Refundo Previews Mobile Tax Filing App Connect

Refundo_homepage_July2016

Coming soon to both Android and iOS, Connect from Refundo will make it easier for taxpayers to file returns with their tax preparers. The new mobile app is designed to help tax professionals reach more customers, as well as reduce wait times for in-office clients.

Refundo_Connect_images“The beauty of this mobile application is that it will be yours,” Refundo Analytics, Growth and Product Hacker Jesse Arroyave wrote on the company blog. “Customize the app with your brand’s color, your logo and a brief description of what you can do for taxpayers.” Arroyave says mobile apps like Connect typically exceed 10 million downloads during tax season, and cautioned that too many smaller FIs were still missing out on the action.

“I’m just tired of small tax offices, who compete and work just as hard as bigger companies, not seeing the bigger picture,” Arroyave said. “Here’s an opportunity to compete and grab a piece of that pie you deserve.”

Launched in 2011 with a focus on helping low- and moderate-income households access quality financial services, Refundo followed its debut at FinovateSpring 2013 with a partnership with Stripe to enable tax preparers to accept credit-card payments via the Refundo Dashboard, and with a collaboration with fellow Finovate alum LendUp to provide short-term loans to taxpayers waiting for refunds. The company, which is headquartered in Elizabeth, New Jersey, won the Innovative Technology Company of the Year award from the New Jersey Tech Council last year. Refundo’s products include the Dashboard tax-refund-processing platform; a refund anticipation loan (RAL) alternative called NOW; and their audit-advisory service, Audit Pros. Roger Chinchilla is CEO.

A Less Taxing April 15 from America First Credit Union

imageLooking for a little Friday afternoon diversion, I visited the website of the recent winner in the humor category of CUNA’s credit union marketing awards, America First Credit Union.

I liked the clever homepage graphic for its loan “billion dollar loan sale” (inset above). But what inspired this blog entry, was the credit union’s recognition that thousands of its members will be slogging through their Federal income tax returns this weekend (note 1).

America First put a prominent orange band across the top of its website (on all pages) reminding members where they could find 2011 tax info on their accounts (screenshot below). And like many financial institutions this time of year, the CU posted a link to TurboTax online for those needing last-minute assistance.

America First Credit Union homepage (13 April 2012)

image 

———–

Note: U.S. national income tax returns must be filed by April 17, 2012, by anyone in the country with any income last year. 

Another Promising Mobile App that Does Away with Paper: Intuit’s SnapTax

imageI meandered into Intuit’s lab site today and ran across a nifty app released last year called TurboTax SnapTax. It allowed California residents to file simple tax returns by photographing their W-2 form, answering a few questions, then e-filing directly from the iPhone app (inset).

As you can see in the following video, the whole process could be completed in a few minutes. The app launched last year on Jan. 15, just in time for the 2010 tax season. The cost was $9.99 which included Federal and state e-filing. 

There’s no word yet on whether the company will be releasing a 2011 version (update: it launches Jan. 13, 2011 and is good in all 50 states). There is no entry in the iTunes store for SnapTax as of today. However, Intuit does have two tax tools available: TaxCaster to estimate your refund and MyTaxRefund to track it. 

Analysis: The Intuit app is part of a trend we expect to continue, using smartphone cameras to capture, store, and eliminate the need to store paper receipts and statements. And like Mitek’s Mobile Photo Bill Pay, Intuit’s Snaptax is much more than a dumb scanner. It takes the scan, reads the info, and assists in completing the transaction.

Opportunity for NetBankers: It’s probably too late for 2011 tax season, but if you can be the first one in your market to offer mobile-photo tax-prep next year, it should provide a healthy PR boost come April 2012. You might also consider offering a tax estimator and/or refund tracker to your mobile offering. 

Intuit’s SnapTax allowed California taxpayers to file directly from their iPhones in 2010.

Financial Companies Dominate Groundswell Awards in North American B2C Category

imageIt’s not often that financial services companies take home multiple trophies in a cross-industry retail-marketing competition. But last week, they took home almost half the top prizes in Forrester’s Groundswell competition for the best use of “social” techniques in their marketing efforts.

Financial companies won nine of 20 possible honors including three of seven category winners and six of 13 runner-up awards (called “finalists“). Four of the winners were in tax prep, a surprisingly social activity.   

