Chris Ford, Senior Director, B2B, looks back on the predictions he made for 2021, and casts new thoughts on what 2022 will bring.
"What a year! 2021 has come and gone, and I believe most people have experienced dramatic personal and professional change. In December 2020, I looked ahead to 2021 in terms of:
- A payments revolution: not just how we pay as consumers, but how the industry would adapt to support changing consumer demands.
- Value/Fund disbursement: for reward, recognition, award and for people in need of a helping hand.
- Employee engagement and its importance for a long-term virtual or hybrid workforce. What would this mean for how we attract and retain talent? And how could we better support mental and physical wellbeing?
- Customer engagement and how brands would fight to retain their clients by increasing their value exchange.
- Businesses being able to stay agile, flexible and innovative, without losing their security, resilience or scalability in the face of permanent changes to how we do business.
So, what happened in 2021?
- We all became predominantly online consumers and adopted new payment mechanics. Europe will have seen a staggering 28%+ growth in digital payments in 2021, reaching $1.17 trillion in value.
- In October the UK increased the contactless payment limit to £100, helping to accommodate safer and more flexible in-person interactions for a wider variety of items.
- Cash became less important. In 2021 only 17% of all transactions in the UK used cash with the rest made up of alternative payment methods. This figure is set to decline at a heightened rate into 2022.
As the pandemic rolled on into 2021, the most successful companies realised that recognising employees’ efforts with meaningful rewards and awards was more important than ever before.
Yet research from our whitepaper ‘Your People Have Spoken’ revealed that 37% of employees said they were still not rewarded or recognised at work. Clearly, many businesses have much more to do if they want to motivate and retain the best people.
Employees needed choice in what they were offered. Their working environment was changing constantly, and so were their personal needs and priorities. Work/life balance instantly became more important than ever, and the need for employers to support wellbeing across mental, physical, and financial areas grew exponentially.
In addition to the general workforce needing more support, it quickly became clear that many vulnerable households were still being left behind and needed an extra helping hand. For those under financial pressure due to government restrictions on key industries like hospitality, or the term-time only remit of free school meal programmes, 2021 turned out to be equally as tough as 2020.
At Blackhawk Network, we continued to expand our Payments for Good initiative, partnering with local councils, charities and other not-for-profit organisations to disburse funds quickly to those who needed it.
Companies started to wake up to the impact of “The Great Resignation” and the effect this would have on their ability to do business. The best-performing companies went beyond recognition, rewards and awards by offering a range of employee benefits that created value and impact in people’s everyday lives.
In 2021, Blackhawk Network migrated current benefits clients over to our brand-new Extras portfolio. Look out for the public launch of the Extras platform in 2022 that will bring together a raft of popular benefits, plus access to our discounted voucher store catalogue.
Wellness and mental health established themselves as key differentiators, prompting companies to give more thought to their own social value propositions, community, CSR, purpose and culture. Employees now consider a company's values, reputation, opportunity for career advancement and work life balance among the highest things to consider when staying put or looking for a new employer.
Customers became multi-channel almost overnight and this trend is set to continue. Online replaced in-person behaviours in retail and in many instances consumers have changed their buying habits, possibly forever.
Customers were more likely to consider moving supplier than at any time in the past. The pandemic created a range of challenges and opportunities for consumers to consider where and how they were spending their money and most importantly, whether they were getting value for money.
If you are a telecoms, utilities, automotive or financial services provider you will be all too aware of the inertia that regulations in 2021 started to create – not only people considering a move of supplier for a cheaper price or a greater value exchange but also how they could get compensation:
- Water companies were tasked with delivering the desired service, or face charges to appease effected residents
- Utility providers were tasked with providing service qualities or face requests for regulated compensation
- Price Walking was introduced into the insurance markets meaning that existing customers should be offered the same deals as new customers
- In telecoms, suppliers were forced to offer appeasement linked to service quality
The companies that won were the ones that engaged customers across the customer lifecycle, not just by discounting their product or service at the start of the customer journey but by offering ongoing value add to customer engagement.
Customers expected the value exchange to be a real value that they could choose what to do with – not just more of the same stuff, but actual value, able to be spent wherever and whenever they wanted.
Blackhawk Network has spent much of 2021 helping brands think strategically about how to engage their audiences at every stage of their customer lifecycle — at acquisition, during the first year, at an anniversary date, to manage complaints, and simply to say ‘thank you’ — and the results have been incredible.
