Introducing bank feeds (done right)

Posted on Mar 26th, 2012 | News and opinion

There are many hot topics of discussion in the SaaS world, and undoubtedly the hottest topic in the SaaS accounting world is bank feeds.

All Crunch clients will have used our statement upload bank reconciliation feature. A bank feed would remove the “statement upload” phase, and provide a mechanism to automatically pull in details of recent transactions directly from your bank.

The problem

On the surface this sounds like a wonderful idea and one we’d be keen to implement – however there are a few fundamental problems.

Currently, the only UK bank that provides a modern, secure mechanism for extracting data from within their online banking systems is HSBC, who have a proprietary API and charge heavily for access. For this reason, most other UK SaaS accounting solutions that currently offer bank feeds receive them through a third party company called Yodlee.

Yodlee is able to obtain the data these providers want through screen-scraping (any developers amongst you will have probably just groaned), which involves their software logging into your online bank pretending to be you and “reading” the data on screen.

One of the drawbacks of screen scraping is that when a bank changes their website Yodlee’s integration breaks as the software doesn’t know where to “look”, as happened recently with RBS and NatWest.

However the bigger issue from our perspective is that by handing over your online banking login details to a third party you are breaking your bank’s Terms and Conditions, and waive your right to liability cover if money were to suddenly disappear from your account. This is the issue that has led to bank feeds becoming a contentious talking point in SaaS accounting circles, and has even led to one South African bank blocking Yodlee altogether.

At this point we should point out that Yodlee’s operation – despite its inherent shortcomings – is above reproach. They have never lost client data, and have a spotless security record. However, we decided early on in Crunch’s life that we could never integrate Yodlee.

Unlike other SaaS accountancy providers who simply produce software responding to market demand, Crunch also act as our clients’ accountant and trusted financial advisor. For this reason, we cannot in good conscience recommend acting against your bank’s T&Cs, thereby putting your business in danger (however small that danger may be).

The good news for our clients, though, is that we’ve come up with a better solution.

The solution

Working with our banking partner Cater Allen we have developed a completely secure, bank-approved feed to pull transactional information from your Cater Allen bank account into Crunch.

Our bank feed does not require you to hand over your online banking login details, and so will not void your liability insurance. Similarly, our bank feed has been developed in conjunction with Cater Allen, and so will not break randomly. All we need is your 8-digit Cater Allen account number (ordinarily we only ask for the last four digits, however in this case we require the full eight to tie transactions to your Crunch account) and your authorisation to activate the feed.

The feed can be activated through Crunch Connect in the same way you activate Snap.

Best of all, our bank feed will be rolled into the standard Crunch package, meaning seamless bank reconciliation is now possible for all Crunch clients securely, reliably and at no extra cost.

What if I’m not with Cater Allen?

We think this is a huge step in the right direction for online accountancy, and we’ve been focusing our efforts on developing a scalable, platform-agnostic solution. Now that we have that solution working with Cater Allen we’re working hard to bring all the other major banks on board.

If you don’t use Cater Allen for your business banking you will not be able to take advantage of bank feeds just yet (you will still see the option to activate them in Crunch Connect, but nothing will happen if you do), but we’ll be bringing more banks on board in the not-too-distant future.

In the meantime, if you’d like to move your business bank account over to Cater Allen to take advantage of this new feature you can get the ball rolling by contacting your account manager.

As always, if you have any questions don’t hesitate to leave a comment here or ping us on Twitter.

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Written by Jon Norris

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