As we told you on Wednesday, the AICPA wasn't too happy about a video from H&R Block that promoted its new service, Block Advisors. In that post, we shared with you a template of the letter the AICPA sent to Bill Cobb, H&R Block's CEO. That letter, among other things, requested that he "remove these spots from your tax season media buy."
Mr. Cobb responded yesterday to AICPA President, CEO and professional unicyclist Barry Melancon and, man oh man, did he ever relish the opportunity to lay on the snark:
Barry C. Melancon
President and CEO
American Institute of CPAs
1211 Avenue of the Americas
New York, New York 10036-8775
I received your letter of March 11 expressing AICPA’s concern.
First, I’m heartened that CPAs acknowledge H&R Block has a place in the tax preparation category. That’s an interesting admission, considering the Bloch brothers essentially invented it 61 years ago.
Cobb really could've dropped the mic right there, but he was just getting warmed up:
Just so you have a more complete understanding of what we’re doing, we launched Block Advisors early this year with almost 300 locations nationwide. This is a new and separate brand, designed to provide services that our clients have told us they need and want – in a nutshell, an alternative to their CPAs. Block Advisors features some of our most experienced tax pros and serves clients who need tax planning throughout the year – those with more complex tax situations or small business owners.
"An alternative to their CPAs"?! [cue]
But to the larger point of your letter, the issue AICPA has raised is really about healthy competition and giving taxpayers a choice. Our promotional video at www.youtube.com/watch?v=AJcBK1DCrbo does an excellent job of explaining Block Advisors and I have no intention of pulling it down. Further, our overall marketing campaign is telling taxpayers they now have a great new alternative, one that can serve clients with the most complex tax situations, and do it at very competitive prices. That message is striking a chord and I’m confident about the future of Block Advisors.
At this stage of the letter, you get the sense that Mr. Cobb, who's been mostly diplomatic to this point, will wrap things up and say, "Good luck, Barry. Your members will be just fine, etc. etc." But, no! He was slow playing this whole time to drop the big news:
I’m so confident that just today I have directed my marketing team to increase the media buy for Block Advisors. Soon we’ll be airing in additional markets, telling exponentially more taxpayers about Block Advisors. And we’ll be doing it with a special offer: Anyone who comes to Block Advisors by March 31st will get half off what they paid a CPA or anyone else to do their taxes last year.
Competitive services at competitive prices – that’s giving taxpayers additional choices. That’s what this is all about, and it’s the right thing to do for taxpayers.
Thank you again for your letter, Barry.
As I mentioned in the Let's Review post, H&R Block knows exactly what they're doing. The company ran ads in the early 2000s that the AICPA also complained about and its then-CEO Mark Ernst responded similarly.
Now that it's clear that H&R Block is going to budge, what is the AICPA's next move? We have an email out to a spokesperson so we'll update this post with any statement. In the meantime, you can offer suggestions below.