Agility, Flexibility, Innovation AND Security, Resilience and Scalability
Unfortunately, some businesses have suffered through the pandemic, and many have had to close their doors. The businesses that have thrived have been the ones that could pivot at pace to new ways of working based around a strong business DNA, Purpose and core Data that underpinned key decisions. Throughout 2021 businesses changed and evolved to capture the digital £. We saw more payment innovation in 2021 than we have seen at any time in the past.
What about 2022?
What does 2022 have in store for businesses? And how is Blackhawk Network rising to the challenge? Here’s what I’ll be looking out for and expecting to take shape:
Employee engagement and our new working life
- More choice and flexibility around how people wish to work – virtual, hybrid, office based. Voice of Employee feedback that creates the evidence to validate what will work best for the employees and the company, allowing business owners to make more informed decisions.
- Tools and technologies that make new ways of working viable for both the employee and the company.
- Benefits, Awards, Recognitions and Rewards that really have impact for everyone
- Retention will continue to be challenging – it’s no longer just about the salary but about a myriad of things that make being employed valuable to the individual
In response to this changing work-life balance, Blackhawk Network will evolve its Extras proposition. Extras brings together a meaningful selection of benefits, rewards and Voice of Employee tools that will help every business in the UK to engage their employees by making their people’s lives that little bit better, every day.
Customer expectations and engagement
Customer acquisition – without doubt, 2022 will continue to see companies driving to acquire new clients across sectors, but due to the changing needs and desires of consumers, what’s on offer will need to become more flexible.
It has always been difficult to second-guess what would really attract someone to swap provider or consider your brand over another. But this has become even harder as, post-pandemic, people seek value that they can utilise when and how they want. Of course, it’s easy to reduce pricing, but this has dramatic, long-term impact on the perception of your brand, product or service.
Outside influences also create challenges, so why wouldn’t a company simply offer an incentive or promotion that allows the recipient to use the value as a cash alternative? And not only at the point of acquisition, but as a mechanism to continually engage the customer throughout their lifecycle, linked to impactful moments.
Retention has many factors to it. Relevant, personalised and meaningful engagement throughout a customer’s tenure with your brand or company is important of course, but add a rich sense of value that provides endless choice to the recipient and suddenly your company moves from ‘good’ at engagement to being a brand that makes a real difference to your customers’ everyday lives.
In 2022, we’ll continue to find new ways to engage customers, creating brandable solutions that allow companies to connect with their customers whenever and wherever it has greatest impact. Our platforms will act as the connection point between companies issuing a value to their customers whilst allowing them the option to store the value up across their lifetime with the issuing brand, to spend as they wish, on what they need or desire most.
The payments revolution continues at pace, with more businesses considering how to utilise payments as part of their ongoing engagement with employees, customers and of course within the community, driven via central and local government. It’s never been so simple to pay someone using a branded mechanism.
Open banking, now in its third year, has seen a multitude of businesses becoming payment providers and issuers, answering the needs of consumers and presenting innovation that allows us all to benefit from secure transactions using a common eco-system.
At the point of sale, payment behaviours have changed forever. It’s now common place to use contactless as the main payment process, whether a debit card, a mobile wallet or using QR codes or barcodes from stored account values.
At Blackhawk Network, the payments revolution continues to drive much of our global development. Whether we’re issuing one of our own physical or digital gift cards, such as One4all, or a cash sum delivered on a physical or virtual prepaid card, we’ve got every kind of value disbursement covered across the globe.
2021 has seen us become a payments manager in our own right, including issuing and processing end-to-end payments. In 2022, this focus will continue to accelerate, allowing us to be present in even more markets. We’ll be putting our expertise and infrastructure to varied use, including point of sale payments, cashback-as-service initiatives, value/funds disbursement, class action and case settlement global initiatives and answering the requirements of central and local governments.
Keep an eye out for our progress throughout 2022 — it’s set to be another fantastic year!"
Chris Ford is our Senior Director, B2B. He is responsible for our future growth as a business in the UK and leads a highly skilled team into another year of change and transformation.
Having worked in the industry for more than 20 years, Chris is a key member of the business who regularly shares valuable insight into the future of value disbursement. He’s recently featured on multiple panels and provided his thoughts in leading publications across the UK.