Bench is a cloud-based accounting tool, which is based in Canada and currently only available to users both there and predominantly in the US. Aimed primarily at small business people, Bench comes with a strong suite of features and functions that enable you to build up a comprehensive overview of your accounts in readiness for filing tax returns.
The software-as-a-service appeal of Bench is that it can be used anywhere you can connect to the internet, which makes it useful during the coronavirus pandemic. There are no installed programs as such and with a solid desktop experience on offer. Having launched back in 2013 Bench has grown to offer a flexible range of products, depending on just how much help you think you need when it comes to keeping your business accounts in good shape.
Comparable products include Sage Business Cloud Accounting, QuickBooks, Xero, FreshBooks, Freeagent, GoSimpleTax, TaxCalc, Nomisma, ABC Self-Assessment, Crunch or Zoho Books.
The good news is that Bench comes as a free trial so that you can explore its features and functionality. If you like what you see then the cloud-based accounting service has a starting price of $139 per month, although it should be noted you can only use Bench in the US/Canada currently.
There’s a useful tool on the pricing page that asks what your average monthly expenses are, which enables Bench to give you a quick pointer to the right package. The $139 annually/$159 monthly fee is for the Starter option for monthly expenses below £1k. Next, Micro covers monthly expenses from $1k to $7.5k and costs $159 annually/$179 monthly.
Boutique follows that for $179 annually/$199 monthly if you’ve got monthly expenses between $7.5k to $25k, closely followed by Venture for $219 annually/$249 monthly for monthly expenses between $25k and $50k.
Finally, there’s a Corporate package that costs from $299 annually/$349 monthly and covers monthly expenses up to $1M. In other words, there’s a Bench package for everyone.
While Bench allows you to be hands-on with your accounts and bookkeeping tasks it’s very appealing for people who want to get help from professional advisors. As a result, every package variant comes with your very own bookkeeper, which is a compliment to the software that builds up a dynamic month-by-month picture of your business activities.
However, things start out with the bookkeeping software, which has been fine-tuned towards the needs of small business owners. This intuitive software lets you connect both your merchant and bank accounts to Bench, which can then be shared between yourself and your allocated advisor.
You can add to Bench with a supplementary BenchTax package too, which covers more in-depth areas such as preparing for and filing tax returns along with handling investments, rental income, itemized deductions and quarterly estimates. This could be a useful add-on if you’ve got more complex business matters to sort out during the course of a financial year.
Bench has been engineered to run its software-as-a-service packages on either a mobile device or a desktop machine via a web browser using internet connectivity.
As a result it’s everything you’d expect, with no software to download and the emphasis from Bench on secure date transmission and storage. The company uses 256-bit SSL/TLS encryption, which is the same as that used by banks.
Considering you’ll be connecting to your bank accounts this is therefore reassuring. Bench also makes a point of underlining that it houses all of its data in its North American HQ and any bookkeeping professionals are from in-house sources, rather than being recruited externally.
Ease of use
All in all Bench is a very straightforward service to sign up for and start using. In fact, you can be up and running in next to no time. All you need to do is enter some basic details in order to register, which then takes you to a web page where you can link all of your accounts, such as checking, savings and credit cards. On doing this you’ll also be able to immediately access the real-time Bench cash flow dashboard.
In addition, a representative from Bench will give you a phone call shortly after as you supply your number during registration, and should be able to get you past the sigh-up post. The really useful thing is that if you’re signing up for the free trial the package has some sample data so you can get a solid overview of which bit does what. If you link your own accounts then this will replace the sample content. It’s a great way of seeing how the interface ticks.
The Dashboard area is basic but effective, with useful tools such as an uploads area for adding statements, receipts and tax documentation as and when it’s needed.
When we signed up for the trial Bench staff were true to their word and got in touch within minutes. The rest of the Bench support experience looks to be impressive too, with plenty of online help available. You will obviously have the benefit of a professional advisor too within the realm of the Bench package that you choose.
Bench has done a great job in providing a decent compromise between easy to use and highly intuitive cloud-based software and the ability to work on your accounts with a professional advisor. There are cheaper options on the market, but there’s quite a lot to offer from any one of the Bench packages.
The other bonus is that you can carefully pick a version to suit your business needs, so you won’t end up with high monthly bills and lots of features you don’t actually need or use. Conversely, Bench has enough muscle to handle larger companies too, so all things considered it turns out to be a promising all-rounder. Just as long as you’re in the US or Canada, that is.
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