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Accounting News Roundup: Tax Prep With Watson, GE Layoffs and Bribes | 02.02.17

Programming note: There will be no ANR or newsletter tomorrow. More details to come later today.

H&R Block and Watson

Last year, H&R Block drew the ire of CPAs everywhere with some videos that the AICPA didn’t think were very nice. H&R Block CEO Bill Cobb responded with, “Sorry, not sorry,” and we didn’t hear anything more of it. Since then the tax prep chain has been threatened by Donald Trump and snagged Jon Hamm as a pitchman. But now, here in 2017, it’s really pulling out the big guns.

IBM is partnering with H&R Block to make Watson a part of the tax filing process at locations across the US starting on February 6th. After you participate in an initial interview, the artificial intelligence will offer suggestions to Tax Pros (read: experts) looking for deductions, and illustrate the bigger picture for you on a dedicated client screen. Ideally, Watson’s ability to understand context and intent will turn your statements into tangible data that leads to bigger tax breaks.

Although most CPAs don’t compete H&R Block now, there’s no telling how good Watson will get a preparing tax returns. Even if he’s not so good at first, it’ll never complain about long hours during tax season or how crappy the coffee is. Meanwhile, Watson will keep getting better knowing the tax law, start appearing with Jon Hamm in ad spots, mocking CPAs, and that will be all she wrote. You just can’t compete with that kind of moxie.


This is a bummer. The Albany Times Union reports that General Electric will lay off 75 people in its corporate tax office.

GE notified the state Department of Labor on Wednesday that it was closing its tax office at Corporate Woods in Albany, resulting in 75 jobs being eliminated. Those “layoffs” are really part of the deal with PwC, and will take place between March and May when GE’s deal with PwC takes effect.

The story also notes that GE has said that the majority of people working in the tax office will join PwC.

Accountants behaving badly

Lots of accountants who break law do so with nothing more than their own lifestyle in mind. They want fancy cars, homes, vacations and the like to make themselves feel better. Or, they just have a crippling gambling addiction.

So it’s interesting to read about an accountant who was involved with corrupting a local government official. The Washington Post reports that Felix Nelson Ayala of Rockville, Maryland has been charged with bribing a Prince George’s County Council member. Ayala bribed former council member William Campos in exchange for funding of Ayala’s nonprofit by virtue of a discretionary fund. Pretty simple, but the best part, of course, is when Ayala was brought in for questioning:

The accountant initially denied providing Campos with “anything of value” in exchange for the funding his organization received.

Agents then showed Ayala photographs of himself handing Campos envelopes containing a cashier’s check in one instance and cash in another.

He identified himself as the man in the images, the affidavit said.

Essentially, a Scott London moment. That has to feel awful.

Previously, on Going Concern…

Greg Kyte’s Exposure Drafts cartoon addresses tax preparer licensing. Adrienne Gonzalez wrote about drones.

In other news:

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Image: Wikimedia Commons