Rachel Fisch joins the podcast as our special guest! We discuss David’s investigation of Visor, which did NOT have a great busy season. In other news, Zoom is about to go public, online tax filing is on the rise, Pilot (the AI accounting startup) raised $40 million, Eide Bailly is acquiring a data analytics service, the IRS released a plan to modernize its computer systems, and we wonder if the CPA license is loosing its luster.
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This episode of The Cloud Accounting Podcast is sponsored by Xero. As a listener of this podcast, you are probably keen on getting industry insights, staying ahead of leading-edge technology, and boosting your network. Well, I have some good news for you. This June, at Xerocon 2019, Xero will bring together hundreds of tech-savvy, future-minded professionals just like yourself from across the Americas, and the entire globe. Come join Blake, myself, and this collaborative community in action, June 18th and 19th in San Diego. To receive a special discounted ticket to Xerocon 2019 in San Diego, head over to CloudAccountingPodcast.promo/Xerocon. That is Cloud Accounting Podcast dot promo forward slash X E R O C O N. Book your Xerocon ticket today, and we'll see you in San Diego.
Blake Oliver: Welcome to The Cloud Accounting Podcast. I'm Blake Oliver-.
David Leary: And I'm David Leary-.
Rachel Fisch: And I'm Rachel Fisch.
Blake Oliver: Well, hey, where'd you come from, Rachel?
Rachel Fisch: It's like I snuck in through the speakers in The Cloud Accounting Podcast. I listen to you guys every [00:01:00] week, and I sometimes agree, and sometimes don't agree, but usually talk back. Now I feel like I need to be a little mindful that you can hear me now.
David Leary: Oh, great!
Blake Oliver: Well, thanks so much for joining us. For everyone listening, Rachel is our first guest commentator on The Cloud Accounting Podcast, in charge of accountants, and alliances at Sage over in the North. I just watched Game of Thrones, so I wanna know, how is Winterfell doing, Rachel?
Rachel Fisch: The thaw has begun. We're starting to see a little green grass. Yeah, no, [00:01:30] we're good. Thank you so much for having me. I appreciate it, guys.
Blake Oliver: Thanks. We look forward to hearing what you've got to share, but, first, David-.
David Leary: We got a review from the UK this week, title of the review is "Interesting." "Despite living in the UK, it is interesting to hear what is happening in the US cloud accounting and being about the cloud makes it relevant to all. The presenters are great at explaining.".
Rachel Fisch: I think this makes you guys international now.
David Leary: Well, we are the number-one accounting, and bookkeeping podcast in the world.
Blake Oliver: Did we not hit like number one in a certain category in Trinidad, and Tobago, and we forgot to mention it?
Rachel Fisch: That's awesome! [00:02:00]
David Leary: That ... I think Kenya, once, we got number two, and Arab Emirates, we got number three. So, yeah, we're starting to take over things.
Rachel Fisch: Very cool.
Blake Oliver: Other than the reviews, David, I've seen you just all over Twitter asking questions, trying to find out what's going on. We had Tax Day; obviously it was on the 15th-
David Leary: Welcome back to all our tax professionals.
Blake Oliver: Thanks for listening. We know that you're listening, because our downloads have doubled in the last few days.
Rachel Fisch: Unless you're Canadian, and then you're just kind of irate that everybody is celebrating back to tax- after [00:02:30] tax season, because we still have two weeks to go, guys.
David Leary: I only brought two stories this week, because I have one big story I kind of worked on. Arguably, it's not even a story. I don't have a link, like, "Oh, so-and-so covered this on a website." This is my story that I put together, really, via Twitter.
Blake Oliver: Investigative journalism, right here.
David Leary: Investigative journalism. Let's take a time machine back to January. Late January, Episode 55, we [00:03:00] talked about a company called Visor. They're a newer tech startup. They raised 9 million more dollars for a total of $15 million. They were going to do people's taxes for $99.
Blake Oliver: Yeah, I remember this.
David Leary: We were both impressed with actually their pricing page. You were paying for what you were getting. You were just like, "Okay, I'm paying for a return, and I had cryptocurrency, and I had two 1099s." You're kinda saying what you had, and then, they're quoting you a price. Super-super-straightforward pricing. You and I were both impressed with their pricing pitch.
Blake Oliver: Yeah, I'm [00:03:30] looking at it again to refresh my memory. I really liked how it was a $99 base price, and they just added another $99, if you fit these particular situations, such as being self-employed, or selling stock, or having rental income. Just very easy for a non-accountant, or non-tax person to understand.
David Leary: That was last January. Obviously, I knew of Visor, but I wasn't really watching, or paying attention to anything. Saturday morning, on April 13th, I got tagged into a Twitter ... I wasn't even outta bed yet. I got tagged into a Twitter [00:04:00] conversation, by John Young, CPA; his Twitter handle is AccountableJohn.
David Leary: Visor was not being responsive, and the chain started in February. It's February 22nd, that Visor wasn't being responsive. It was Saturday morning, and I just ... I kinda blew it off. I was like, "Hey, is this even a tech issue? In my opinion, Visor's just an accounting firm. This'd be like calling into the firm. If you don't get good service, move on to the next firm.".
Well, John Young corrected me. He's like, "Yeah, but this is a little different. They've gotten $15 million [00:04:30] in funding. They're a fin-tech; they're pitching as a tech-heavy solution for tax preparation. They're not responding, but I kinda see your point ..." but then, he said, "Hey, give a search for a Visor on Twitter." I had a plan to do my own taxes on Saturday. Instead of doing my own taxes Saturday morning, I started doing searches on Visor on Twitter.
Blake Oliver: This is a good procrastination technique.
Rachel Fisch: I was just gonna say, Saturday, April 13th, and deadline is when?
David Leary: The Monday [cross talk] I find it ironic that, instead of doing my taxes, I started researching [00:05:00] an accounting firm that was doing other people's taxes.
Rachel Fisch: Yeah.
David Leary: I'm gonna work backwards in this timeline, so, follow along with me. I started looking, and I started finding dozens of tweets from customers.
Blake Oliver: These are irate customers on Twitter, tagging Visor.
David Leary: Yes-
Blake Oliver: Okay, got it.
