Australia’s biggest accounting firms. The process of sorting through client receipts and manually entering data is a massive pain point for accountants. It’s really time consuming and many accountants only bill for a small number of hours, even though it generally takes much longer,” Bishop said.

“A key part of our strategy is to work with our corporate partners to develop new customised features that meet their specific business requirements. This process of co-creation and development means we can create new capabilities for our partners and deliver the benefits to all users. For example, we’re working with one of our current partners to streamline the logbook process of managing vehicle expenses.”

Other features on the horizon include real-time reconciliation of receipt data against an online transactional statement.

Image: Simon Bishop. Source: Supplied.