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H&R Block explores virtual tax preparation

H&R Block sees about 13 million people a year in its retail offices across the country.

But there is a physical limit for everything.

So H&R Block is, once again, looking into virtual reality as a way to reach more taxpayers.

H&R Block revealed its foray into virtual tax offices to CNBC's Jane Wells, who reported that a couple of weeks ago in a room in Los Angeles, "three women put on Oculus virtual reality headsets (and so did this reporter) in order to experience what the new office might look like."

John, the virtual tax pro: The testers found themselves immersed inside a modern-looking office, according to Wells. And while the graphics were rudimentary, Wells says they conveyed a sense of 360-degree space.

After a virtual receptionist reviewed their tax documents -- for this purpose, the tax material also was fabricated -- each woman was assigned to a virtual tax preparer who best met their situations.

This virtual tax pro, who apparently was named John in each case, then walked each text client through the filing process with the help of a large screen.

Tine for virtual taxes: Is the taxpaying world ready for virtual tax preparation? Maybe.

Tax laws are complicated and ever-changing, meaning more of use each year search out professional help.

Plus, we are increasingly more comfortable using technology to complete tasks, including important financial duties like preparing our tax returns.

Combining additional technological advances and taxes is a natural next step that could provide some slightly more personal tax help via virtual reality.

And it could provide H&R Block a much larger customer base.

The Kansas City, Missouri-based company isn't saying that it's looking into virtual tax preparation right now. The company emphasized to CNBC that the virtual reality experience was merely used for market research, which may lead to physical changes in H&R Block offices.

But you can't blame a corporation for thinking ahead.

Nearly every American kid now spends around six hours a week playing video games. Their parents also are more open to virtual interactions. 

So many of today's taxpayers and youngsters who one day will be earning taxable income should have few qualms about talking taxes with an online avatar.

Nothing new for H&R Block: I'm not surprised that H&R Block is taking this next tax technology step.

Remember my reference earlier to "once again?" Back in 2007, the tax preparation chain launched an avatar populated office in the then-popular Second Life universe.

I never made it to that office. Back then, the whole Second Life concept seemed a little too out there, what with making us create fake-name avatars that, on the female side, looked a little too Lara Croft 1.0. Plus, as I related in a March 27, 2007, email to a colleague, I found it a bit kludgy to navigate:

H&R Block opened an "office" in Second Life so I created a persona to check it out, but you have to go through 4 levels of "training" before they let you explore the "island." (Hate all these reality TV references, but I guess that's the demo they're going after.) Anyway, I don't have time to play with it right now, so I don't know how good or bad the Second Life tax office is.

Things, however, change. And as the virtual reality process becomes more real, and familiar, to more of us, the tax preparation process could become a part of it.

It's certainly an appealing option for Block et al based simply on the numbers.

The latest data I could find was a 2011 TED (Technology, Entertainment and Design) Talk that cited more than half a billion people worldwide playing computer and video games at least an hour a day; 183 million of those folks were in the U.S. alone. 

Judging from the online and television game commercials I see all the time, that number has probably grown in the last four years.

So virtual reality tax preparation certainly could be one way for H&R Block to pump up its 13 million annual tax client customer base, which is this week's By the Numbers figure.

Would you use a virtual tax pro to help you file your taxes? Or is a real human the only tax route you'll take?

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Dennis G.

If there were a scarcity of preparers, then I imagine some would put the effort to go thru this virtual reality process to get their taxes done. But there is no shortage of tax preparers. This won't work.

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