David Leary: A lot of it was that they prepaid for a service, and some of them weren't hearing communications back from Visor for days, weeks, and months. Even as of April 12th, people were tweeting, "Visor, I have a question. I [00:05:30] need an answer today to file my taxes. I sent the question on my Visor account through your chat feature a week ago. Could you please get me some response today?" Tweets like, "Visor's the latest tax fraud in the making? Duping people of money in the pretext of filing taxes, then vanishing without responding to messages in the portal. No phone number to get in touch with; no email address.
Also strongly not recommending that anybody sign up for Visor Tax. I paid six months in advance, uploaded all my documents a month ago; now have five days til the deadline. There's no phone number, no return, nothing." Other [00:06:00] tweets to this effect. This is working backwards. We're now going back to April 6; people weren't getting responses. "Hey, I submitted my paperwork a month ago. I was told my taxes would be filed in three to 10 business days. Today, I get a message saying they can't get it done, and they're gonna file an extension."
Rachel Fisch: Actually, the original thread that you are tagged on, the beginning of that was actually February 22nd, and even at that point, he was saying that it had been weeks before he's been able to ... I feel like this thing kind of snowballed really close to the deadline, which is when people started getting really irate about it, but it actually looked like it had been going [00:06:30] on for months already.
David Leary: Absolutely, and then, that's when ... Yeah, April 6th, April 3rd, and you're right, going all the way back to March 22nd. People tweeted things like- this is March 31st. Her name's Liz Wessel. She said, "Visor, I can't tell if this is a scam anymore, because your customer support is so slow - several days between messages. Is there anything I can do to have someone respond to any of my messages? Just trying to figure out if I need to switch to TurboTax before the taxes are due.
Going back to March 12th, somebody said, "I'd really like a refund. Coming up on Day Seven, and still nothing's been updated, despite the [00:07:00] apologies for the delay I was given. I really thought this would be a back-and-forth conversation with a CPA. Instead it's an upload-documents-and-wait-a-week type of a situation." Obviously, people had genuine concerns, right?
Rachel Fisch: For sure.
David Leary: 100 percent of the communication was supposed to be done through the Visor app. You had the Visor app; you take pictures of your tax forms with the Visor app; you communicate with your accountant, or bookkeeper through the Visor app ... But, because the "accountants" were not responding back through the Visor app, and the fact that they had no [00:07:30] email address available, no customer chat on the website, no help, no support-ticket system , et cetera, folks started taking to Twitter. That's kind of what has happened. Everything was on Twitter, which would be okay, but ... You guys ready for the but?
Blake Oliver: Yes.
David Leary: Visor's Twitter account went radio silent on March 28th.
Rachel Fisch: Whoa!
David Leary: Then, on April 14th, started to respond to people. April 14th is what? We're down to 48 hours before the tax deadline.
Blake Oliver: Yeah. Wow.
David Leary: Then, on April 15th, [00:08:00] spun up an email address: Hi@Visor.com, and started to provide people with an email address, when you're down to what? What's that, the last 36 hours of the tax season?
Blake Oliver: It's kinda nice that a tech company is actually making the service level at most tax firms look good, right now.
Rachel Fisch: Nice.
David Leary: It gets worse. We're now 36 hours til tax deadline, right?
Blake Oliver: Right.
David Leary: Getting down to the last day. Then, you start seeing other tweets of even more dissatisfaction. This is on April 15th: "Anybody [00:08:30] else get taken in by the Visor ads. Have their "advisors" stopped responding on 3/29? Spending today doing your taxes on TurboTax, because you didn't know what was happening? File, then you get a response from Visor that says they're working on your return, while they ignored your four previous messages.".
There's other people ... This was April 15th: "So, it's Tax Day. I still have no idea what the status of my taxes are. I thought that Visor sounded like an innovative way to do taxes, but after 1.5 months, I still have no idea if my taxes will be fully processed before April 15th." There's [00:09:00] even requests on April 15th ... This is Cornell Kid. He's asking Visor, "Visor, please do not file a tax return on my behalf. I sent you all my documents weeks ago and have not heard back once. Since taxes are due today, I filed my taxes through a different service. I would like to request a refund immediately."
Blake Oliver: This is not good, and they're not even really responding to this stuff, right?
Rachel Fisch: No, not at all. No replies on these.
David Leary: They've started to, barely ... Barely responding. Okay, tax deadline's passed. I was waiting to see what's gonna happen past the deadline ... That's [00:09:30] when this becomes, in my opinion, a real story. Here's tweets from April 17th, which is one day past the deadline. "Visor, it's past the Tax Day, and my dashboard says it's still filing. I've received no confirmation that taxes were filed on time. Please help." No response from Visor. Another one: "Visor, what kinda customer service is this? I prepaid all the fees, yet my taxes are not filed. No one is responding on chat. I even booked a call, but no one called." Third one: "Visor, it is past Tax Day, and my profile is still listed 'In Tax Preparation,' [00:10:00] but no one is responding to my chat for the last three or four days. Help."
Blake Oliver: Wow.
David Leary: I'm kind of like, "Are you kidding?" What's your true feelings, before we move on, because it actually gets better.
Blake Oliver: Part of me is wondering if this is like they took the money and ran.
Rachel Fisch: Yeah, that there isn't even anything behind the scenes, at this point.
Blake Oliver: Yeah. The big deal is that they collected this money upfront from these people. They took their tax documents. They said they would file, and then nothing happened. That seems to be what's going on.
David Leary: This is what really ... [00:10:30] It gets better. Two months ago, their founder was on ForbesBooks Radio. I'm gonna quote their founder. This is Gernot Zacke; he's the CEO and founder of Visor. "We are charging our customers a fee that covers the majority of taxpayers in the United States. They would be falling into that $99 price point. What that also means is that we are going to be there for our customers, not only for filing, but year-round. You pay a $99 fee, but you get access to your tax advisor 24/7 [00:11:00] for a year."
Blake Oliver: That's just insane.
Rachel Fisch: That's completely unrealistic. $99 a month, maybe, like a subscription service that also includes your tax filing, sure, but $99 for the whole thing, including filing? I don't believe it.
David Leary: That's the promise, right? It's this huge overpromise that's out there-
Rachel Fisch: Yeah, absolutely.