The financial category-winners:

Financial runner-ups (aka finalists):

  • Listening (of 3 total)
    — Listening to the Student Pulse by Bank of America and Communispace
  • Talking (of 2 total)
    — American Family Insurance on Facebook by American Family Insurance
  • Energizing (of 2 total)
    — TurboTax Embraces Customer Reviews for Viral Growth by Intuit, Inc.
    — USAA Implements Ratings and Reviews by USAA
  • Supporting (of 2 total)
    — Get it Right Community by H&R Block
    — Taxes on Twitter: @TeamTurboTax Provides Customer Support and Resources by Intuit Inc.

Intuit’s TurboTax division alone accounted for three of the nine financial winners. USAA bagged two awards and H&R Block, Chase, Bank of America and American Family each received one Groundswell award.

The Financial Service that Made Ad Age’s 40 Hottest Brands

image The latest Advertising Age profiles the 40 hottest brands in the United States. In the current climate, I wasn’t expecting to see a financial brand. But there was a one financial tech company that made the list.

Intuit’s TurboTax. It even made the cover photo montage (see inset), although you have to look carefully to see the box laying flat in front (note 1).

Who would have thought tax prep software could be cool? Part of the reason: TurboTax’s marketing VP, Andy Young, has been pushing the envelope looking for novel ways to market tax prep services. For example, last year TurboTax was the first company to use a Google program that displayed an Intuit tweet stream on AdSense partner sites such as Facebook, MySpace and VentureBeat (see screenshot below from our previous post). Clickthroughs went to Intuit’s Twitter page, rather than its main website (note 2).

And things were clicking last year for TurboTax with 11% growth to 18 million units, despite an 11% decline in boxed-unit sales. The growth driver? Online of course, up 36% year over year.  

image Implications for FIs: Banks have driven users to TurboTax for years earning a slice of revenue under affiliate deals. But the potential to provide TurboTax services is set to grow exponentially.   As announced in September’s Finovate, tax prep/TurboTax will soon be integrated directly (e.g single signon) in Digital Insight’s FinanceWorks

VentureBeat home page (9 April 2009)

image

Note:
1. I might have missed the TurboTax box, because I was too fixated on the Five Guys cup on the left, which is coming to Seattle very soon.
2. For more info on leveraging Twitter, see our report published in May, Online Banking Report: Connecting to Customers with Twitter.

Last Day to File Extended U.S. Income Tax Returns, Why Doesn’t Anyone Remind Me?

image If you are like me, you put off filing the dreaded 1040 as long as possible, and may often have no clue that the final due date (for extended returns) has snuck up on you once again. Then there are those quarterly filing dates that aren’t spaced three months apart (see screenshot; note 1). 

That’s why every financial institution that serves small businesses and the self-employed should do three things:

  • Post the IRS due dates on its website (see screenshot)
  • Provide email/text reminders (opt-in naturally)
  • Blog/Twitter them

Small biz accounting startup Outright.com (a Finovate 2009 presenter) is ahead of the curve with its handy Self-Employment Tax Calendar:

 image

Note:
1. I’ve been paying quarterly estimated taxes for 15 years, and thanks to the Outright.com calendar, this is the first time I realized they were spaced 3-2-3-4 months apart. No wonder, I can’t remember. 

LowerMyAssessment.com offers timely personal finance tool to save on property taxes

image Usually, it’s the big ideas that get all the press. Last week alone, Microsoft launched a new search engine (Bing), Google announced a new way to communicate (Google Wave), and Facebook began rolling out an alt-payment service to its 200 million users. 

Those have intriguing long-term ramifications, but can they save you money today? 

Here’s something a little more pragmatic: A tool that promises to make it easy to challenge your tax assessment, potentially saving hundreds or thousands of dollars annually. Enter LowerMyAssessment.com (LMA).

I saw a few screenshots of the service during the company’s application to debut at FinovateStartup 2009 last month (demo video here). But I couldn’t use the service until a few weeks ago.

How it works
image Consumers visiting LMA can use the website’s free tool to check their home’s value against current market estimates. LMA taps public databases to determine tax-assessed values and calculates market value from various third-party sources such as Zillow.

The company then makes the simple math calculation and informs users if the value of their home is under the tax-assessed value. If it is, LMA provides forms and instructions to challenge tax assessments with the local assessor’s office.

