REVIEW: Crunch

If you’re a small business then, chances are, you use a book-keeping package or, perhaps, an online accounting service for invoicing, paying suppliers and generally keep on top of your finances. In addition, however, you probably also pay an accountant to draw up and submit your annual return and, typically, handle the more tricky things like VAT, PAYE and, in a lot of cases, to act as your agent when communicating with the revenue.

Crunch is different in that it combines the two, providing small businesses with an online book-keeping service together with the services of a professional accountancy firm, all from the one source and for just one fixed monthly fee.

The personal touch

The Crunch approach makes a sense, especially for companies starting out and those with no accountant to call on. Others may also find it worth investigating, with Crunch providing not just advice on how to use its software but fully-qualified accountants who can advise on a wide range of financial matters and who are available at any time rather than only when the books are due or problems arise.

Founded in 2009, typical Crunch customers are contractors, freelancers, start-ups and small businesses, mostly with just a handful of staff and little in the way of financial expertise. The only real pre-requisite is that you trade as a limited company, although that’s not a big issue as Crunch can help set one up for you online, in most cases for under £5.

All the options in all the sizes

Crunch comes in a number of flavours including just the software without the accountancy and management support if you want, in which case it’s called Crunch Solo and costs just £9.50 (ex. VAT) per month. With no limitations on the number of invoices or bank items that can be handled, Crunch Solo is worth considering by freelancers and others on a limited budget. Indeed, if you’re really strapped for cash, there’s even a free version, although this lacks a lot of the add-ons available to subscribers and you have to put up with constant reminders as to what you’re missing, and urging you to upgrade.

The Solo product is fine to start with, but to get the full benefit of the Crunch approach it’s better to go for Crunch Complete. At £59.50 (ex. VAT) per month, it’s not cheap, but then an accountant will charge around £500-800 (ex. VAT) just to do a year-end return and, against that it compares very well indeed.

If you need more convincing there’s a calculator on the website which can show you just how much you would save. Moreover, for the monthly fee you get your own Crunch account manager plus an accredited accountant to act as your authorised agent for year-end returns, VAT and all other filing. Added to which Crunch can also be listed as your registered company address, to handle all official correspondence with HMRC, Companies House and so on, at no extra charge.

Crunch Complete can cope with companies with up to two directors, four shareholders and five employees. Director salary and dividend processing is included, but employee payroll is an optional add-on, starting at £12.50 (ex. VAT) per month for 2 staff. There’s also Crunch Max, at £89.50 (ex. VAT) per month, which can handle four directors, four shareholders and up to 10 employees.

What’s in the “box”?

At the heart of Crunch is a hosted software service that can be accessed from any computer equipped with a browser and Internet access. SSL encryption is applied to secure all communications and there are the usual safeguards when it comes to data security and confidentiality, outlined in a service agreement that you should study carefully before signing.

Getting started is straightforward, especially for Crunch Complete and Max customers where the accountancy team will configure everything ready to go, including the transfer of existing balances where needed. Solo customers, however, have to enter their details manually and set opening balances themselves using a wizard.

It’s then just a matter of using Crunch for day to day transactions such as raising invoices, making payments to cover outgoings, reconciling bank and credit card balances and so on. The menu driven interface is clean and easy to follow and, although there are no options to import existing contacts records, adding new clients and suppliers doesn’t take long.

Invoicing is a snap and it’s possible to bill both for services and products with automatic calculation of totals based on quantity sold. On the downside there’s no option to keep product inventories and, currently, no way of integrating Crunch with eBay. There’s no quotation to invoice option either, but invoices can be raised as drafts for later issue, with options to download and print or e-mail invoices to customers as PDFs.

For VAT registered companies tax is applied automatically with the usual choice of rates and support for both standard and flat-rate schemes on a cash accounting basis. Logos can also be uploaded and included on invoices. Likewise it’s possible to add notes such as payment instructions but there are no other customisation options.

Expenses are equally easy to enter, added to which there’s a mobile app called Snap which can be used to scan and upload receipts to your Crunch system. Available for iPhone and Android mobiles, Snap is only available to subscribers. It also involves some manual transcribing back at Crunch which means it can take up to 24 hours for scanned receipts to be added.

The preferred method of reconciling bank and credit card accounts is to upload statements in CSV format which works well enough if you can get statements in that format. Most banks will do this, but it’s not universally available. A more automated method involving live bank feeds is in also in development, but has yet to be released. Similarly, Crunch is looking to add PayPal integration and the ability to track and bill for time using Crunch.

Social accounting

Crunch doesn’t quite provide the functionality of some rival services, but it looks well on the way to getting there. Its main USP, however, has to be the underlying accountancy support which, unfortunately, isn’t as easy to evaluate.

We had a number of online chats and the staff seemed knowledgeable, moreover, according to its marketing blurb, Crunch can do just about everything an independent accountant would and more. Added to which the staff at Crunch can see and work with your books without the need to export data, convert to different formats etc.

A dashboard display and built-in reporting tools are also provided to enable you to keep a close eye on your finances while subscribers to Crunch Max get twice-yearly health checks and advice on how to do things better. The company can even transfer your books from a previous accountant and handle your personal tax return – for a fee of course, with the rate dependent on how complex your affairs are.

Summary

We liked Crunch. It takes a unique and refreshing approach to a task that every small business has to meet and does it well. There are a few rough edges and omissions when it comes to the software but with the accountancy support to back it up that shouldn’t be a problem. Overall it’s a usable and workmanlike solution and, as with other cloud-based services (including Xero), updates are being developed and released all the time to address what shortcoming there are.

However, Crunch isn’t as complete as Xero which, as well as a similar mobile app, already has support for automated bank feeds and rules-based learning for reconciliation, plus eBay and PayPal integration. Xero is also a lot more customisable, more scalable and can handle multiple currencies. The key selling point with Crunch is the accountancy support which is unique as far as I know and goes a long way to making up for any deficiencies in the product.

Bottom line – Crunch is good for freelancers, contractors and micro businesses looking for a complete solution. Xero is a better option for larger small businesses, particularly traders with large transaction volumes.

  • Bob

    This is the” Flappy Bird” of the accounting software world (with the same level of frustration). In that if you ever played flappy bird you know that you have to peck at the screen to keep the bird in flight but if you hit a barrier it’s game over. Similar principle with this software only you peck at the keyboard. if you don’t get it right bank reconciliation you will have to unreconsile upload then reconcile again and again and again.

    The support staff are very hands off and simply point you at the help pages!! …. eventually.