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H&R Block's Values: Client Focused. We are passionate about helping clients. Their success is a key measure of our success. Integrity. We are honest and ethical in everything we do. Excellence. We take pride in doing our best in everything we do. We embrace change to learn and grow. Respect. We treat each other with respect and dignity, recognizing that innovation springs from unique perspectives. Teamwork. Everyone's collaboration and full participation make us stronger and allow us to serve clients better.
The name of H&R Block, Inc., has become synonymous with the business of preparing income tax returns, and justifiably so. The company is far and away the largest in this field with more than 12,000 offices in the United States, the United Kingdom, Australia, and Canada. During the 2004 income tax filing season it served over 19.2 million clients. The company spent most of the late 1990s focused on becoming a provider of diversified financial services. The early years of the new millennium were spent battling class action lawsuits, a fraud suit launched by the National Association of Securities Dealers (NASD), and a suit filed by New York Attorney General Eliot Spitzer that claimed H&R Block defrauded customers who purchased its Express IRA product.
Tax Preparation Evolved from Accounting Services
H&R Block was founded in Kansas City, Missouri by Henry and Richard Bloch. The two brothers had followed slightly different paths: Henry Bloch had received his degree in math at the University of Michigan and served as a bomber crewman during World War II whereas Richard studied economics at the University of Pennsylvania's Wharton School of Finance. In 1946, while still in their early 20s, Henry and Richard teamed up and formed in their hometown a business services company called United Business. They offered bookkeeping, collections, advertising, and other forms of assistance to local businesses. Tax preparation was one of those services, but the Bloch brothers considered it so marginal that they offered it free of charge to their customers. Within eight years, they were running the largest bookkeeping firm in Kansas City. They also made a sideline out of preparing individual tax returns for people who worked in the building in which they were headquartered.
Preparing individual returns might have remained a mere sideline if the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) had not stopped offering such assistance to the public in 1955. Ironically, Henry and Richard Bloch wanted to get out of that line of work at the time, feeling that it was distracting them from their core operations for little profit. One of their individual clients, an advertising salesman for the Kansas City Star named John White, persuaded them to give tax preparation more of a try--and to take out two advertisements in his newspaper. On the first day that the ads ran, the Blochs found their office flooded with customers.
Thirty-two years later, Henry Bloch would recall: "I can distinctly remember thinking, 'This tax thing is tremendous--it is really going to help our accounting business, what with the advertising and the referrals and all.' But it had the opposite effect. ... Because my brother and I began devoting so much of our time and energies to the tax side, we didn't give our business clients the type of service they wanted. ... We found that they were quitting on us."
Therefore, the Bloch brothers divested their accounting business by selling it to their employees. They reincorporated in 1955, setting up shop under the H&R Block name, and devoted themselves to preparing tax returns for the "little guy" full-time. The Bloch brothers also chose to deliberately misspell their last name in christening their new venture. Two similar, though distinct, reasons for why they did this have been given. According to one story they dropped the "h" in favor of the more phonetic "k" to make sure people would not mispronounce the name; in another, they simply assumed that people would misspell it phonetically anyway.
However they felt about the new company's name, customers were quick to pony up for its services. In its first year H&R Block generated $20,000 in revenues, enough to pique the Blochs' interest in expansion. In 1956 they opened seven storefront offices in New York City to see if they could duplicate their success. These new offices generated $67,000 in revenues in their first year, but the Bloch brothers grew homesick for Kansas City and did not want to stay in the Big Apple or shuttle between the two cities to keep tabs on business in both. Anxious to sell, they agreed to hand over their New York operations to two local accountants for only $10,000 and a percentage of future revenues. For that, H&R Block would be hailed as a pioneer in franchising, even though, as Henry Bloch later admitted, the company more or less backed into it. "When we first franchised," he said, "we didn't even know what the word meant."
The company's first experience in franchising also would turn out to be an unhappy one. Concerned by unscrupulous practices on the part of the New York franchisees, H&R Block would initiate legal action against them in 1964, charging violation of the company's pricing and advertising arrangements. The two parties settled out of court in 1966, and as a result H&R Block bought back the franchises for more than $1 million.
