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H&R Block's outgoing CEO on making 'ease of use' part of the brand

  • Bill Cobb, the outgoing president and CEO of tax preparation service H&R Block, joined Jim Cramer for a wide-ranging interview on earnings, promotions, and tax reform.
  • Cobb said that with 40 percent of H&R Block's returns coming from digital tax prep, the company prides itself on being client-friendly.
  • Cobb also told Cramer that President Donald Trump's tax reform might take longer than expected.

After tax preparation giant H&R Block reported a stronger-than-expected quarter, its outgoing president and CEO, Bill Cobb, said the company prides itself on its forward-thinking, client-friendly orientation.

"We made it easy to import from competitors right into our software, we did W-2 capture from your phone right into our software, and we feel that we're really leading on this in terms of making ease of use a part of our brand," Cobb told "Mad Money" host Jim Cramer on Wednesday.

H&R Block made it through several tough quarters in 2016, after which Cobb came on "Mad Money" and assured Cramer that the company would deliver.

Sure enough, after a series of successful promotions and a deal with IBM's artificial intelligence system Watson, H&R Block beat Wall Street's estimates, expanded its margins, boosted its net income by 10 percent, saw 40 percent returns coming from digital, and, in Cobb's words, "over-delivered" on expense reductions.

Watch the full segment here:

"The design was, we're going to get very aggressive on the top line in terms of growing clients. We knew revenue would be challenged, but we actually delivered better than I had anticipated," the CEO told Cramer. "We feel really great about where we're at and we feel really great – I'm not going to go into the details – about where we're headed for next year."

Since Cobb began his tenure at the company six years ago, H&R Block has also bought back a third of its outstanding shares and raised its dividend by 60 percent, he added.

"We've always said to our shareholders we want to be a shareholder-friendly company, and I think we've delivered on that," Cobb said.

The deal with IBM Watson resulted in monitoring systems at each of H&R Block's brick-and-mortar locations that let customers watch the tax return process "through the eyes of Watson," Cobb said.

"We had bubbles there and we had various ... call-outs of deductions and credits you could take. What also was a very pleasant surprise was how much our tax pros got excited," he told Cramer.

Cobb said that management always worries about changes they impose on their 70,000-person workforce, which is highly seasonal due to the nature of the work. But employees and customers alike loved Watson's addition, and the learning technology will only get better with time, Cobb said.

In addition, the company ran a series of promotions with Hollywood actor Jon Hamm, whom Cobb lauded for his wide-ranging appeal and professionalism.

"We thought he was the right guy," Cobb said. "He was a great partner to us. We really wanted to differentiate ourselves from Turbo[Tax]. They talk about, you know, getting your taxes done. We talked about, we believe we can get your taxes won, which is to find every deduction and credit and maximize your refund."

Turning to President Donald Trump's tax reform agenda, Cobb said Cramer's guess was as good as his with regards to when the country might see any meaningful changes to the tax code.

"I think it's got to go a few steps at a time," the CEO said. "I think when you go back to the '80s when the Reagan administration did the last real tax reform, it took five years."

Cobb said that from his talks with Washington policymakers, he gauged that "comprehensive" tax reform might not arrive as swiftly as many voters expected.

"I think the president wants a tax cut, I think the rate cut can happen. I think the rate cut can happen on the corporate side, which would be great for us because our tax rate's in the mid-30s," the CEO said, referring to his company's 30-plus percent tax rate. "I think that really ... should be the focus."

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