H&R Block is planning to offer a pair of new services that will provide taxpayers with online help from the tax prep chain’s professionals.

H&R Block CEO Jeffrey Jones described the two services during an earnings call Wednesday. “As tax preparation evolves, consumers are looking for new ways to get help,” he said. “To that end, we’ve developed two new products that combine the empowerment of our digital offering with our industry-leading tax expertise. The first product is called Tax Pro Review, an improved version of an innovative product we have previously offered called Best of Both. Clients begin their tax return online. And if they want help, they’re seamlessly matched with one of our tax pros. When the return is complete, the tax pro will then start to review, sign and e-file the return. This is a powerful way for our DIY clients to benefit from the peace of mind of knowing that one of our highly trained experts has identified all applicable credits and deductions and has also reviewed their return for accuracy.”

The second offering is called H&R Block Tax Pro Go. “This product addresses the needs of a large number of consumers who want assistance, but don’t want or have the time to visit one of our offices or to start their taxes themselves within DIY product,” said Jones. “We know that while approximately 50 percent of taxpayers want assistance, not all want to go to an office to get help. H&R Block Tax Pro Go clients will know their price upfront, upload their documents through the secure MyBlock portal, and we will work virtually with one of our tax pros to ensure they get every applicable credit and deduction. We’re bringing all the expertise and service our clients want directly to them.”

An H&R Block tax prep office
Bloomberg

The Tax Pro Go service will be managed by certified H&R Block tax pros. “This is a unique way for people to do their taxes – really to address the need of people who want professional help with their taxes, but don’t want to spend the time going to a tax office and having an in-person meeting,” said H&R Block spokesperson Susan Waldron. “Beginning on Jan. 5, 2018, clients can go to hrblock.com/taxprogo and answer a few questions. Then they will be matched with the best H&R Block tax pro for their situation and told the price upfront—which won’t change. Pricing starts at under $60 for one federal and one state return. Clients upload documents at their convenience, and the return is sent to them for approval within five days. Clients talk to and securely message their tax pro when it is convenient for them.”

One of Block’s competitors is skeptical about the new service. Happy Tax CEO Mario Costanz claimed it copies parts of his company’s business model. “They are rolling out the ability for consumers to work through an app, upload their documents and have a tax preparer (an unlicensed one in most cases) work virtually with the clients from one of their offices to finalize their return,” he said in an email. “They actually used terms on their call like: ‘consumers don’t want or have the time to visit an office’ (we've been saying that since we were founded on 12/13/14). And ‘They will have their pricing upfront’ (that has been one of our core differentiators since day 1 of our innovative model).”

He pointed out that four other startups have tried a similar model since his company launched, plus Intuit offered a similar short-lived service called Tada. “It is very difficult for large incumbent companies to pivot or innovate (Intuit has done a good job overall with their core products but not much outside of that) within their existing infrastructures,” said Costanz. “We understand that a company like Block that has been suffering in past years with poor results, lost clients and executive turnover is looking to catch up with today's trends. However their likelihood of executing is low in our opinion.”

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