Meet Blackhawk Network, the company leading the way for branded payments

Meet Blackhawk Network, the company leading the way for branded payments
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Branded payments play a swiftly-expanding and ever-evolving role in the world of fintech, and Blackhawk Network is at the forefront. Spearheaded by Chief Executive Officer Talbott Roche, the global leader has embraced the digital world by adapting to new strategies that allow companies to retain customers and build their brand value.

While fintech startups appear left and right these days, Blackhawk has decades of experience, an impressive ecosystem of partners and a portfolio of services to help businesses meet and surpass their objectives.

TMS sat down with three members of Blackhawk to discuss its history and evolution: Senior Director Charles Streeter, Marketing Manager APAC Michael Nguyen and Senior Account Manager Sally Yiu.

What are branded payments, and why do we need them?

a person holding cards
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Put simply, branded payments are an alternative form of payment. They take the form of gift cards, call credit, mobile top-ups and more. They’re prepaid and limited to an allocated amount, making financial management easier for the customer.

For one, customers don’t have to worry about spending more money than they’ve budgeted for a monthly expense like a mobile plan. Some families even use branded payments as a straightforward and secure way to introduce children to finances.

With mounting concerns about data privacy, branded payments allow customers to avoid handing out their personal information at several touchpoints. They also offer the flexibility to use anonymous data for online payments.

While the term anonymous data might raise a mental red flag, consider the fact that masking data permits customers to perform financial interactions without giving out their personal information. Furthermore, for those who do not have conventional financial means (i.e., a bank account), branded payments are still a viable option.

Automated payments are gaining traction at an unprecedented rate due to advancements in accessibility and technology, as well as a demand for contactless payments amid the pandemic.

Blackhawk Network’s role in branded payments

“Blackhawk was actually founded in 2001,” says Senior Director Charles Streeter. “It was a spin-out from Safeway … in the US. Safeway got a bunch of guys together and said, ‘How do we engage our existing customer base more?’ And they were selling second-hand cars in the car park, things like that.

“Someone came up with a genius idea of putting gift cards by the checkout,” continues Streeter, at that time “gift cards were not readily available. These gift cards were triple digit growth year on year, high-selling products in not only Safeways but other supermarkets in the US … We started our digital journey in [2001], and a huge part of our growth and revenue comes from branded digital payments.”

But, Blackhawk is about more than gift cards, assures Marketing Manager Michael Nguyen. “I know from my end when you chat to a lot of people many will just assume we do gift cards, but we are more than that,” says Nguyen. “[We do] branded payments, transferring value from one entity to another and as innovations come along, such as cryptocurrency, we are getting involved in the game. We’re adapting to many new innovations in the market.”

Nguyen and his colleagues compare Australia’s market to that of Asia’s. While they refer to Australia as the gold standard due to its entrepreneurial spirit and ability to adapt, they refer to Asia’s market as more traditional and manual.

“In Asia, everything is still very physical,” says Senior Account Manager Sally Yiu. “The mindset is still quite stubborn in how they worked in the past, but they are realizing the future is much bigger … It’s about changing the way they [interact with] the market and how technology can help them to improve their business in the big picture.”

When it comes to Australia’s market, they have a firm grasp on business strategy from a customer standpoint. Nguyen speaks to the loyalty within Australia’s market and how businesses foster that culture.

“I’m a Qantas customer,” says Nguyen. “Yes, I could get a Virgin flight that’s a lot cheaper, but Qantas has kept me engaged as a loyal customer. Every time I purchase a flight I get points and I have the opportunity to retain them or use my points to purchase gift cards … Qantas partners with your everyday retailers.”

Blackhawk believes that brand value goes beyond money itself; it lies in customer experience.

Blackhawk giving back

Blackhawk Network has worked with government organizations, charities, councils and more to efficiently distribute funds for relief and aid initiatives. In 2020, Blackhawk disbursed US$250 million worth of global emergency aid. They have also helped implement incentive programs meant to promote healthy decisions.

They launched Giving Good™ Cards, a line of gift cards that bundles several successful brands on a single card. 3% of each Giving Good Cards’ loaded value is donated to philanthropist organizations, such as Feeding America, Habitat for Humanity, Wounded Warrior Project and The Make-A-Wish Foundation. The program allows for the customer to select where they will redeem their gift card, with a value ranging from US$20 to US$500.

Not only does Blackhawk incentivize customers to engage with charitable causes, but they also have an employee initiative called “Blackhawk Employees Making a Difference Everywhere (BEMADE)” designed to encourage employees to give back to their communities. The program includes a clause in the employee benefits package, which provides employees eligible for benefits up to 16 hours of paid time off (PTO) each year for volunteering in their local community.

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