Is Bench Bookkeeping Right for My Business?

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Started in 2012, Bench has grown quickly to become one of the industry's hottest accounting services startups. In January 2015, Bench closed a $7 million Series A round, bringing total funding to $10 million. With 126 employees, Bench appears poised to scale into what would be a first for the industry—a national bookkeeping services firm.

Bench pricing ranges from $135 to $365 per month, making it an attractive option for small businesses looking for bookkeeping help.

What Bench does

Bench provides each of its clients with a dedicated bookkeeper. These bookkeepers are employees of Bench and work from either the Vancouver or New York offices. Clients can schedule a phone call or message their bookkeeper directly via the Bench app.

Your Bench bookkeeper helps you with two tasks each month:

  1. Categorization. Bench’s proprietary web application connects to your bank, credit card, and PayPal accounts and imports your transactions into Bench’s accounting system. Your bookkeeper then places the transactions into the appropriate categories. After you upload your PDF bank statements, your Bench bookkeeper reconciles the transactions to the statements to ensure that your books are accurate and complete. If there are transactions your bookkeeper doesn’t know how to categorize on her own, she’ll message you for clarification.

  2. Receipt management. Throughout the month, you upload or forward receipts to Bench. Your bookkeeper attaches each receipt to the appropriate transaction in the accounting system. Before finalizing your financial statements, your bookkeeper asks for any missing receipts to ensure there is a complete record.

If you’ve got personal expenses mixed in with business expenses, Bench will help you separate those out. Also, if you don’t want to scan and upload receipts, you can send FedEx envelopes for $30 each.

What Bench doesn't do

The biggest consideration for business owners deciding whether or not to use Bench is that it only produces cash basis financials. This means that transactions are recorded when money is deposited, or when money is debited from your accounts.

Bench therefore doesn't handle invoicing or tracking of bills. If you need to invoice your clients and track what’s outstanding, you’ll need to use an outside system in addition to Bench. Likewise, if you need to track what you owe to your suppliers or contractors, you’ll have to do that outside of the app.

Other factors to consider:

  • Each month, you’ll need to send your bookkeeper your PDF bank, credit card, and PayPal statements for each account you’re tracking in Bench.

  • You can’t customize the categories Bench uses for your income statement or track revenue/expenses by different lines of business.

  • Unlike an independent bookkeeper or accountant, your Bench bookkeeper can’t help you with tasks such as filing 1099s or renewing a business tax license.

  • If you haven’t done your books in a long time, you’ll need to pay extra to get caught up.

  • If you’ve been doing your books in another accounting system, you can’t import the individual transactions into Bench. Your Bench bookkeeper will ask you for your latest reconciled financials, then enter those and start from there (unless you want to pay Bench to do the previous months’ books over again).

  • There’s no built-in payroll option.

  • Bench’s software doesn’t do inventory management.

So is Bench a good deal for my business?

This is a tough question to answer because so much depends on the individual business and owner. In general, if what you need is cash basis bookkeeping and receipt management so you can file your taxes, Bench offers the right service at a great price. Most business owners will be better off outsourcing and spending their time bringing in new business. This description fits the large majority of small businesses, so Bench has a good sized market in which to grow.

If you need any of the features that Bench is missing (listed above), you may want to consider alternatives. For instance, you may need help with tasks such as paying bills, invoicing customers, or filing 1099s. Your Bench bookkeeper can't help with that.

When to hire an accountant to manage your books

You should definitely consider other options if you need financial reporting for management purposes, not just tax purposes. As an accountant, my biggest reservation when recommending Bench is the lack of accrual basis financials. To get a true picture of how your business is doing, it is important to be able to match related revenue and expense items in the same time period, regardless of when funds are received or disbursed. When a business is small, this will happen naturally, but as soon as a business grows and becomes more complex, accrual basis bookkeeping is necessary for the financials to be useful.

It is also important for growing businesses to be able to track income and expense by revenue stream. If Bench’s standard chart of accounts doesn’t fit your business model, you’ll want to consider other options.

Blake Oliver

Los Angeles, California, United States