David Leary: -but it gets better, because not only did this firm's founder go out there and tell these things ... They got that big $50 million raise, and they ... Obviously, everybody's [00:11:30] seen their Facebook ad. I'm assuming you two have. They've advertised the hell outta [cross talk]
Blake Oliver: No, I didn't see it-
David Leary: You've never seen one? Okay-
Rachel Fisch: -no, the algorithm is not working well, apparently.
David Leary: Not for you guys.
David Leary: Yeah.
David Leary: Lots of Facebook ads have been ran; a lot of them. They actually engaged an Instagram model to write a blog post on Vogue Magazine. It's these amazing pictures of her taking a photo of her W-2 with her app, chatting with her bookkeeper ... I'm sorry, not bookkeeper, her [00:12:00] accountant, or enrolled agent that was doing her taxes. It's a full spread. It's almost ridiculous. I would love for us to get a Instagram model to pretend she's listening to The Cloud Accounting Podcast or something. That would be great ... It's a little insane.
I understand this tax season has been hard for everybody. I understand that maybe their tax professionals got overwhelmed, because of demand, and the tax season. I also assume they probably don't have as much AI built as they wanted [00:12:30] to, or that they had planned as much tech as they wanted. In a way, I almost even feel like that stuff is acceptable ... In a way. The part I don't understand is how you took this VC money, paid in Instagram model to promote it, ran billions of Facebook ads, but didn't spend any money on an intern to respond to people's inquiries, even on Twitter, or set up an email address until 24 hours before the tax deadline. Now you set up an email address? It's understandable [00:13:00] why the customers have lost their minds and have just lit them up on Twitter like they have.
Rachel Fisch: Oh, for sure.
Blake Oliver: Just listening to this story, David, what it sounds like to me is - having watched the Fyre Festival documentary on Netflix - that these guys ... They didn't know what they were doing. They didn't have systems, and processes in place, or the experience even to really know what they were doing, and they got way in over their heads. Demand exceeded their expectations, and they couldn't handle it. Instead of being upfront with people, and giving them their money back, and saying, "We can't do your taxes this year," [00:13:30] they just took it.
David Leary: Well, they are refund- I saw some tweets. They have refunded some people's money.
Blake Oliver: Oh, okay.
David Leary: People who've requested refunds have gotten refunds.
Blake Oliver: Tell me about this. Gernot Zacke ... That's the name of the CEO, right?
David Leary: He's one the founders, yep.
Blake Oliver: Does he have a tax background, or an accounting background, or ...?
David Leary: No, he came up through the tech world.
Blake Oliver: Does anybody running this company have a background in professional services?
David Leary: That's the divide. They have their tech, that Bay Area ... It's the founder, the [00:14:00] engineers, the app, the VCs. Then they have the CPAs, and the EAs are basically in Atlanta.
Blake Oliver: Do we know if they're contractors, or employees?
David Leary: I get into that in a second, because I did wind up checking the Glassdoor reviews. On Wednesday, I actually reached out to their founder on LinkedIn, and sent him an In message. I just explained to him, I'm like, "Hey, I've been watching the drama unfold on Twitter." I even said, "As of even six minutes ago of me writing this, somebody said their taxes were not filed." I said that we'd probably ... I'll discuss this in the podcast, but [00:14:30] I asked for some official Visor statement. He said there wasn't an official Visor statement, but they're working hard to improve things going forward. I checked the Glassdoor reviews. They have 1.8 stars, and it's very clear there is a division, and arguably, dysfunction between the San Francisco part of the company, and the CPAs, and EAs that are in Atlanta. It looks like, based on some of the reviews, they even got rid of eight accountants in early February.
Rachel Fisch: That's not a good time to be getting rid of your talent, if [00:15:00] they're the ones who are supposed to be doing this work.
Blake Oliver: Yeah.
David Leary: I'm wondering if gonna be legal implications, because people's things weren't filed. There's accusations that you didn't even have a CPA, or EA sign your return.
Blake Oliver: Oh ...
David Leary: In the Glassdoor reviews, people are reporting that there's no more CPAs or EAs there. They're not currently preparing returns. Then, taking this full story back to John Young, John Young, who is a CPA, he was actually gonna use this service. He tested it with his own personal taxes.
Blake Oliver: Sorry, who's John Young? [00:15:30]
David Leary: John Young is the person I started this whole story with, who tagged me in the original tweet.
Blake Oliver: Oh, got it.
David Leary: John Young, he's a CPA. He was gonna try and use technology- this service to push off clients onto, so he could focus on higher-value clients. He tested it with himself, and it didn't go too well. He confirmed with them that a CPA is preparing, and signing all the returns, based on their message. He went and looked in CPA Verify for his preparer. They're not listed [00:16:00] in there.
Rachel Fisch: Not cool.
David Leary: Just to close on this whole thing, this one tweet from Visor kinda takes the cake, as far as tech-company cockiness. A customer was complaining on Twitter, and the customer said, "You're not there yet. My taxes are unnecessarily stressing me out, when I could have just gone to an actual CPA for 50 bucks more than what I paid." The Visor Twitter account, at that time, on March 12th, said, "I do apologize for the delay in preparing your taxes. $99 for a CPA to do taxes is an extraordinary offer, [00:16:30] and we've seen significant demand ..." but this is where the part of that tweet is kind of cocky. "If you find an actual CPA to do your taxes for $50 more (while offering audit protection) please let me know.".
Rachel Fisch: Wow.
David Leary: It's super-super-cocky to respond to a customer like that. Then, obviously, they failed at their fundamental promise, right? Maybe they've done thousands of returns, right? I was actually feeling it out on Twitter, too ... There's people that are like, "Oh, I've been doing taxes for 20 years, and maybe twice [00:17:00] I've had a return miss a deadline, because of some internal processes in our company, and we missed the return, or whatever it might be." I've never seen, even in my years of working at Intuit, and TurboTax, who does 40 million tax returns, I don't feel like I've ever seen this much disdain.
Rachel Fisch: When Visor posted this tweet about the cockiness, that was actually back on March 12th. I'm a little curious as to what happened to their cockiness between March 12th and April 15th. They certainly weren't at the point to be able to do that, at that [00:17:30] point, and let alone how it goes ... First of all, I've got questions. First, the question is were they doing any kind of beta testing through last year's season, so that they can see what the level of demand would be, their ability to scale, if it was even possible, or is this just something that's popped up within the last six months, and they just decided to fire it up?
