Trends | Predictions for 2021 in the world of payments and rewards

Predictions for 2021 in the world of payments and rewards
Promoted by Predictions for 2021 in the world of payments and rewards

Chris Ford, Senior Director at Blackhawk Network, looks back on the predictions he made for 2020, and casts new thoughts on what 2021 will bring.

“In December 2019, I wrote a blog outlining my 2020 predictions for how upcoming trends within the industry and the wider world would impact our approach at Blackhawk Network. Little did I know at the time quite how far these six focus points would develop, and the cause from which they’d exponentially grow!

How people pay changed, possibly for ever

Overnight, digital payment became the preferred method of exchanging funds. Cash practically went out the window, with many retail outlets requesting customers to use card wherever possible.
We’ve seen marked innovation around the actual payment vehicles that were already in existence. Supported by payment regulation changes such as an increase in the amount you can spend on a contactless payment, coupled with the open banking phenomenon; wallets, apps and the resurgence of QR codes are just a few examples.

At Blackhawk Network, we launched a variety of new payment solutions to help our clients and their customers adapt to this change:

  • Virtual prepaid cards

  • One4all digital multi-store gift-cards

  • Select Essentials – focused on e-codes for food and clothing

  • LoadIt, ScanIt and SpendIt payment applications

What people desired changed

No longer was it about the luxury item – suddenly, people required value to spend on standard essentials. ‘Panic buying’ ensued, causing stockpiling behaviour and shortages of basic items.
As a result, it is now even harder to second-guess what someone desires or needs, so our Blackhawk Network choice-based approach has really taken off. We’re of the belief that every recipient of a reward, recognition, gesture or gift should be able to choose how they enjoy the value, rather than being limited to a single brand or product.

How people used the online world changed

Whether shopping for groceries, streaming entertainment, accessing video conferencing services or simply consuming information to keep informed - our world has become truly digital.
For Blackhawk Network, that has meant standing up our own digital solutions in record time and onboarding hundreds of new brands onto our platforms. Our aim is to provide access to a brand in every retail category, in one singular online place.

People started leaving a data trail through their online activities

Whereas 30% of our interactions on average would have been online pre-COVID, today 70% of our interactions with brands are predominantly online and the companies that have flourished are the ones that have created meaningful, and importantly, helpful personalisation.

People stayed home

Of course, Covid-19 restrictions have limited the rapid developments in location-based rewarding. The concept hasn’t changed, the world just needs to return to an element of normality to make the leap forward.

The SaaS technological revolution has been relentless

More companies have started to consolidate systems and processes to provide more environments where people can self-serve.

At Blackhawk Network, we’ve spent millions augmenting our services and solutions to focus on the attributes of self-serve platforms. Have a look at our latest release, brand new gaming brand, Boost.

…So, what do I think 2021 will be like?

We will all try different ways to pay

New payment solutions will become commonplace in the way that people choose to spend and receive value. We will continue to be at the forefront of this revolution and will release new and innovative ways to enable people to receive, send and spend value.

‘Fund Disbursement’ is now well established, providing new and efficient methods for delivering grants

Whether its recognising, rewarding, awarding or providing lifesaving funds to people in need, Blackhawk Network will continue to deliver this value using a multitude of products, services and solutions.

We’re glad to have been able to help in 2020, where we have globally disbursed $250m+ to vulnerable parties. In the UK, we’re privileged to be supporting councils with their winter grant delivery and assisting organisations such as the Licensed Trade Charity to reach more beneficiaries than ever before.

For more insight on how we can help in this area, check out our fund disbursement page.

Payment vehicles will become a marketeer’s dream

Being able to move value (digitally or physically) to a person in a branded manner, personalised and entirely based on choice is an ambition we have had for many years. The change in lifestyle due to Covid-19 has accelerated this need, and we are working tirelessly to provide marketing teams with the ability to extend their brand onto the payment vehicle itself, being part of the payment experience both in-store and online.

The fight to maintain loyalty will intensify

Generational data, demographic data and historic transactional trends will never truly deliver you the answer to what someone needs or desires, especially in the post COVID world.

Instead, Blackhawk Network have stood up a range of initiatives that allow companies to switch points and offers into choice-based digital value. Our firm belief is that the future of brand loyalty will need to be driven by this concept, rather than more traditional methods.

Security, resilience and capacity vs agility, flexibility and innovation

Big companies often come with all the security, resilience and capacity that helps to drive peoples’ trust; however, they are often challenged by the concept of being agile, flexible and innovative. We all understand the concept of turning an oil tanker versus a speed boat.

At Blackhawk Network we are in an incredibly fortunate position of continually delivering innovation in a flexible and market-driven manner, but to do this based on the world’s very largest value disbursement platforms. In 2021 we will globalise our marketplace technology, enabling businesses and partners of all shapes and sizes to take advantage of our highly regulated, resilient and compliant ecosystems for value disbursement.

Wellbeing, mindfulness and doing good

2021 will be a year for all of us to reset. Blackhawk Network will continue to release services, products and solutions that will support a huge array of people with their mental and physical wellbeing. Our Cyclescheme and Techscheme employee benefits saw huge growth throughout 2020, and reward and recognition programmes linked to health and wellness are on the rise.

In conclusion Blackhawk Network, as with every other business, has needed to evolve. Importantly for us, what we set-out to achieve when we first discussed the concept of global value disbursement and choice-based offerings, continues to resonate - albeit now very much from the mindset of digital and online, and for reasons we could never have guessed.”

For more information on how our solutions and services could support your business in 2021, contact us using the following link.

Contact Blackhawk Network


Chris Ford is Senior Director of Incentives at Blackhawk Network.

Responsible for future business growth in the UK, he leads a highly skilled team into another year of change and transformation. Chris regularly shares valuable insights and has taken part in a number of panel discussions for key publications across the UK.


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