Forget Making Accounting Easier – Bench Just Wants to Do It for You

For accounting startup Bench, its people are just as important as its technology.

The Vancouver-based company, which pairs small business with real human bookkeepers is one of the finalists for Startup of the Year in the Canadian Startup Awards.

“if you think about it, we’re an accounting firm that’s using technology as one tool,” says Ian Crosby, Bench’s co-founder and CEO.

For Bench, technology allows them to communicate with customers easily and to automate processes. Most of the rest comes down to people.

“We’ve gotten rid of a lot of the tedious jobs,” Crosby says. At Bench, “95 per cent of [bank] statements go through without human processing.”

And getting rid of the tedious parts of the job is a big part of what he wants to do.

“We’ve made bookkeeping a good job,” he says. “It’s actually fun to work for us.”

There’s also good pay and room to advance.

It’s something that hits close to home for Crosby. While at university, he worked as a bookkeeper for a startup. He hated the job and taught himself to program in order to automate some of the more boring aspects of the job. That was the first step towards the idea that would become Bench.

After graduating, Crosby went to work at a management consulting firm. There he says he was exposed to finance departments at large corporations, where they’d developed innovative solutions that hadn’t filtered down to smaller businesses.

He would “doodle bookkeeping process maps,” he says and had a plan of “how to make bookkeeping 10x more efficient.”

So he took the leap and started Bench with the attitude: “This seems like a great idea, let’s see what goes wrong,” he says. “Nothing did.”

While the startup faced challenges, Crosby says none of them were insurmountable. Bookkeeping is a huge business. In the United States alone it’s worth $59 billion and one in 100 workers are employed in the field.

But for small businesses there’s a big challenge.

“Service providers tend to be unreliable and expensive,” he says. Turnover is particularly high in the field “There aren’t a lot of people who self-select and say I want to be a bookkeeper.”

The other option for smaller businesses is to do it themselves but “a huge segment of people who start small businesses don’t know how to do it,” Crosby says.

“There’s a lot of software that says it’s so easy, that’s a lie,” he says.

It seems to be going well. Bench has grown from 20 people at the beginning of 2014 to over 100  and revenue has risen 10x, Crosby says.

That comes with its own set of challenges – the company needs to have enough accountants on staff to keep up with customer needs.

“We’ve had to learn how to plan ahead,” Crosby says. “We can’t just sell, sell, sell.”

Crosby says his goal for 2015 is to triple revenue and the number accountants at Bench to more than 300. That will take him once step closer to his goal of Bench being an international brand and the “default for small business.”

“I think it would be awesome if bookkeeping could be easy,” he says. But “people don’t want an easy way to do it, they just don’t want to do it.”