More immediately, however, the New York experiment proved to the Bloch brothers that tax preparation would be a viable business outside of their hometown. In 1957 H&R Block opened offices in Topeka and in Columbia, Missouri. The next year, it added offices in Des Moines, Oklahoma City, and Little Rock. From there, the company grew at a dazzling rate. It went public in 1962, and by 1967 it could boast of having nearly 1,700 offices in 1,000 cities in 44 states. During the 1967 tax season H&R Block estimated that it would prepare a total of 2.5 million tax returns by the April 15th filing deadline. The company operated only 35 percent of these offices itself; the rest were franchised. At first, franchises were granted for a mere two percent of gross receipts. "We didn't sell franchises; we gave them away," Henry Bloch would later recall. "An employee would come in and ask us to help him open an H&R Block office in Chicago or Detroit or someplace. We gave him a little spending money and loaned him enough to rent a store and buy some desks. These guys were on their own, and in almost every case they have become wealthy men." In the 1960s, however, H&R Block wised up and raised its price to ten percent, then about 30 percent of gross receipts.
Of course, the company needed legions of trained personnel to keep up with such rapid expansion. In many respects, this proved to be a more substantial problem than drawing customers. To cope with it, H&R Block set up its own training program, which operated more or less as a trade school for tax preparers. In exchange for a small fee, trainees would enroll in an eight-week course taught by company managers. At the conclusion of the course, trainees might receive employment with the company, but they were also free to work for competitors or use their expertise on their own returns. In 1967, for instance, more than 10,000 students enrolled in H&R Block's tax school, but less than half of them went to work for the company at the conclusion of the course. Even so, H&R Block gained 5,000 new employees to staff its storefronts that year.
The tax preparers themselves were and still are seasonal employees, the demand for their services being limited to the first four months of the year. Many of them are housewives, retirees, or people with day jobs looking for a second source of income. In recent years, the company has drawn many working mothers, who like the flexible hours that come with the job. Despite the seasonal nature of the job, most of them return the next year for another round of grappling with the IRS. In 1987 Henry Bloch stated that 75 percent of the company's preparers come back the following year, no doubt because the company rewards its veterans with higher commission rates.
With a virtual headlock on its market, no capital costs except for the leases on its storefront offices and a few dollars for furniture and coffee, and labor costs limited to a fixed percentage of revenues, H&R Block proved wildly successful in the 1960s. In an average year, profits increased by 50 percent over the previous year. In 1969 and 1971, however, changes in the federal tax code reduced the overall number of taxpayers, thus shrinking the company's customer base. Even worse, in 1972 the IRS went to war against tax preparation firms. It cracked down on fraudulent preparers, resumed helping taxpayers prepare their returns, and launched a massive advertising campaign encouraging them not to use commercial preparation services. The IRS campaign, aided by the press, succeeded in tarring legitimate preparation services like H&R Block as well as dishonest ones. That year, the company's profits fell for the first time in its history.
Solidifying the Company's Position and Accumulating Cash Reserves
The IRS campaign eventually collapsed after some public relations debacles of its own. After IRS Commissioner Johnnie Walters declared that the 1040 form was so simple a fifth-grader could complete it, his claim was subjected to various acts of scrutiny that proved it was far more complex than that. An experiment conducted by the Wall Street Journal also suggested that the IRS's preparers were no more reliable than most commercial services. H&R Block not only weathered the firestorm but came out of it in better shape than before, because the IRS's crusade had weeded out its weaker competitors. It was, in fact, the only profitable tax preparation firm of consequential size left in the nation. H&R Block solidified its overwhelming position in 1972 when it opened outlets in 147 Sears department stores--an entirely appropriate move for a company that Richard Bloch once had described as "the Sears, Roebuck of taxes."
