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Banking on KC – Tiffany Monroe of H&R Block

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Click here to listen now, or read the transcript below:

 

Kelly Scanlon:

Welcome to Banking on KC. I'm your host, Kelly Scanlon. Thank you for joining us. With us on this episode is Tiffany Monroe, the Chief People Officer at H&R Block, to talk with us about the Make Every Block Better initiative. Welcome, Tiffany.

Tiffany Monroe:

Thank you so much. It's great to be here.

Kelly Scanlon:

It's been nearly a year ago now, December 2019, that H&R Block announced this new program, Make Every Block Better, to support neighborhood revitalization and small businesses not only here in Kansas City, but across the country. And from what I understand, it's a six and a half million dollar commitment with a bit more than half of that, three and a half million slated for Kansas City. Tell us about the program.

Tiffany Monroe:

Absolutely. So Make Every Block Better, it's more than our community impact program. It's really an important way that we are living out our purpose, which is to provide help and inspire confidence in our clients and communities everywhere. We really believe that communities are more vibrant when neighbors connect, certainly more vibrant when small businesses are thriving. And so that really is why we've pledged millions of dollars over the course of the next five years towards both of those areas.

Kelly Scanlon:

Who are some of your partners and what are their roles? Because I know that you're working with other organizations in order to make this initiative everything that it can be.

Tiffany Monroe:

Yeah, absolutely. Our partners are definitely helping us deliver the programs that support connecting that small business and those entrepreneurs together. In Kansas City, that includes Kauffman Foundation and the KCRise Fund. Other partners are helping us to improve spaces where neighbors have the opportunity to connect. So that would include the neighborhood social network, Nextdoor. We are also working with Habitat for Humanity, and then here in KC, working with the Urban Neighborhood Initiative.

Kelly Scanlon:

So you do have these partners that plug into the various goals that you're trying to achieve. Talk to us about some of the specifics of the program, how you've worked with these partners to achieve that coming together, that connectivity, that mitigation of social isolation.

Tiffany Monroe:

Yeah, absolutely. So if I think about KCRise Fund and investing in that, their purpose is to invest in startups, high growth tech startup, and that's right in the KC area.

Kelly Scanlon:

Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Tiffany Monroe:

Nextdoor and that partnership, which is nationwide. We asked Americans across the country to nominate improvement projects that would foster more connections in their neighborhoods. And on that ask, we got nearly 2,000 nominations from all 50 States.

Kelly Scanlon:

That's phenomenal.

Tiffany Monroe:

It was amazing. And so we were able to select 10 winning projects that we are currently working on and bringing to life. So there's just a ton to be done I think both in Kansas City as well as across the country.

Kelly Scanlon:

Why did H&R Block decide to make this commitment to introduce the Make Every Block Better? You did say earlier that it coincides with your mission. Let's talk about that a little more. I mean your tax preparation company, and some people might wonder what connection does Make Every Block Better have to taxes?

Tiffany Monroe:

Yeah. I love, love this question, because I think what people may not realize is that we have 10,000 offices that reach every corner of the country, and our tax pros are having 12 million hours of personal conversations with clients every year. So we have this unlimited potential to really drive those connections and to bring about that positive change. So when we think about it, we don't really view ourselves as just a tax prep company. We view ourselves as a company that helps people. Sometimes absolutely that's helping people file a tax return, but sometimes it's helping a small business with taxes, accounting, bookkeeping, you name it. And sometimes, that really looks like volunteering in our community, right? Delivering those programs that have an impact on the neighborhoods that we talked about. For us, it's really important to think about the history of Block and our founders, Henry and Richard, who were very intentional about being in the communities and connecting the communities. And so that really does drive everything we think about when we think about making every block better.

Kelly Scanlon:

Absolutely, it does. And Block's legacy, as you mentioned, Henry and Richard Block there, their legacy still permeates Kansas City as does Ewing Kaufman's, and some of the other legacy entrepreneurs here in Kansas City. And so to be able to continue that focus on community would probably make them very, very proud. When the program was announced, your CEO, Jeff Jones, said that, and I loved this, said that H&R Block didn't just want to say something or just give something and then just be done with it, but that he wanted to do something. And as I said, the program's been in place for nearly a year now. So talk to us about the impact that it's had. You said that you're involved in 10 projects that you vetted through Nextdoor, but talk to us a little bit more about the impact that's occurred.

Tiffany Monroe:

I do love the take action thought that Jeff put out there because we are in so many communities. It is really, really important for us to really be able to have an impact, and to your point, Kansas City and across the country. And I think it really is about being involved where the people we serve work and live. If you think about Kansas City specific, our partnership with the Urban Neighborhood Initiative, we've identified and started on more than 35 home repairs in that 10 neighborhood [inaudible 00:05:37] district. And when you think about looking across the country, like I talked about with Nextdoor, we have improved baseball fields in Idaho, we have beautified alleys in Topeka, Kansas, we have made improvements to a rec center in Oakland, California. So those things are starting and we're starting to see really neighborhoods thrive from those types of projects that we're working on.

Kelly Scanlon:

What I have found when some initiative like this gets started is the other people in the neighborhood, maybe the ones that aren't having their home repaired, or maybe another business that wasn't necessarily part of the initiative, they look around and they see these improvements and they think, "Wow, that's really neat. I want to do something." And so maybe they'll put on a fresh coat of paint or they'll make sure the weeds are all pulled out in the right of way. Are you seeing that contagious effort going on in these communities where you have played a part, played a role?