David Leary: Apparently, last year, people were tweeting they had some good experiences with it last year. I think it was [cross talk] smaller scale; they didn't go as big, but, yeah, people did use this last year.
Rachel Fisch: Yeah-. [00:18:00]
Blake Oliver: When did they raise all the money?
David Leary: The second round I wanna say was December, or October ...
Blake Oliver: Okay, so in 2018?
Rachel Fisch: Before this tax season.
Blake Oliver: I'm guessing that they spent all the money on- or a lot of the money on advertising. They created a huge amount of demand; they couldn't satisfy that demand. That's just my guess.
David Leary: Yeah, but then they also had internal dysfunction, obviously. If, in February, you're getting rid of eight of your accountants, and CPAs ...Unless [00:18:30] they underestimated, and were like, "Oh, we're not gonna get much demand. We don't need these extra eight CPAs ..." Obviously, they probably needed eight more bodies.
Rachel Fisch: I think that this is one of those, you know, where tech meets service. I think that customer service, and communication are the two things in any company that are the hardest to scale. Sure, AI can help with bookkeeping, or sure, AI can help with tax returns, and sure, it's still putting numbers in boxes, but that part of the organization that's the hardest to scale ... Are these tech companies [00:19:00] that are raising all this money really preparing for those things that are the hardest to actually deliver? That's where I see these things fall down all over the place, right?
Blake Oliver: Yeah, I think 100 percent, Rachel, and they don't know how to prepare for it, because in the tech world, you don't have to provide a lot of service.
Rachel Fisch: Right, yeah.
Blake Oliver: Especially with modern SaaS tools, you can create an app that's easy to use, and you really don't have to spend a lot on customer support. Maybe it's 90 percent my app, and 10 percent on helping people [00:19:30] use it. In professional services, that's flipped.
Rachel Fisch: Yeah, absolutely it is.
Blake Oliver: The arrogance ... I can't remember who used that word, or the cockiness, right? It's like these tech people think that services are easy, and it's just a bunch of structured data. I have a story about that ... If we just add some automation, and AI, we can we can disrupt this entire industry.
Rachel Fisch: I don't disagree with that. I don't disagree that there is a place for tech within professional services, but I think that, on [00:20:00] the tech side of things, they severely underestimate the value of the part that professional-services people do provide.
Blake Oliver: You would think that maybe they would get somebody as a co-founder who has done it before, right?
Rachel Fisch: You'd think.
Blake Oliver: Who has run a tax firm, maybe, or a bookkeeping firm, or something?
David Leary: I spent all of my time on that, and then, finally, the next day, I decided to do my taxes. I'm waiting til the last possible day to do my taxes [cross talk]
Rachel Fisch: -yeah, just to be clear, this is now April 14th, and the deadline is [00:20:30] April 15th. Just-
David Leary: Yes. Yes.
Rachel Fisch: Okay.
David Leary: Remember when we were talking about QuickBooks Live, Blake?
Blake Oliver: Uh-huh.
David Leary: I said I'm gonna sign up for TurboTax Live, so I can kinda give this a ride. I wanna talk to Claudell, right? I signed up for TurboTax Live months ago. I've been really procrastinating to do my taxes at the end. I do all my taxes; it was fine. I'm paying for TurboTax Live. I get to the very end of my return, and they offer me to do a review, and it's Claudell's picture. Absolutely. I ran and got my headset from the other room. I'm like, "I'm gonna talk to Claudell!" I was so seriously excited. [00:21:00] Then I got a message that ... It says, "Our tax experts are booked through the deadline, but we've got you covered with simple extension, if I needed to file an extension, so no late fees, or whatever, but I didn't need to file an extension. I could just file, and return.
I was a little bit sad that I didn't get to talk to Claudell. I think there's a couple of things in here. Obviously, demand for people, and doing your return with people is huge. I think, when it's all said and done ... I know TurboTax was happy [00:21:30] with their numbers last year; Intuit was, when they talked about TurboTax Live; remember in your blog post, Blake, you went back and researched that from the conference calls with The Street?
Blake Oliver: Yep.
David Leary: I think you're going to see insane numbers. It's very, very obvious, people see value in spending $169 for their tax return and be able to talk to the live video chat with somebody. It was nice, I tweeted about it with some tears. Intuit reached out, and they actually offered to refund my TurboTax Live part, but I said, "No, it's all right, because I get it for a year." I will talk to Claudell soon, so I'm keeping [00:22:00] it for the rest of the year. We'll have a TurboTax Live experience with Claudell, hopefully.
Rachel Fisch: I just think that it is still important to know the who's behind all of this stuff. Like with the Glassdoor review, where he's basically saying there are no CPAs, or EAs here. They are not the ones that are doing your taxes. Someplace like the Department of Tax, where you know that there are qualified, and good CPAs, and tax preparers, and EAs behind the scenes. I just [00:22:30] think ... I don't know, everybody wants the click-bait cheap price for what I need to have done. I don't know if there's still quality behind that.
Blake Oliver: If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.
Rachel Fisch: It usually is, yeah.
Blake Oliver: This goes back to the whole Botkeeper story. I'm not gonna dredge that up ... If you are an accounting professional looking to outsource this type of work to a tech company, make sure you ask them who's actually doing the work, right?
Rachel Fisch: Absolutely.
Blake Oliver: Like Rachel said, are these EAs, or are these CPAs? Where are they located? How do you compensate them? Are they employees? Are they contractors? We [00:23:00] need to do that due diligence on behalf of our clients.
David Leary: That's it. I've beat my two stories. We're done. I didn't do my taxes; I researched Visor, and then I did my taxes-
Rachel Fisch: And you didn't get to talk to Claudell.
David Leary: I didn't get to talk to Claudell, which was really ... I was really excited, because ... I was like, "Oh, this is sweet. The offer's there," and I clicked on it, and then I got to the next screen, and I was like, "Aww, what a bummer. They're all booked ..." which I could understand. It's the last tax day. There's no more ... Oh, well, that's kinda how that went. Did anything else happen this week, because that's all I worked? I [00:23:30] had two stories.