Once the crisis had passed, the company found itself faced with a happy dilemma, one that the Bloch brothers had begun to contemplate in the late 1960s. Because its capital costs were so small for a business of its size, and because most of its revenues came in the form of cash, H&R Block had been able to accumulate vast cash reserves. It also found itself unburdened by long-term debt. Because the tax preparation business seemed ready to mature and slow its rate of growth, it was only logical that the company should diversify through acquisition to keep its revenues pumped up. H&R Block spent most of the 1970s searching for likely acquisition targets, but it was limited by a lack of companies that were both available and potentially profitable as well as by Henry Bloch's reluctance to pull the trigger. "A guy told me that two out of three acquisitions fail," he said in 1974. "I just don't want to make a mistake the first time out."
Diversification and Acquisition
H&R Block finally took its first major plunge in 1978, when it acquired Personnel Pool of America, a temporary personnel agency specializing in health care, for $22.5 million. The move seemed to make sense, as H&R Block already had some expertise regarding temporary personnel; after all, the core of its work force at the time was made up of temps. Indeed, the acquisition worked out well: In two years, Personnel Pool of America jumped from the sixth largest to the third largest company in the temporary help field.
The 1980 acquisition of CompuServe also proved quite successful. H&R Block paid $23 million for the information services company, which provided computer time-sharing for corporations and government agencies. Soon after it was acquired by H&R Block, however, CompuServe entered the burgeoning field of providing information services such as software forums, electronic bulletin boards, electronic mail, and interactive games for personal computer users. In doing so, it made its new parent company look positively brilliant. CompuServe's earnings tripled between 1983 and 1985, and its subscriber base quadrupled. It was growing so fast that CompuServe chairman and cofounder Jeffrey Wilkins resigned in 1985 when H&R Block refused to allow him and some of his managers to purchase CompuServe stock. Wilkins subsequently headed an investor group that offered to buy CompuServe for $72.5 million, but H&R Block refused to sell. Wilkins's departure may have seemed like a setback to H&R Block, which considered it wise to keep its acquisitions' existing management teams intact, but CompuServe continued to grow without him. In the early 1990s it was the largest commercial online service, with one million subscribers.
Also in 1980, the Bloch brothers entered into a joint venture with Ohio attorney and entrepreneur (as well as son-in-law of U.S. Senator Howard Metzenbaum) Joel Hyatt, who wanted to set up his own chain of discount law offices patterned after the Los Angeles-based firm of Jacoby & Myers. Hyatt's idea was to tap into the same middle-income market for basic legal services, but to stake out his own geographic territory before Jacoby & Myers could expand beyond its California base. He had opened nine offices between 1977 and 1980, when H&R Block approached him with the idea of partnership. For Hyatt, such a deal would provide him with the capital he needed for rapid and widespread expansion. The two parties set up a separate company called Block Management to operate Hyatt Legal Services to comply with American Bar Association rules forbidding anyone but lawyers to directly own a law firm. H&R Block took an 80 percent stake in the company, with Hyatt and his other partners taking the remaining 20 percent.
Both parties in this deal hoped that H&R Block's marketing resources would boost Hyatt Legal Services past archrival Jacoby & Myers. Before long, however, they realized that the synergies they had expected to create between tax preparation and legal services simply were not happening. In 1987 H&R Block sold its interest in Block Management to Joel Hyatt for $20 million in what was described as a friendly parting of ways.
The 1985 acquisition of Path Management Industries, a business seminar company, also proved that, for all of Henry Bloch's prudence, H&R Block's touch was not always golden when it came to acquisitions. The 1988 postal rate increase hurt Path Management by hiking the cost of its direct mail advertising, and the recession of the late 1980s depressed sales. Having paid $35 million for the company, H&R Block sold it to the American Management Association in 1990 for $20 million.
In the meantime, Richard Bloch had become less involved with the running of the company after he was diagnosed with lung cancer in 1978. Bloch battled his illness successfully, but after his recovery he devoted much of his time to sponsoring cancer research and treatment. He retired in the early 1980s and died in 2004. As the father reached retirement, Henry's son Thomas M. Bloch began to work his way up through the ranks. Thomas M. Bloch became president and COO in 1988, and in 1992 he succeeded his father as CEO. Henry Bloch remained as chairman.
