On February 1, 2017, H&R Block CEO Bill Cobb (left) and IBM SVP David Kenny (right) announced that H&R Block's tax professionals at approximately 10,000 branch offices across the U.S. will use a new, consumer-facing technology that incorporates IBM Watson - the largest deployment of Watson in retail locations. The new technology will help H&R Block tax professionals deliver the best outcome for each client's unique tax situation. (Photo by Guerin Blask)

H&R Block deploys cloud-based Watson

From the Cloud to the Tax Desk, Watson to Help Tax Pros Maximize Tax Outcomes  

H&R Block is reinventing the category it founded more than 60 years ago by introducing a new, exclusive, consumer-facing experience that incorporates IBM Watson. The technology will be used by H&R Block's tax professionals this tax season to help deliver the best outcome for each unique tax situation, while helping clients better understand how different filing options can impact their tax outcome.

The collaboration between H&R Block and IBM represents the first time Watson supercomputer will be applied to tax preparation, enabling millions of filers to benefit from the industry-leading expertise of H&R Block's tax professionals, who will now partner with Watson to improve the client experience and aid in identifying credits and deductions.

"We are introducing something this tax season that is totally new, and is in fact, a first in the tax preparation category," said Bill Cobb, H&R Block's president and chief executive officer. "By combining the human expertise, knowledge and judgment of our tax professionals with the cutting-edge cognitive computing power of Watson, we are creating a future where our clients will benefit from an enhanced experience and our tax pros will have the latest technology to help them ensure every deduction and credit is found. This partnership with Watson means we can leverage the best technology available to help our clients get their taxes won."

The field of tax preparation involves massive volumes of data, including a federal tax code with more than 74,000 pages and thousands of yearly tax law changes, all of which impacts a client's tax outcome. As part of the first phase of the collaboration, H&R Block and IBM development teams trained Watson in the language of tax, first applying the technology to the thousands of questions and topics discussed during the return filing process.

The result is a new cognitive experience for filers offered for the first time this tax season at H&R Block retail locations. The solution uses cloud-based Watson supercomputing services to understand context, interpret intent and draw connections between clients' statements and relevant areas of their return.

H&R Block tax professionals can then identify additional areas of possible tax implications in order to maximize client refunds or reduce their tax liabilities. The client can follow along with the tax professional on a dedicated client companion screen that brings to life key focus areas for deductions, making the preparation process more engaging and transparent.

"IBM has shown how complex, data-rich industries such as healthcare, retail and education are being transformed through the use of Watson. Now with H&R Block, we're applying the power of cognitive computing in an entirely new way that everyone can relate to and benefit from – the tax prep process," said David Kenny, senior vice president, IBM Watson and Cloud Platform. "We're excited to see H&R Block's tax professionals, leaders in their field, join their expertise with Watson to enhance the client experience and help millions of individuals file their returns during tax season." 

The partnership with H&R Block in a new industry domain for IBM puts Watson on track to reach more than a billion people around the world by the end of 2017 as the technology is increasingly used to help professionals derive insights and support human decision-making. Organizations are using their data to set themselves apart from competitors. For example, in applying Watson to tax, H&R Block is not just tapping into leading technology, it's also maximizing its competitiveness - its own company insights, amassed over 60-plus years of preparing hundreds of millions of returns combined with new insights gained by using Watson. As Watson learns more about navigating the tax code from H&R Block tax professionals, those learnings will stay with H&R Block and improve the value it delivers to tax filers. Watson's initial training was validated by H&R Block tax experts and the initial corpus will expand over time through each subsequent tax season. During the next phase, H&R Block tax professionals will work with IBM to continue teaching Watson all about tax and apply the technology to innovate in other areas of their business.

Since 1955 H&R Block has filed more than 720 million returns, amassing deep insights that inform their recommendations to filers. H&R Block's approach to tax preparation is rooted in a commitment to securing the maximum refund each client can earn. Doing so means avoiding a check-the-box approach, which can often lead to missed deductions or filing an inaccurate return.

H&R Block with Watson commercial to run during 1st Quarter of Super Bowl
H&R Block will highlight this new offering with the company's first Super Bowl commercial since 2009.

"This partnership with IBM to apply Watson represents a huge innovation in the tax preparation industry," said Kathy Collins, H&R Block's chief marketing and strategy officer. "We are launching it on the biggest stage – the Super Bowl – to ask consumers to rethink their current tax preparation method, and question whether they got back everything they deserved.  We know there is nothing more important than optimizing their outcome – or, in other words – getting their taxes won."

H&R Block's new proprietary client experience with Watson is available only at H&R Block retail locations beginning Sunday, February 5.