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Crunch accounting review

Simple software with support from accountants

cloud accounting
Price
£65 (starting price per month)
  • Tech support until 20:30 is great for the SME market; Excellent wizardry form; It understands overseas customers; Price includes software and services
  • It's not cheap; Could do with a Self Assessment self-submission tool a la TaxCalc

Anyone who's ever run a business of any kind will be familiar with accounting packages such as Sage or QuickBooks. Today, there are more options when it comes to in-house accounting packages – and plenty are cloud-based. 

Crunch Accounting is one of those, but what's interesting is that they're not just a SaaS company.

As Crunch's Jon Norris put it to me: “Crunch was initially going to be a cloud bookkeeping software service (a la FreeAgent or Xero), but during market research before we launched it was decided that wouldn't address many of the issues business owners have accountants (price, speed etc.) - it needed to be a whole new service. Hence now we're a fully-fledged accountancy firm, and we also build our own software”. 

That's the background, then, but now let's go, on to the package itself. As we've established it's an online service and it's available in three flavours:

• Standard: £64.50 per month (inc VAT) - Covers your basic small business requirements: basic accounting, VAT, year-end accounting and directors' payroll. IR35 (the rules relating to one-person companies working for single clients), secure bank feeds, self-assessment and bookkeeping are the main optional bolt-ons (there are a few others too – check out the Web site for full details).

• Plus: £96.50 per month (inc VAT) - All the features of standard with more options includes employee payroll, IR35, secure bank feeds, filing of annual returns and self-assessment. Bookkeeping is an optional extra.

• Premium: £126.50 per month - As Plus but with bookkeeping included.

Most small and medium businesses will go for the Plus service, though if you're a one-man band with a couple of directors and no employees then Standard may well be sufficient.

These are the options for the service, so let's look at the service itself. The GUI is tab-based, with sections named Home, Sales, Expenses, Banking, Pay Yourself, Company Tax, Accounting, Your Crunch and Self Assessment. When you sign in you'll land on the Welcome page of the Home tab, which sits alongside your Dashboard – an overview screen that shows you all the key information about your company.

The layout of the GUI is numpty-proof. The placement of the key buttons is consistent between tabs so there's always a button-cum-pull-down for adding new stuff at the top right and a “Get help with this” button at the top left. You're also subtly walked through what you need to do in each feature: the screens are forms rather than wizards, but a rather clever type of form.

When you create an invoice you're presented with the New Invoice form but it won't enable the buttons that let you do stuff lower down the form (such as adding line items) until you've completed key fields at the top (the client name, for instance). It's a refreshing way of providing a wizardry walkthrough for data entry but without the annoying Next-Next-Next of a traditional wizard.

I won't bore you with the detail of every tabs because many of them are obvious – the Sales tab includes client details, payment details and invoicing, for example, and the Banking tab includes all the features you need to reconcile your bank accounts (you can upload statements as CSV, by the way) and shuffle money between them.

There are a couple worthy of mention, though. First is the “Your Crunch” tab, which lets you tweak the system to your personal preferences (company logos, invoice footers, PAYE reference and the like), export data, enter employee data and interact electronically with certain third parties. This latter feature is called “Crunch Connect”, and includes funky stuff like the ability to integrate the system electronically with your bank accounts (only HSBC, NatWest and RBS at present though), upload PDF bank statements instead of faffing about with CSV, and even mileage monitoring via integration with an iPhone/Android app (“MileCruncher”).

The other notable tab is subtly named “Accounting” but it includes a bunch of the stuff that the average small business owner would find tricky to produce by hand – P&L summaries, and balance sheets being the obvious two; there's also a handy section for bad debt and year-end stuff.

As I alluded to at the beginning of this review, the software package is backed by an accountancy firm and there are some features in the portfolio that are handled by a person rather than the software.

So in the Self Assessment tab, for example, you'll there's no electronic on-line tool but a price list for the company's Self Assessment completion service where they honestly point out: ”The price increases the closer we get to the [31 January] deadline, due to time constraints”.

It's worth noting at this point that the on-line help team are pretty effective too: I fired up a chat session and threw in some questions about the self-assessment process around eight in the evening and the advisor responded in less than half a minute.

What do I think of Crunch overall, then? In short, I like it a lot. It's been designed very well and it does pretty much everything I'd want were I still running my own business – including, by the way, important things like understanding the VAT regulations for supplying the Channel Islands from a UK business. Yes, I'd like to see them expand stuff like the range of bank account integration but I'm sure that'll come over time and of course they've already done some nice add-ons like the mileage calculator.

In fact I think the only thing that disappointed me is that they don't have a self-submission Self Assessment system. The Crunch SA service is £75+, whereas back in the days when I was a UK taxpayer I'd pay 25 quid for TaxCalc and it would work everything out and submit it electronically for me. Of course, getting a software package accredited by HMRC for upload is a non-trivial task, but I'd love to see them do it at some point.

Incidentally, one thing they also told me when I spoke with them is that they have, in their words, “a few big changes” going in imminently; watch this space, then.

Verdict

A comprehensive online accountancy service backed by real accountants.

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