Of course, the business of preparing tax returns remained profitable for the company. Tax preparation did in fact represent a mature line of business for H&R Block in the 1980s, and the company's rapid diversification reduced its contribution to the overall bottom line to just more than half of total earnings by the decade's end. When the IRS began allowing electronic filing of tax returns in 1986, it opened up a brand new opportunity for H&R Block. The opportunity to receive an early refund inspired many who prepared their own returns to come to H&R Block to file electronically. Providing the service was relatively easy for the company, because it used CompuServe's existing communications links to transmit the returns through cyberspace. H&R Block also began offering advances on refunds, or refund anticipation loans (RALs), through agreements with several different banks. In return for a service charge, a participating bank would loan the amount of the refund to an H&R Block client, accepting direct deposit of the refund check as repayment. Electronic filing gave the company's core business a needed boost; within five years it was handling an annual volume of 4.3 million electronic returns--nearly two-thirds of all returns filed electronically.
More Acquisitions, Divestitures, and Refocusing
For all the adventures that it encountered in the 1980s, H&R Block entered the 1990s still in the market for acquisitions. In 1991 it purchased Interim Systems, a temporary personnel agency, for $49.5 million and merged its assets with those of Personnel Pool of America. The resulting merged subsidiary then was renamed Interim Services. Interim Services was spun off in January 1994 through an initial public offering (IPO). Net proceeds to H&R Block were $200 million, with an additional $28 million going to Interim. Block sold its interest in the temporary staffing firm to focus on its tax preparation and computer information service businesses.
With $400 million earmarked for further acquisitions, the company had three main businesses. For 1991 its tax preparation service accounted for $700 million in revenue, its temporary personnel company Interim Services had $385 million in revenue, and CompuServe brought in another $280 million. H&R Block entered the personal financial software market in late 1993 with the purchase of MECA Software, which was best known for its "Managing Your Money" program. Block decided, however, to sell MECA in March 1995 for $35,000, while retaining the right to publish tax preparation software under the name TaxCut. By 1998 its subsidiary, Block Financial Corporation, was the second largest publisher of personal financial software, with record sales of Kiplinger TaxCut, as more people were using their computer and the Internet to prepare their own tax returns.
In April 1994 Thomas M. Bloch resigned as CEO of H&R Block. He wanted to spend more time with his family and teach at an inner city school. In September 1995 Richard H. Brown, former vice-chairman of telecommunications company Ameritech, was named president and CEO of H&R Block to succeed Thomas M. Bloch. He became the first nonfamily member to head the firm. Brown, with his high-tech background and interest in investing more in CompuServe, lasted less than a year. In April 1996 H&R Block spun off CompuServe with an IPO of 18.4 million shares that raised barely more than $500,000 and reduced H&R Block's ownership to 80 percent.
Series of Strategic Acquisitions
In June 1996 Frank Salizzoni, formerly president and chief operating officer of USAir Group, Inc., was named CEO and president of H&R Block. Salizzoni's plan was to transform the company into an integrated financial services business offering not only tax preparation help, but also such services as mortgage loans, financial planning, and investment advisory services. Over the next two and one-half years Block acquired two of its franchises and 251 independent tax preparation firms as well as mortgage businesses and a string of accounting firms. As a result of acquisitions, the company's total assets increased from $1.7 billion in 1997 to $2.9 billion in 1998.
In June 1997 H&R Block acquired the California-based firm Option One Mortgage Corporation, which controlled more than 5,000 mortgage brokers in 46 states. During 1997 H&R Block launched its mortgage service, H&R Block Mortgage Company, on a trial basis in 31 offices in four states. The mortgage service began by selling only second mortgage loans, then it introduced new mortgage products at offices in 15 states. As a result, H&R Block Mortgage Company accounted for $135.8 million of the company's 1998 revenues of $1.307 billion, or slightly more than ten percent. In February 1999 the company acquired Assurance Mortgage Corp. of America to further enhance its mortgage-related product offerings.
During the 1997-98 tax season H&R Block experimented with offering a wider range of financial services, including auto insurance, mortgages, and investment advice. It had 14 "premium" offices that featured enclosed offices rather than cubicles and sold mutual funds, annuities, stocks, and bonds. Some 30 offices also sold mortgages. Throughout 1998 and early 1999 the company opened prototype financial planning centers on a trial basis. These centers included investment advisors and mortgage representatives in addition to tax preparers. The company also tested a telemarketing approach to sell other financial products to its tax service customers though telemarketing call centers located in Florida and California.