Blake Oliver: I've got a follow-up to that, but I think we should take a little break. Rachel has a bit of more positive news, I think, so Rachel-
Rachel Fisch: I do ...
Blake Oliver: -yeah, I'd love to hear about that, and then we can maybe go back to these tech companies failing. I love this story about Zoom.
Rachel Fisch: Yeah, so good news for Zoom this week. Raised its IPO price range to $33 to $35 a share, and could be valued at $8.98 billion, and there are others. Pinterest, of course; their IPO is this week, [00:24:00] as well. I just ... Okay, caveat: I'm not an investor. This really isn't my space, as an accounting professional, and now working at a tech company, I am really confused about why a webinar app, basically like a screen share ... I pop on Zoom all the time; I send the Zoom link when doing screen shares. I use it to record a little instructional videos. How [00:24:30] it's possible to have a potential valuation of almost $9 billion ...?
David Leary: Oh, could I take this one?
Rachel Fisch: Absolutely.
David Leary: Here's why. Zoom is a profitable company; they've been a profitable company since, I think, month eighth or ninth-.
Rachel Fisch: Which is also rare of an IPO, or of a company raising a ton of money, which I also don't understand, right [cross talk]
David Leary: -then compare them to the Lyft IPO, or the Uber IPO that's gonna happen.
Rachel Fisch: Yeah. Crazy, right?
David Leary: Those companies are gonna be $100-billion valuations, and [00:25:00] they've never made a profit-.
Rachel Fisch: With no profit [cross talk] They're in less of a deficit than they were the year before. It's like [inaudible] I'm sorry, I don't know what to do with that.
Blake Oliver: My take is, obviously, there's a lot of factors in Zoom's stock price, and their success, but I just feel like the trend toward allowing people to work remotely is what is driving their success ... I've tried everything. I've used GoToWebinar; I've used GoToMeeting; I've used Citrix; various other products. Zoom [00:25:30] has the best video/audio quality-
Rachel Fisch: They do, yeah. No, it's good.
Blake Oliver: If you're meeting with people remotely, and you wanna have that video, there's nothing better. Everywhere I go, I'm lucky I've been able to use it. It's kind of amazing to me that these other companies haven't yet been able to figure out how to do video that doesn't stutter. They just released a feature that allows you to get recording consent in the actual platform, so I can make sure that everybody who's on the video that I'm recording has clicked to say they consent, and then I've got that documented, which [00:26:00] is really important in some states, right?
David Leary: Yeah, in California, it is, yep.
Blake Oliver: Yeah, California, you have to get-
David Leary: Both sides, yeah.
Blake Oliver: -full directional consent.
Rachel Fisch: Interesting though, because it came up in one of the Facebook groups, and I forget which one it was, where it was basically Zoom is going IPO. Now, what do we use besides Zoom? I was like, "Why do you have to not use Zoom?" It's like, "Well, now it's gonna be this big corporation, and they're gonna wanna triple their prices ... I don't wanna deal with ... Huge companies are all about profit."
David Leary: Hopefully ... I don't know if Zoom has a lot of room to raise prices. It's not like we're all using Zoom [00:26:30] for six bucks a month, and they have a lotta room ... It's already kind of expensive. If you're committed to using it, you're committed to using it. If you're like, "Oh, I need to do a webinar. Now I'm paying an extra 40 bucks a month." I don't know if they have a lot of room to raise the prices. It's already decently priced, but what I think is another thing Zoom has is Zoom's done a good job of, "I'm a little sole proprietor, independent guy. There's a Zoom plan for me." Even a huge company gets Zoom, and they've got the conference thing, and it's hooked into the rooms, et cetera, et cetera, et cetera ...
Rachel Fisch: Really solving for all market sizes, [00:27:00] right?
Blake Oliver: They've been able to do that because they make the app easy to set up, and configure, so they don't have to spend a lot on customer support. If you don't have to spend a lot of customer support, and it's self-service, then, yeah, you can make plans for small firms, and plans for enterprise companies.
Rachel Fisch: Yeah, very cool.
Blake Oliver: I'm a big fan. Let's see, I have a little follow-on to ... Well, we're talking about online tax prep that didn't quite work so well. Overall, though, online tax filing is on the rise, according to a stat that I spotted in Accounting Today. It's interesting. It's a story that was published [00:27:30] on April 15th, but it's using data from the previous tax year, from the 2018 filing period for 2017 returns. This is data provided by Experian and Axiom. There's a lot of stats in here, but the one that really drew me to it was, "When breaking down tax-filing methods by age groups, those 65 years old, and over were found to be the most likely to use walk-in tax services." No surprise there, right? "Compared to a scant 3.7 percent for those aged 21 [00:28:00] to 29."
Rachel Fisch: That was a huge difference. I don't know what the percentage of was for the 65-year-old, but yeah that's-
David Leary: They're saying no young people are seeing ... Nobody in their 20s is seeing a Liberty Tax person dressed up on the side of the road flipping a sign, and being like, "That seems like a place I wanna do my taxes at," and they just pull over their car, and get their taxes done. That's not happening.
Blake Oliver: We're talking less than four percent. I don't know, I'm not a particular risk-taker when it comes to the stock market, but if you're listening, and you like to pick stocks, I would say [00:28:30] short Liberty Tax right now … Go long on that, because if less than four percent are using it that are in their 20s, who's gonna be using it in 10-20 years, you know?
David Leary: I think we talked about this with the Intuit earnings a few months back, and I think, even in that, I said if you follow these trends, in 10 years, tax stores will be gone, but if the numbers are already this low-
Rachel Fisch: I think it'll be less than 10.
David Leary: -3.7 ... They might be gone faster than that.
Blake Oliver: This is why Visor [00:29:00] probably had crazy demand, because people wanna file online. They just wanna snap a picture of their W-2, answer a few questions via chat, and get it done.
David Leary: You want the experience that the Instagram model had. Absolutely.
Blake Oliver: Yes.
Rachel Fisch: Did they just not have enough options? Are there not enough online tax-filing methods to be able to do that?
