2019 marks 10 years since Darren Fell founded Crunch, the UK’s first online accountancy firm.
It’s a decade which has seen the Brighton-based business change the face of accounting for freelancers, contractors, start-ups and small businesses, earning itself an annual turnover of £9.4 million in 2017-2018 and employing some 180 people.
Among the firm’s many plaudits, in September, CEO Fell was delighted to be named 2018 Practice Accountancy Pioneer of the Year at the Accounting Excellence Awards, collecting his award from Countdown presenter Rachel Riley.
Until recently, Crunch has been focused on the UK micro-business market, but now, thanks to a £1.2m loan from Barclays, it is set to move into the SME arena, targeting businesses with 11-49 employees.
The seed that would become Crunch was sown in the mid-2000s when the entrepreneurial Fell was running his own email marketing consultancy Pure360. A fortuitous discussion with an accountant about the need for software support for freelancers saw him develop the idea further, and by 2009 he had sold his majority shareholding in Pure360 to found Crunch.
“I knew from my own consultancy experiences that the first meeting with accountants would be amazing, they would talk about their knowledge and expertise, but then they would move on and always be looking for the next bigger client,” says Fell.
“I could also see that there was a bigger problem to address. After the first year, customers were coming back to me, they had a good set of accounts but they couldn’t get a mortgage because they were self-employed, or they needed tax advice on expenses. I vowed I would solve their mortgage problems and many others too.”
So successful has the mortgage offering been, that Fell says Crunch has arranged over £100m of mortgages over the past two years. In addition, Crunch offers advice on everything from tax and expenses, to insurance and pensions.
A key milestone came with an appearance on an innovation slot on BBC Radio 2’s Drivetime programme. Fell went into the office the next morning to find some 250 calls waiting from potential customers wanting to find out more.
“There’s no doubt that helped put us on the map,” he says. “We were offering an online accountancy service, complete with the necessary software, dedicated account managers and accountants for just a third of the cost that the traditional accounting firms were charging.
“Our growth was astronomical, I wasn’t even an accountant and here we were challenging the accountancy profession.”
Today Crunch has some 10,500 customers and although Fell agrees there are plenty of “copycat” firms now offering similar services, he is proud to have been the first ‘true’ online accountancy firm.
With the Barclays funding now safely under his belt, the future is looking even brighter and Fell’s goal is to be number one in the larger client sector.
“This is a really exciting time for us,” continued Fell. “For years, we have been disliked by competitors in our profession, but with what we have learnt already, we know how to run an efficient practice. We can effectively give people a chartered accountant in their pocket, with real people on the end of their phone.
“Barclays has been very helpful. We are very, very fussy about our investors but Graham and his team have been amazing in supporting our growth plans. They offered us a loan at an excellent rate and Graham knows and understands our business.”
Graham Godley, corporate relationship director for Barclays, said: “As part of our plans to enhance our high-growth offering to the market, we are extending our lending capabilities and credit appetite for ambitious, entrepreneurial tech businesses like Crunch.
“The UK economy needs innovation and innovators need finance, and our aim is to support clients such as this up and down the UK.”
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