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Case Study

H&R Block Combats Extreme Workflow Fluctuations with IA on AWS

99% faster to update a lease agreement (4 seconds instead of 45 minutes)
$500,000 saved by insourcing corporate accounting functions
60,000 hours returned to the business each year
"As part of our continuous improvement efforts, we partnered with our corporate accounting team who was outsourcing much of our day-to-day transactional processing. By deploying a team of digital workers, we were able to automate over 75% of that work, eliminating the need for an outsourced partner. In the end we are doing the same work faster, cheaper and more accurately than the outsourced partner.”"
Josh Tieman Director, Enterprise Productivity & Intelligent Automation

For more than 65 years, H&R Block has helped millions of Americans easily navigate and file their income tax returns through one of their 10,000 tax offices. They employ 3,800 regular full-time associates year-round but hire an additional 60,000 seasonal associates during tax-season. The extreme seasonality of the tax industry presents challenges to hire, train and support critical back-office operations that make a tax-season possible. To help meet capacity needs when workloads spike, H&R Block has deployed INVOKE’s fully managed ARIA Cloud solution and leveraged the powerful combination of intelligent automation from SS&C Blue Prism running in an Amazon Web Services (AWS) environment.

Tackling Seasonal Challenges

April 15. It’s a date American taxpayers have committed to memory. For H&R Block, it’s a milestone that took the entire year to achieve. And each year, the company scales its workforce to 5x to handle the demands of tax season. A majority of the corporate seasonal associates that are hired are trained to do repetitive, but critical work, to support the 60,000 seasonal tax professionals in the field. Because the demand for the work significantly reduces after tax season, the seasonal workforce is released. The next year the cycle starts again. The administrative challenges of recruiting seasonal workers for only five to six months — and training them to complete a wide variety of tasks — is heavy and inefficient. H&R Block knew there had to be a better way to help manage workflow fluctuations.

We needed consistency and scalability. The flexibility of ARIA Cloud and AWS has been the biggest benefit for us. Some of our processes will peak for only days or weeks, and it wasn’t cost effective for us to be able to scale to that capacity with an on prem solution.”
Josh Tieman Director, Enterprise Productivity & Intelligent Automation, H&R Block

Hiring a Scalable and Flexible Digital Workforce

H&R Block set their sights on a different type of workforce — a team of SS&C Blue Prism digital workers — to help ease the cycle of hiring, training, and ultimately releasing their temporary workforce. Though digital workers were first deployed on-premise and managed by H&R Block’s IT team on virtual machines, they soon determined that a cloud environment would create greater flexibility and eliminate inconsistencies in how digital workers are onboarded. One of SS&C Blue Prism’s Premier Technology Alliance Program (TAP) partners, INVOKE, had a perfect solution — transition from using SS&C Blue Prism licenses being managed by H&R Block’s IT department to SS&C Blue Prism licenses fully managed by ARIA Cloud running on AWS. This allows them to quickly and easily scale digital workers to handle tasks when they need them, and only when they need them. With AWS’ ability to auto-scale, digital workers are made more flexible and cost-effective, avoiding the purchase and upkeep of costly equipment and utilization of scarce IT resources. So, H&R Block can spin up resources when workloads get heavy and then easily scale capacity down once the workload drops off after tax season.

And INVOKE is more than just a supplier to H&R Block. As an SS&C Blue Prism consulting, implementation, and TAP partner, they’ve become H&R Block’s trusted advisor for solving problems using automation for the past four years.

Renewing leases 99% faster

H&R Block has nearly 10,000 company-operated retail offices in the US, most of which operate on a 12-month lease. Leases must be painstakingly renewed and updated each year before they expire. Corporate accountants manually delete the old lease and then type in the new lease conditions line-by-line — which takes an average of 45 minutes. Digital workers are now tasked with relieving accountants from this manual, repetitive work. They log in and complete the process in four seconds — a 99.9% reduction in average handling time.

Intelligent automation has delivered a massive savings in average handle time for lease renewals and freed up the accounting group. This process was a big component in their overall goal to reduce their end-of-month close of books by one day, which is a big accomplishment for accounting functions.”
Adrian Carmichael Manager, Intelligent Automation, H&R Block

Increasing compliance and communications with tax students

H&R Block operates an Income Tax Course in all 50 states in the U.S. to help train and prepare individuals to become certified H&R Block tax professionals. Last year the company had over 47,000 people enroll in an income tax course across the U.S. Educating this many people requires a significant amount of work to communicate with students and stay compliant with each state’s educational requirements. Instead of hiring seasonal workers to manage this effort, H&R Block deployed a team of digital workers, saving the company over $100,000 in labor costs and ensuring compliance with state educational requirements.

Clear Communication at a Stressful Time

Millions of H&R Block clients take advantage of a product called Refund Transfer, where clients can deduct service fees directly from their refund so there is no out-of-pocket cost for preparing their taxes with H&R Block. When the U.S. government began issuing stimulus payments to assist citizens during the pandemic, those payments were required to be delivered in the same manner the taxpayer received tax refunds. For these clients, the refund is issued to H&R Block first and then passed on to the client in the deposit method they choose which creates a small delay in fund disbursement. To make sure clients were receiving their stimulus funds as quickly as possible, H&R Block had to disburse the funds within a very small window of time. To make matters more difficult, the stimulus money arrived during the off-season, so H&R Block was not staffed to handle the unexpected work. Calls from clients soon flooded the call center.

H&R Block needed to quickly reassure clients that money was on the way. INVOKE provided additional digital workers — with increased capacity made possible by AWS — to send emails to each client notifying them when their stimulus money would be available.

Insourcing H&R Block’s own accounting functions

Just like any business, H&R Block must also complete its own business accounting and five years ago outsourced much of the transactional processing work to a third party. They spent $500,000 each year for the vendor to complete work like journal entries, travel and expense reporting, and reconciliations. H&R Block’s Intelligent Automation team saw an opportunity and deployed digital workers to take over these tasks, transforming the function for the accounting team, and saving a half-million dollars.

What's Next for H&R Block?

In the next few years, H&R Block plans to pivot from traditional automation to hyper-automation — beginning with improving exception handling and bolstering optical character recognition capabilities to help tax professionals enter tax return data. Educating business stakeholders and leveraging SS&C Blue Prism’s reusable objects will help grow their automation footprint and quickly get new automations to market. And by adding digital workers to teams, employees will be better able to manage their workload and spend more time analyzing performance, supporting business decisions, and creating value.

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