Blake Oliver: Well, there's the big one ... You've got TurboTax; you got H&R Block ... Those are the self-service online options, for the most part. Although, TurboTax now has that Live component, you still have to fill it all out yourself-
Rachel Fisch: Yeah, the Do it For Me/ Do it With Me stuff, yeah. [00:29:30]
Blake Oliver: The Do it For Me, online, is the next untapped potential, right? If somebody can figure that out, and actually keep their customers happy, then that'll be the next TurboTax-
Rachel Fisch: -and to actually have EAs, and CPAs doing the returns, yeah.
David Leary: It's tough, because it's the price, right?
Blake Oliver: Yeah, and the Do it For Me is very service-heavy. You can't just put people into a box. That's probably what broke down, too, right? You can't just ... Not everybody [00:30:00] is the same. People are all different. That's why there are accounting firms. Cool. Well, here's the story that really relates to what you were talking about, David. Spotted this in Fortune Magazine. Apparently, Pilot ... They describe themselves as an AI accounting service. Pilot has raised $40 million from index ventures, and also includes Stripe, which is interesting. "Online payments giant, Stripe, has become a strategic investor in Pilot.".
Pilot, by [00:30:30] the way, is online bookkeeping; much like Visor is for tax, Pilot is for bookkeeping. They use QuickBooks as their general ledger, and you can subscribe to a flat monthly-fee package for them to do all of your bookkeeping on a cash, or accrual basis. Looks like anywhere from a couple hundred bucks to a thousand bucks a month kind of plans. The thing that really struck me about this article was the quote from their CEO, Waseem Daher - not [00:31:00] sure how you say that, He said, 'What is bookkeeping? It's a series of structured data - dates, amounts, and so on - but it still involved the incredibly laborious process of people clicking around in QuickBooks ..." [cross talk] That's his definition of bookkeeping.
Rachel Fisch: -this, to me, is like AHHH!, because it goes back to what we were talking about the challenge with, you know, that blend of tech and service. Yes, functionally, it's numbers and boxes. Tax returns, bookkeeping, whatever ... But [00:31:30] it's that service component that these tech companies are severely underestimating, and it ... When I read that quote, I was like, "Okay, so you also don't get it."
David Leary: I think there's actually three stories in this story. One of them is you take this 40 million, and now Pilot ... I call these accounting firms with engineers under roof. That's what they are. They're are accounting firms with engineers. They're automating processes that are building ... Okay, fine, they're building AI, machine, bots, whatever you wanna call this stuff. It's an accounting [00:32:00] firm with engineers under roof. In the last year to year and a half, and this counts the Bench raises, and Ceterus had a $40-million, or $30-million raise ... You start adding those up ... Botkeeper had $18 million, I think?
Rachel Fisch: Yeah, ScaleFactor had some too, right? These are all [cross talk]
David Leary: Yeah, so you're approaching $300 million in VC money that's gone to accounting firms. Process that for a second.
Blake Oliver: I know ..
David Leary: They're accounting firms with engineers, but they're essentially accounting, and bookkeeping firms. That's one of the stories [00:32:30] here. The other story of this is this little sentence. They announce that they're starting a product called Pilot Tax. Obviously, they're getting into that same game Visor is, and TurboTax Live is, and everybody else is, which is very interesting. I think the third part of this story is the fact that Stripe's involved.
You know how I've talked about in the past that Square is kind of doing everything, right? If they had a GL, they're a full-blown thing. Stripe, in the same way ... Stripe, I know, acquired about a year and a half ago ... I think the [00:33:00] company was called Payable. It was software to help people to do some processing with the 1099s. Apparently, if you do a lot with Stripe stuff, you might have to deal with 1099s, or Stripe has to do all the 1099s work. They bought a company to help with the processing of 1099s. Is Stripe heading down that path that Square headed [cross talk] "Hey, people are using us. It's very easy. I'm gonna do your books; I'm gonna do your taxes; I'm gonna help you with 1099s," and all the sudden, Stripe becomes this full-service thing. Then, it's like when is there a Stripe GL? Is that next? There's kinda three stories here. [00:33:30]
Rachel Fisch: Yeah, no, I totally agree. The part that's curious to me is that Pilot is based on QuickBooks. At what point are they then a competitor to QuickBooks? If they're leveraging this other beast that, frankly, could, at any time, say, "Yeah, no, we've got our own thing. We don't wanna connect with you," or is it ... At what point will they compete? We've seen QuickBooks compete with their own ProAdvisors, for Pete's sake. At what point do you kinda cut the apron [00:34:00] strings?
Blake Oliver: Well, this clearly is QuickBooks. This is QuickBooks Live right here. It's broader scope of services, but it's the ... Yeah, they will be competing with each other-
Rachel Fisch: So, then, they must, at some point [cross talk] have a plan for their own GL, so that that conflict isn't in place. Doesn't that make sense?
Blake Oliver: Well they talk about, in the article, it's a huge risk to have your all your client data on [cross talk] software and that-
David Leary: It's a risk, but it's also not a risk. You can compare and contrast. Bench, who does [00:34:30] everything on their own proprietary system, and then you look at ... Let's say ... Okay, we talked about TurboTax Live, and obviously, the numbers thus far have been it's a huge success. I have zero doubt QuickBooks Live is not going to be a monster success. What if the demand is so huge for QuickBooks Live that Intuit can't scale fast enough? If somebody like Pilot already has processes built on QuickBooks, it could be very easy ... Pilot, arguably, that's a ProAdvisor. They [00:35:00] could easily partner with somebody like Intuit and offer the QuickBooks Live service behind the scenes. Somebody who is not built on the QuickBooks GL, under the covers, could not probably partner like that. There's risk of it being competitive, but it also could be a partnership in the long term-.
Rachel Fisch: Yeah, I think this is a wait and see on that part of it, but, again, they're not doing anything that other firms aren't already doing, like what you said, like Botkeeper, and Bench, and Ceterus, ScaleFactor, and stuff like that. What I thought was interesting ... I've got another article here [00:35:30] that says Eide Bailly is acquiring a data-analytics service. In that vein of that accountant and tech overlap is that, in most cases where we see the Pilots and the ScaleFactors, and the Bench, and stuff like that, in many cases, it's like a tech company who's seeing the opportunity in accountants, and so feel they need to hire some accountants in order to do that. Sometimes it's not accountant-driven.
