Brighton-based specialist microbusiness accountant Crunch is expanding its operation with a remote, flexible network of bookkeepers to supplement its core service lines.
The Crunch Bookkeeper Network is the latest innovation dreamed up by Crunch founder Darren Fell, the current Accounting Excellence Practice Pioneer of the year.
Crunch has grown its client base to more than 10,500 by approaching the market more as a technology provider than a traditional accountancy firm. With more than £2m of tech investment behind it, the remote bookkeeping initiative fits right into this mould.
While Crunch has offered in-house bookkeeping for the past decade, the new service line “scales beyond these four walls”, Fell said from the company’s base in Brighton.
The service is built on Crunch’s cloud-based technology platform, which combines its own double-entry accounting system, along with tax and accounts preparation tools and the Salesforce CRM system to manage marketing and client service workflows.
Some of the background work undertaken over the past year has been to segregate the client data, so the firm can control which clients remote bookkeepers are able to see.
“Ours comes as a complete solution, right down to the bank feeds and Snap app we give to clients to capture their income and expenditures,” Fell said.
The idea for expanding Crunch’s bookkeeping service grew from encounters with clients who weren’t keeping up with their reconciliations.
“Our upsell team was calling contractors and asking if they were OK. Our system is easy to use, but they were telling us they were too busy to enter the details. Rather than seeing them leave us for a traditional accountant, we realised we could help them with our bookkeeping service,” Fell said.
He added that Crunch wasn’t just a contractor shop: “We’ve always gone across the board and are moving into microcompanies with 1-10 employees. The bookkeeping service is just as relevant to them.”
Crunch is not alone in riding the current wave for offering accounting services alongside its software. Intuit has been exploring this territory in North America with its TurboTax Live and QuickBooks Live tax and bookkeeping services.
Fell is very aware of the parallels and has compared notes with Intuit’s TurboTax vice president Rich Preece, but he also emphasises some of the differences.
“We are a proper accountancy firm building services on our platform. We’re software and we’re accountants and have a duty of care to customers. We’re regulated by ACCA so we cannot make mistakes.
“QuickBooks is running its bookkeeping service to support its software rather than as an ongoing bookkeeping service, and has said it won’t offer clients more than five hours a month. It would be impossible to really scale that out,” Fell said.
“We will go up to 15-20 hours per month – whatever is required. We’re not talking about hugely complicated accounts and businesses. That’s the massive difference. We know how to do it and we know how to keep a handle on quality.”
All told, Crunch has invested £2.5m on tech over the past year to make sure the underlying system can handle the expanding, remote workload.
After logging in to the Crunch online community, clients use a product builder to select the service elements they want and for how many hours. This community platform connects them to their online bookkeeping system, plus portals to financial services such as commercial insurance and mortgages.
Crunch’s remote bookkeepers, meanwhile, can log in to the platform’s backend to enter, validate and reconcile transactions. They also have access to a segregated client list and task system.
Finally, there is a workforce management tool, provided by a developer that Crunch took a 51% holding in.
So far, 20 bookkeepers have signed up for Crunch’s remote panel and are doing around 500 hours a month. “That’s a teeny weeny amount now, but we think it’s going to grow dramatically,” said Fell.
“There’s a massive alumni of Crunch people who went home and had families or work in part-time roles. It makes sense to work [with them] remotely. We know how to expand the net. It fits what they’ve been doing – working for local practices – we’re not changing anything."