In January 1998 the company divested CompuServe, selling its 80 percent interest to Internet access provider WorldCom Inc. in a stock-for-stock transaction valued at about $1.3 billion. Following the transaction, WorldCom sold CompuServe's online service and 2.6 million subscriber base to America Online (AOL) in exchange for AOL's ANS Communication division, which provided Internet access mainly for large businesses. AOL also committed to make WorldCom its largest network access provider.
As part of its strategy to provide a fuller range of financial services, H&R Block launched HRB Business Services, a national accounting and consulting business, in 1998. It had acquired several CPA firms during the year, including the Kansas City-based Donnelly Meiners Jordan Kline, Chicago-based Friedman Eisenstein Raemer & Schwartz and three of its affiliates, and Katz Sapper & Miller of Indianapolis. A fourth firm, Sigman Page & Curry, merged with Donnelly Meiners in September 1998, and two more firms were acquired by the end of the year. HRB Business Services was headed by Terrence E. Putney, the former president of Donnelly Meiners.
Block's strategy was to acquire CPA firms to strengthen its position in the tax preparation market. The addition of CPA firms was intended to attract more high-income individuals who would normally seek out their own CPA firm. One analyst estimated in 1998 that CPA firms controlled about one-fourth of the tax preparation market. H&R Block's share of the tax preparation market at the end of 1998 was 13 percent, and it could increase its share by acquiring CPA firms. By mid-1999, H&R Block was in the process of acquiring Olde Discount. It also added McGladrey & Pullen LLP, a Minnesota-based accounting firm, to its holdings that year. In 2000, the company began offering a host of financial services including brokerage services, annuities, mutual funds, and IRAs through its financial centers and its Web site. Henry Bloch retired that year and became honorary chairman.
Without a doubt, the business odyssey of the Bloch brothers was an astoundingly successful one. Richard Bloch once compared his company to Sears, and a journalist once called it "the McDonald's of tax preparation"; the fact that neither analogy seems absurd is a testament to H&R Block's standing in its part of the service economy. All three of these companies have dominated their respective markets so thoroughly that they have not only become synonymous in the public mind with what they sell, but their names have entered the annals of American popular culture.
It is also impressive that the company managed to maintain a steep earnings curve. A $10,000 investment in H&R Block stock when the company went public in 1962 would have been worth $12.3 million in 1992. In 30 years the stock had split 120:1, dividends and revenues had increased every year, and earnings rose every year except one. With the company focused on becoming a provider of diversified financial services for an expanding market, H&R Block was expected to continue its stability and growth into the next century.
Problems in the New Millennium
Despite the company's longstanding record of success, the next chapter in H&R Block's history proved to be quite challenging and potentially damaging to its public image. Lawsuits filed by New York's Attorney General, the NASD, and by angry consumers threatened to tarnish H&R Block's good name. To make matters worse, accounting errors forced the financial services firm to restate its earnings for 2004, 2005, and part of 2006.
In 2001, the company shelled out $21 million to settle an old fraud lawsuit that had been filed against Olde Financial. Two years later, the NASD charged an H&R Block subsidiary with fraud in the sale of $16.4 million worth of Enron Corp. bonds between October 29, 2001 and November 27, 2001--Enron filed for bankruptcy on December 2, 2001. The suit claimed that the company's brokers received extra incentive for selling the bonds but failed to disclose the risks involved with buying the bonds. At the same time, the company was fending off lawsuits related to its refund anticipation loan (RAL) program. The suits claimed the company charged exorbitant interest rates for providing customers with early tax refunds.