It'll be really interesting to now see, because large firms and Big Four firms are doing the exact [00:36:00] same thing. It's like when you look at the landscape, everybody wants to offer cloud-accounting bookkeeping services. Everybody wants to automate the bookkeeping part, so that they can add advisory, across the board, right? It'll be really interesting to see then, when you've got a firm, the size of Eide Bailly, then buying up technology companies, how easy it is that they're going to be within the culture, within the organization, itself, to really be shifting to fill this need that we see everywhere else, but in more of [00:36:30] a model where, again, it's not tech driving accounting; it's accountants leveraging tech within the organization. I think it'll be interesting to see how that goes.
David Leary: Just to rephrase this [cross talk] and make sure I heard you correctly, the accounting firm bought a data-analytics, and data-warehousing company, not a tech company, but an accounting firm.
Rachel Fisch: Right, yeah, and in this case, it was data analytics, but I think that we're just going to continue to see ... We've seen, for example, Big Four firms buy cloud accounting, those smaller organizations [00:37:00] that do automated bookkeeping. Blake, you might know something about that. We've seen that, but, at this point, they're now actually buying the technology company, itself, and so I thought ... In this case it's data analytics, but I think we're also gonna continue to see more of that, where the large firms are buying the technology that will then drive processes within the firm, especially big ones.
David Leary: Opposite true, right? Blake, didn't inDinero acquire, was it mAccounting?
Blake Oliver: They did. Yes-
David Leary: Which is a QuickBooks firm, so-
Blake Oliver: Modern brand; online services, doing [00:37:30] QuickBooks bookkeeping, and accounting, and tax.
Rachel Fisch: For sure, and from all sizes, and every combination you can think of, whether it's tech buying accounting, or accounting buying tech, and all sizes.
Blake Oliver: Well, speaking of technology, and we just had our Tax Day, here in The States, the IRS has released a six=-year plan to finally modernize their aging computer systems. Oooh!
Rachel Fisch: I'm sorry, I'm laughing because it's like a six-year plan is going to be obsolete by year three?
Blake Oliver: We've [00:38:00] talked in the past about the IRS, and how they have some of the oldest computer systems in the federal government, here, that date back to the Kennedy administration. I can't remember if it's as old, or older than the computer systems that guide our nuclear missiles, but it's a scary, kind of in both ways. You may be asking yourself, what is included in this modernization effort? This is called the IRS Integrated Modernization [00:38:30] Business Plan, and it is expected to cost between $2.3 billion to $2.7 billion, over six years, through fiscal year 2024.
They're focusing it around four modernization pillars. Number one is taxpayer experience. So they want to implement systems to help taxpayers understand the tax laws and resolve issues quickly and efficiently. They're gonna give taxpayers more information about their accounts, tax obligations, and payment options online. [00:39:00] They're going to evolve their core tax systems to offer faster, easier tax-filing services. They're gonna modernize their operations. I imagine that means getting rid of those mainframe computers that they've still got, and they're gonna work on their cybersecurity, which has still been a big problem with a tax-refund fraud. David, remember we talked recently about how they only manually check refund checks-
Rachel Fisch: That's crazy to me-
Blake Oliver: -or they only manually [cross talk]
David Leary: If they're over $2 million, yes.
Blake Oliver: Maybe they'll implement some sort of internal control [00:39:30] that doesn't print the check without a human verification. Oh, yeah, and they're still printing and mailing checks, of course. I imagine that in a couple of years, we'll come back, and we'll find that they've spent all the money, and nothing's happened [cross talk] I don't wanna be too negative it.
David Leary: -25 episodes. We're gonna be ... This is fodder. This is gonna be great to watch-
Rachel Fisch: This is Phoenix, and Canada, and fiscal [inaudible] all over again, right?
Blake Oliver: They did call out one specific feature that I think people will really like, which is implementing customer-callback [00:40:00] technology. You don't have to stay on hold anymore; that you can ...They'll call you back, when an agent is available.
Rachel Fisch: If you can catch the phone at that exact moment. Otherwise, you're duped, anyway.
Blake Oliver: That's true. What else do we got this week?
Rachel Fisch: I was inspired, Blake, by your passionate discussion with Botkeeper, and where you were trying to stress the importance of the value of the CPA, and that you guys have ... There are things that they need to uphold to; there are things that they need [00:40:30] to do, and agree to, as part of the CPA. There's an article in PRWeb, I believe, where it's actually promoting a webinar, where there will be a virtual strategic discussion, but the whole point of this webinar - and this will be in the show notes so that you guys can sign up ... It's not gonna be until Tuesday, May 7th, so you've got a little bit of time.
The whole conversation is gonna to be about the relevancy of the CPA credential, itself. Are CPAs as relevant as [00:41:00] what they have been in the past? Is it as important to make sure that you are partnering with a CPA through your business, and everything like that? Or, is a CPA credential, itself, maybe losing a little bit of luster? I'm kind of afraid that the technology that is reinforced ... CPAs are signing off on this, and CPAs are checking this. It feels like to me that it's kind of diluting, maybe, the importance of what a CPA [00:41:30] is able to do for you ... Maybe they're just getting called out that maybe they shouldn't be held as in high regard as they are. I'm not really sure what to think about this, but I thought it was at least an interesting discussion. What are your points, Blake, as a CPA?
Blake Oliver: Yeah, as a CPA, the value of the license is very important to me, because I spent so much time and money on it. I talk a lot about, in my presentations, about the difficulty in hiring, and retaining, and recruiting talent in the accounting world. One of the stats that I bring [00:42:00] up is the flat-lining of CPA candidates over time. It's not like it's gone down, but it hasn't gone up in the way that you would think it would, with growth - with economic growth, with population growth. We're not producing any more CPAs than we did 10-20 years ago, it seems like. I wanted to know why, so I found an ... I finally figured it out. It appears that a lot of folks are now actually taking the CMA exam, and becoming CMAs, instead of CPAs, these days. It's the Certified Management Accountant, as [00:42:30] opposed to Public Accountant.
Rachel Fisch: Yeah, and CMA ... That was actually what I was going for, and then Canada introduced the merging of all the designations, and then it ... Anyway, all hell broke loose ... No, I'm kidding. It was fine; it was fine, but some people benefited more than others, but there is an interesting ...