In our test case, using an address in Seattle, one of 10 states currently served by LMA, we were told that its assessed value was $300,000 more than the market value (note 2). LMA encouraged me to register and let them help me challenge that assessment.

Registered users complete an online form with info needed to challenge their assessment (see screenshot 3 below). After completing that form, users must pay $125 to complete the challenge process and receive their FairValue Report (shown above).  

Analysis
While the cost-saving potential is significant, the challenge for LMA is getting consumers to shell out $125 for something they can conceivably do themselves (note 3). It took us just a few minutes using Google to uncover the challenge forms and procedures at the King County website. And market value estimates can be pulled from Zillow and its competitors.   

To reduce sticker shock, the company recently removed the big $125 price tag from its homepage (see screenshot 1) and is now emphasizing the free lookup feature (screenshot 2). I can understand downplaying a three-figure fee, especially online. But now they’ve gone too far the other way. I cannot find the price of the service anywhere on the website. It wasn’t disclosed until I completed my registration and filled out the challenge form (see screenshot 4 below).

There’s also the small matter of getting the word out. The major market opportunity will largely be gone once home prices get back to their pre-recession levels, even though there will always be cases where consumers feel their assessment is unfair. But LMA needs to team with major financial or real estate firms as soon as possible to reach large groups of potential customers. 

Bank and credit union opportunities
As discussed in previous posts, direct fee income is scarce in online banking, at least in the United States. Aside from credit bureau monitoring, there are few up-front fees that consumers are willing to pay. Certainly, banks earn billions from the underlying checking, debit, and credit card accounts, but nothing from the value added online.

It’s possible the service could be replicated by a bank or mortgage provider using available APIs from Zillow or others. But for most banks, it would be far simpler to outsource the service to LMA or other specialists.

If the service were sold for $100+, with revenue shared 50/50, a bank or credit union could earn a respectable profit while providing a unique and free service to customers; however, the folks at City Hall may not be so appreciative. If city government is a big customer, you might tread carefully here.

1. New LowerMyAssessment homepage emphasizes free (2 June 2009)

image

2. Previous homepage disclosed the substantial fee up-front (12 May 2009)

image

3. Online appeal form for King County Washington (2 June 2009)

clip_image002[8]

4. $125 (+tax) fee is not disclosed until checkout (2 June 2009)

image

Notes:
1. States currently covered: Arizona, Florida, Hawaii, Illinois, Indiana, New Jersey, Ohio, Oregon, Washington
2. That was on May 11. Now, three weeks later, LMA shows the house having declined another 20%. Home prices are certainly fluctuating, but n
ot that much. It appears that LMA has switched to using Zillow’s low estimate instead of the mid-range one. That may help sell more services, but it’s a bit misleading. It would be much better to show the range of potential market values pulling data from all three third-party valuation sites, in much the way RedFin does. 
3. They also have some work to do in clarifying the buying process. It’s not really clear exactly what you are buying at checkout. Are you submitting a property-tax challenge at that point? What about the FairValue Report? When do you see that? But we’ll cut them slack on that since they just launched a few weeks ago.

Tax Prep 2.0: Does H&R Block’s Tango Provide a New Model for Pricing Online Financial Services?

imageFive days from the U.S. income tax deadline, tax prep ads are everywhere. I don't usually notice them because I still file the old-fashioned way, via CPA (note 1) and paper check. However, yesterday I noticed H&R Block's banner strung across the top of TechCrunch (screenshot below).

It caught my eye for a several reasons:

  • 24/7 access to live tax help, a real benefit to the legions of last-minute filers.
  • The "Tango" branding really intrigued me. How could a tax service be interesting enough to have its own brand, especially one as off-beat as Tango (note 2)?

The Tango product, complete with YouTube videos, <wannatango.com> URL, and more, deserves a post of its own, but here I want to focus on Block's pricing/segmentation.