Tiffany Monroe:

That's a great question. We absolutely have. To your point, when you see something happening in your neighborhood, you're going to be inherently curious about that. So it brings people together that maybe would not have been brought together just naturally, because there is that curiosity of what's happening on that playground or what's happening with that alley? And so we definitely see it fostering a sense of connectedness, which I think is so incredibly imperative, especially right now.

Kelly Scanlon:

With COVID and with all the adjustments that we've had to make, people are feeling more isolated than ever. So has Make Every Block Better addressed that isolation specifically? I mean I know that that was part of your larger vision back a year ago, pre-COVID, but because of COVID, have you drilled down on that any deeper and really focused on it because of the reports that are coming out about how isolated people feel and the mental health problems that are occurring? Have you put extra attention and focus on that aspect?

Tiffany Monroe:

We absolutely have. I think about our purpose and I think about wanting to provide help and inspire confidence in our clients and communities. And COVID has incredibly exacerbated that issue of social isolation as you were talking about. And I know I have felt it. I know so many people feel the impacts of being disconnected. Looking at things in as positive a light as possible, the pandemic did give us an opportunity to demonstrate that purpose. And I am really proud of how our associates have showed up. H&R Block associates alone donated nearly $100,000 to the Kansas City Regional COVID-19 Rapid Response and Recovery Fund. The H&R Block Foundation donated another $100,000 to the United Way of Greater Kansas City. And something I'm really proud of, this summer, we launched a new hardship and disaster relief fund for our own employees. So the fund helps them overcome short-term financial challenges, get them back on their feet faster, and employees can give to that as well as utilize it. That's just something that I'm just incredibly proud of.

Kelly Scanlon:

I'm glad you brought up your associates because it occurs to me that you hear a lot these days about companies having a higher purpose. Yes, you prepare taxes and you work with businesses and so forth. But a lot of times, employees like to work for organizations that have a higher purpose. And how has this impacted your associates there at H&R Block to know that the company that they work for is trying to make this a difference in communities all across the country? What feedback are you getting from them?

Tiffany Monroe:

Yeah, I think we're getting really good feedback. I think they love what we're doing in the communities. I think that also as important as that is what are we doing inside the walls of Block? And how are we helping our own associates as we build this culture that we're trying to create? And really we're trying to create a culture of belonging, where you feel safe, you feel like your voice is heard, you feel like you can bring yourself authentically to work in whatever shape or form that comes into being. Certainly since this last May and the events that happened, our associates have been sharing a lot of personal experiences with racism, their own fears, worries, lots of great ideas about what we can do as a company.

Tiffany Monroe:

It's been really powerful and it certainly has spoken to our purpose as well, and really has resulted in actions that were beginning on that journey of continuing to focus on belonging, but also about equality, right? And thinking about how we're living today, it really is up to every single person, every company, every community to do their part to help people feel like they belong and to end systemic racism. It is something that I think is incredibly important to us at Block. This summer, we shared the public equality action plan and that really outlines goals that we have set to taking steps to helping equality really live and breathe at Block. And so certainly, that purpose turns itself into a little bit of something different when you think yes, making every block better, but also making H&R Block better.

Kelly Scanlon:

Exactly. Exactly. So diversity and inclusion focus on that internally. And there's so many studies too that say that when all voices are heard that a company is just better, that there's more diversity of ideas and that a lot of innovation occurs, that there's just really not a downside to it.

Tiffany Monroe:

Agree. I always tell our teams that everyone brings something unique to the table and if you're not taking advantage of that, you're really missing out. And so we're really trying to foster a culture where everyone knows they bring something unique and they feel like they can share that.

Kelly Scanlon:

You mentioned that you have people across the country working in cities and neighborhoods all over. Does any benefit accrue to Kansas City because of that national outreach? Are we seeing any benefit here? Is this program raising the profile of Kansas City in any way?

Tiffany Monroe:

I think it is. I think certainly people know Block as their local tax office, but they also know that Block comes from Kansas City. And I think that we have made a disproportionate investment in Kansas City, but it has also raised the profile of Kansas City because that is where all of these great ideas are coming from with that Make Every Block Better and thinking about Richard and Henry Block. So I think that it absolutely is raising that profile of Kansas City. Kansas City is a fantastic place. And so I think that that has helped us absolutely.

Kelly Scanlon:

Tiffany, thank you so much for being on our show today. We really appreciate all the efforts that you're making here in Kansas City and across the country to bring people together, to create community and to help people feel less isolated in this really trying time that we're all going through. Thank you so much.

Tiffany Monroe:

Absolutely. Thank you.

Joe Close:

This is Joe Close, President of Country Club Bank. Thank you to Tiffany Monroe at H&R Block for joining us on this episode of Banking on KC to talk about the Make Every Block Better initiatives. It's just now a year old, but it's already making a huge impact here in Kansas City and across the nation. As Tiffany said, communities are more vibrant when neighbors connect and certainly more vibrant when small businesses are thriving. That's a philosophy that the late Country Club Bank Chairman, Byron Thompson, embraced, too. Like Henry and Richard Block, Byron sought to inspire confidence in our clients and engagement in our community to build people up and to make them better citizens. It's a way of doing business. In fact, a way of life that Country Club Bank remains committed to today more than ever. Thanks for tuning in this week. We're banking on you, Kansas City.

Country Club Bank, member FDIC.