Rachel Fisch: I think it goes right along with what you're saying. Elizabeth Kolar, Chief Knowledge Officer at Surgent ... There's a quote in here: "Nearly every year for the past decade, the number of accounting graduates across the US has risen, while the number of candidates sitting for the CPA exam has either remained flat, or declined; and, in some years, that has been [00:43:00] substantial." It's like the education that you get within the process is super-valuable, but the actual achieving those numbers behind your- or those letters behind your name actually aren't. That's interesting that we're not seeing a flat line across the board, but there is a difference between the number that are entering the program, or even completing the program, and then, the ones sitting for the exams.
Blake Oliver: The folks who administer, and choose the curriculum - well, not choose the curriculum, but choose what's gonna be on the CPA [00:43:30] exam - have a really hard time, because the CPA exam is enshrined in state law, in all 50 states, in most cases. If you wanna change the exam, you have to change the law, which is not easy to do in 50 different [cross talk]
Rachel Fisch: -thing, right? We know that the law isn't keeping up with the technology, and with things that are actually happening within the industry, and yet, you can't change the designation until the law changes. Then, we end up with all of these CPAs that come out- are now designated accountants; get [00:44:00] into the workforce, and go, "Whoa, whoa, what's this whole data-automation thing?" That has to shift ... If it's not education level, because it can't, because of the state law, how is it even possible to start making that shift?
Blake Oliver: Yeah. That's the risk is that if we don't figure out how to do it, then other designations will come along, and eat our lunch. I actually did talk to somebody from the AICPA. I can't remember who. It was at the AICPA Controllers Conference. He said [00:44:30] that their plan is to actually not change the sections of the exam, because that is part of what's in law, but to work around it by keeping the same section titles, and then changing the content in each section to potentially have different tracks. There could be like a more technical-accounting track for your CPA exam, or, you could do a more technology-focused one, and the questions would change in each section, depending on that [cross talk]
Rachel Fisch: -but they would still fulfill the state requirements for those [00:45:00] sections.
Blake Oliver: Exactly, because, in law, all that matters is you pass that particular section, so, it's a workaround. I don't know. I'm not that optimistic, though, given how quickly things change, and how slow ... There was an article that I was gonna talk about, about changes to the CPA exam that are coming. It's so boring. The big change that just happened is that now, you can use Microsoft Excel on the CPA exam. It's built into the app.
Rachel Fisch: This is the groundbreaking, innovative [00:45:30] solution.
Blake Oliver: Yeah, well, we're catching up to 20 years ago. The fact is that there's a ton of opportunity, as you know - David, as you know; Rachel, as you know - but we have to teach ourselves. I think this is something that's happening in all professions that all the opportunity ... Academia can't keep up. Things are changing too fast. Just like you said, Rachel, the IRS is gonna modernize in six years, theoretically, and, in six years, it'll be outdated again, right? I think our entire [00:46:00] model of education is broken, and we really need to focus more on creating lifelong learners, people who can teach themselves, more than people who memorize specific pieces of information ... I can Google anything that I learned in school and find out the answer [cross talk] a lot of people don't know how to Google.
Rachel Fisch: That actually goes right to ... The next article that I pasted, just to kind of support this from a more broad level, is Harvard Business Review, "The [00:46:30] Future of Leadership Development." Essentially, it's saying exactly that. Our schools are not delivering the level of education that we now need within the workplace. We're also seeing disjointed between the leadership of these organizations, especially when you're dealing with large firms - the partners and all of those guys - and then, the ones that are ... The millennials that are coming through ... What was it? 80 percent of the workforce will be millennials within the next five years, and they want to be leading. How can we develop, now, [00:47:00] a level of leadership, or leadership training that will really help them lead in the best possible way, or have them start framing what lifelong learning looks like, but within these organizations that have these old-school partners?
It was a really interesting article, but kind of goes to support ... I don't know, maybe not for other people, but for me, it was really interesting because it went to support, okay, this isn't just happening with accountants. This is happening across the board, and it is something that needs to be fixed. What [00:47:30] are some of the things that we can be incorporating into each of our industries, or markets, or the spaces that we're in, to make sure that we're continuing that lifelong learning process?
Blake Oliver: I don't think anyone really has an answer, at this point and-.
Rachel Fisch: I wish I did. I could raise some funds.
Blake Oliver: Well, I don't even think you need to ... Apparently, from everything I've read, if you just use the words AI-powered, automated-blockchain accounting-.
Rachel Fisch: Got it!
Blake Oliver: Yeah, you just put those words on five different slides in a PowerPoint; [00:48:00] you can go raise like $18 million.
Rachel Fisch: Done.
Blake Oliver: I will happily be your co-founder, if you wanna [cross talk]
Rachel Fisch: Awesome.
Blake Oliver: David, anything else that you wanted to talk about this week? I actually gotta get going to a meeting. We've been having so much fun talking, I forgot what time it is.
David Leary: Yeah, I don't have anything else. I pretty much beat it all in two articles. Maybe next week, I'll bring something that overflowed from this week, but I think I'm good. I would say, if any of you are listening, and you did use Pilot, and your taxes were not filed, please reach out to me. I'm on Twitter @DavidLeary. [00:48:30]
Blake Oliver: And I'm @BlakeTOliver, and Rachel, how can people connect with you?
Rachel Fisch: I'm on Twitter @FischBooks.
Blake Oliver: Don't forget to follow The Cloud Accounting Podcast on Facebook. Find our Facebook page - Cloud Accounting Podcast. You can also subscribe to my email newsletter. Go to CloudAccountingPodcast.com; click the Subscribe banner, and you will receive the show notes emailed to you, the day after each episode drops. That way, you'll have all the links there in your email to [00:49:00] follow up on; anything that you really enjoyed. Give us a review on iTunes, and we will read it on the air. Take it as an opportunity to compliment us. Take it as an opportunity to tell us what you think-.
Rachel Fisch: And how co-hosts are the best things ever.
Blake Oliver: Yes. Thank you so much, Rachel, for being our first co-host, guest co-host. It was really fun.
Rachel Fisch: Thank you guys [cross talk] so much for having me. I really appreciate it.
David Leary: It's a high bar; high bar.
Rachel Fisch: Yeah, no pressure.
Blake Oliver: Have a great week, and David, I'll see you back here again on Friday. [00:49:30]
David Leary: Bye, everybody.
Rachel Fisch: Bye.