The tax-prep giant divided its online services into two distinct categories, both catering to the computer savvy do-it-yourself crowd. Block calls the segments: "Do it Myself" and "Do it With Me" (screenshot below) with pricing as follows:

Do it myself:

  • $14.95 for 1040EZ
  • $29.95 for 1040 with itemized deductions
  • $59.95 for 1040 with state return

Do it with me:

  • $70 Tango option — complete online and submit yourself with unlimited 24/7 support (includes state return)
  • $99.95 (+$34.95 for state) complete yourself and then route to an H&R Block agent to review and e-file
  • $99.95 (+$34.95 for state) and above (note 3) to fill out an online questionaire and submit your data to have someone at H&R Block complete the return for you

image

NetBanker strategic action item
Banks, take notice. Block's pricing strategy is brilliant and if applied to online banking, could revive the difficult business case. Online banking, like electronic tax prep, is a mature business, and has long ago proven itself as valuable and convenient.

Now it's time to cash in on that convenience. While levying fees across the board would create customer ill-will, it's possible to segment your online banking base into customers who want plain vanilla services for free and those that want the best, and are willing to pay for it. Block's Tango is a good example of how to price for those who want to go it alone for the lowest cost and those that want high-tech online services AND high-touch tech support.

A bank or credit union could mimic the Block program:

  • Do it myself (FREE): Download data, set up my bills, create triggered alerts, monitor my own security settings, read my own credit report, store my own statements on my hard drive, and so on
  • Do it with me ($5/mo): 24/7 access to an online specialist who will provide advice, assistance, and help doing any of the above. Added bonus: lifetime storage of all transactions, statements, and check images!!!

Call it VIP Banking and start turning online banking into a profit center. With dedicated fee income you will have fewer problems during the looming crisis in online banking measurement

For more on online banking pricing and how to develop a premium-priced online banking service, see our Online Banking Report: Pricing – The "Fee" vs. "Free" Controversy (#109).
 

H&R Block Banner on TechCrunch (9 April 2008, 1 PM Pacific)

H&R Block Tango advertised on TechCrunch

Landing page from TechCrunch banner (9 April 2008)

H&R Block landing page from TechCrunch banner

Tango homepage (9 April 2008)

H&R Block Tango home

Notes:

1. In testing Turbotax and TaxCut, I have found both to be intuitive and surprisingly easy to use, even for relatively complicated returns with business deductions. This year, I did my teen's return on the free TurboTax online site, which was very slick. My son's already deposited his $2 refund into his online bank account.

2. H&R Block's Tango actually has a Wikipedia listing (within the H&R Block entry). That's something you don't see too often. According to Wikipedia, the Tango service first appeared last year for 2006 returns, but was plagued by computer glitches that forced the company to issue refunds. But it received good reviews this year, scoring an 82 here, just two points less than leader TurboTax Online. Tango finished ahead of the other four sites reviewed (here).

3. My federal returns would cost $199.80 through this most expensive option, about $500 less than my CPA.

Intuit Scores Viral Hit with The Tax Rap

Link to Intuit's webpage At WBR's Net.Finance conference yesterday, Jon Kaplan, head of Google's Financial Services Group, showcased ways to work with Google that were NOT related to search. He showed some cool and free ways to showcase your brand on Google Earth, Google Gadgets, Google Calendar, and more. We'll look at those in future posts, but by far the most entertaining example is Intuit's refreshingly creative TurboTax Rap promotion.

The company sponsored a contest that ended on the traditional U.S. tax day, April 15, that offered a top prize of $25,000 to the best YouTube video featuring TurboTax. Intuit also gave the first runner-up $5,000 and the third place video $1,000. And anyone who uploaded a video entry received a free copy of TurboTax. Intuit hired 1980's rapper Vanilla Ice to do the intro and announce the winner.  

To promote the contest, Intuit created a special-purpose website (see screenshot below) and built a YouTube page (see below). The winning entry, showcased on Intuit's YouTube page, has more than 250,000 views. That's enough to put it on YouTube's most-viewed page (currently, it's number 13 on this week's most viewed), which really turbocharges the viewership. In comparison, the two runner-ups have less than 9,000 views.

This is brilliant work by Intuit. Although it was a costly promotion, it was still less than a major print buy and more importantly, it introduced the TurboTax brand to a whole new group of younger customers who'll be buying tax software for many decades. It will be interesting to see if Intuit makes this an annual event.

YouTube page  <youtube.com/thetaxrap>

Intuit's TurboTax Rap YouTube homepage

Website home <turbotax.intuit.com/taxrap>

Turbotax rap home page at Intuit