By now, Mark A. Ernst--who was named president and CEO in 2001--faced an uphill battle. The company's financial advisors business segment had lost $330 million since its inception and its once stellar mortgage unit was experiencing a sharp decline in earnings as a result of interest rate increases. To make matters worse, the company's core tax business was losing customers. In fact, from 2003 to 2005, H&R Block lost more than one million clients due in part to long lines and wait times exceeding two or three hours at its tax preparation offices. To add insult to injury, H&R Block was forced to restate earnings for 2004, 2005, and part of 2006 due to miscalculations in its own state income taxes. Then in 2006, New York Attorney General Eliot Spitzer filed suit against H&R Block claiming the company sold individual retirement accounts (IRAs) that earned less money than what customers were charged in fees. The company denied the charges and planned to fight them in court.
The company celebrated its 50th anniversary in 2005 even as its share price plummeted. Despite the problems it faced related to the aforementioned lawsuits and increased competition brought on by the likes of Jackson Hewitt Tax Service Inc. and Liberty Tax Service, H&R Block remained dedicated to expanding the number of its U.S. offices. In 2005, the company opened over 600 company-owned offices, nearly 450 co-locations with partners including Wal-Mart and Sears, and 150 new franchise locations. While the company's foray into financial services had yet to pay off in the long-term, H&R Block remained optimistic about its success in the future.
H&R Block Group Inc.; HRB Management, Inc.; H&R Block Tax and Financial Services Limited; Companion Insurance, Ltd.; H&R Block Services, Inc.; H&R Block Tax Services, Inc.; HRB Partners, Inc.; HRB Texas Enterprises, Inc.; H&R Block and Associates, L.P.; H&R Block Canada, Inc.; Financial Stop, Inc.; H&R Block Canada Financial Services, Inc.; H&R Block Enterprises, Inc.; H&R Block Eastern Enterprises, Inc.; The Tax Man, Inc.; HRB Royalty, Inc.; H&R Block Ltd.; West Estate Investors, LLC; H&R Block Global Solutions (Hong Kong) Ltd.; Black Orchard Financial, Inc.; H&R Block Tax and Business Services, Inc.; H&R Block Tax Institute, LLC; Block Financial Corporation; Option One Mortgage Corporation; Option One Mortgage Acceptance Corporation; Option One Mortgage Securities Corporation; Option One Mortgage Securities II Corp.; Premier Trust Deed Services, Inc.; Premier Mortgage Services of Washington, Inc.; H&R Block Mortgage Corporation; Option One Insurance Agency, Inc.; Woodbridge Mortgage Acceptance Corporation; Option One Loan Warehouse Corporation; Option One Advance Corporation; AcuLink Mortgage Solutions, LLC; AcuLink of Alabama, LLC; Option One Mortgage Corporation (India) Pvt Ltd; Companion Mortgage Corporation; Franchise Partner, Inc.; HRB Financial Corporation; H&R Block Financial Advisors, Inc.; OLDE Discount of Canada; H&R Block Insurance Agency of Massachusetts, Inc.; HRB Property Corporation; HRB Realty Corporation; 4230 West Green Oaks, Inc.; Financial Marketing Services, Inc.; 2430472 Nova Scotia Co.; H&R Block Digital Tax Solutions, LLC; TaxNet Inc.; H&R Block Bank; BFC Transactions, Inc.; RSM McGladrey Business Services, Inc.; RSM McGladrey, Inc.; RSM McGladrey Financial Process Outsourcing, L.L.C.; RSM McGladrey Financial Process Outsourcing India Pvt. Ltd.; Birchtree Financial Services, Inc.; Birchtree Insurance Agency, Inc.; Pension Resources, Inc.; FM Business Services, Inc.; O'Rourke Career Connections, LLC; Credit Union Jobs, LLC; RSM McGladrey TBS, LLC; PDI Global, Inc.; RSM Equico, Inc.; RSM Equico Capital Markets, LLC; Equico, Inc.; Equico Europe Ltd.; RSM Equico Canada, Inc.; RSM McGladrey Business Solutions, Inc.; RSM McGladrey Insurance Services, Inc.; PWR Insurance Services, Inc.; RSM McGladrey Employer Services, Inc.; RSM Employer Services Agency, Inc.; RSM Employer Services Agency of Florida, Inc.
Intuit Inc.; Jackson Hewitt Tax Service Inc.; Liberty Tax Service.
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