First Posted 11th February, 2021
Interview with Jonathan Vaux
What can trigger a transaction? How to turn the blend of data and technology into an ally for a consumer when it comes to managing bills, savings, investment and so on.
Not only the likes of Amazon and Google, but fintech start-ups and growth-stage companies are leading novel initiatives that are being deemed as simple and secure for personal finance. In this context, a lot is being said about how consumers, especially the Millennials and the GenZ , are saving money, trying out new payment options etc. What can a travel e-commerce merchants learn from these developments?
“The key change now is that payment and credit isn’t the product any longer, it’s simply a feature of the wider experience and tailored to more precisely meet the needs of consumers in a way that more accurately reflects their individual needs rather than being tied into the limitations of the “product”, such as a loan or a credit card. Linked to that digital tools now enable far greater transparency and options that can help consumers choose from options giving them a far greater sense of control of their own destiny,” Jonathan Vaux told Ai’s Ritesh Gupta in an interview.
Vaux spoke about the fintech players are simplifying certain aspects and what’s there for travel companies to look at. Excerpts:
Ai: The consumer fintech apps are advising consumers on managing finance, and also rewarding them for drifting away from credit card spending. These fintech apps are pointing that consumers are saving and going to spend on travel in the future. Do you think they can psychologically trigger one to spend on travel?
Jonathan Vaux: Travel and experiences will continue to be very important to consumers when things return more to normal and we expect helping customers plan for large ticket items will be important – the criteria by which they choose their supplier or method of travel may change significantly however and these will probably be reflected in emerging solutions.
Ai: Considering how “challengers” are leveraging technology and data, how do you think travel merchants creatively look at customer acquisition or loyalty-related initiatives for engaging loyal travelers?
Jonathan Vaux: Many travel providers have not covered themselves in glory in prioritising short-term considerations over long term customer loyalty – offering credit notes instead of refunds for instance and they will have to work hard to encourage customers to both feel safe but also loyal when the relationship between the consumer and the provider has, at best, probably become less relevant on a daily basis and, at worst, fundamentally broken due to poor customer experience during lockdown.
Travel providers will probably need to establish programs that make their relationship relevant beyond travel (which will probably be less frequent initially) and take a far longer term view (compared to the previous annual cycles) to develop and grow the bond.
Ai: Fintechs have scrutinized every aspect of the credit card value chain – issuance, activation/ usage, experience and acceptance. How can travel companies work on new relationships without jeopardising existing ones?
Jonathan Vaux: Covid has simply accelerated changes that were probably happening anyway – in Europe, where credit interchange is lowered significantly through regulation, the economics of card programs were already diminishing the relevance of traditional loyalty co-brand programs.
Travel merchants are going to need a far wider digital plan for engaging and retaining customers – many of the traditional players will still have a role but the significance may well be diminished as new entrants offer a more comprehensive experience. The tolerance for poor customer experience, e.g. points redemption, will also probably diminish. In the age of the ecosystem, loyalty points will increasingly become an interchangeable currency. Big brands wanting to “own” the customer relationship will be hard to maintain, and large brands will need to adopt new ways of working and partnering with players who have the technical ability (and agility) they lack in order to meet the change in consumer expectations.
Ai: What do you make of consumer fintech apps having a bigger say in the travel booking funnel in 2021? For instance, they “buy now pay later” players like AfterPay and Klarna now have loyalty-related initiatives?
Jonathan Vaux: We’re moving away from products to digital features embedded in apps designed to cater for emerging customer needs and behaviours. Credit services and loyalty services are simply examples of the ingredients large travel players will need to incorporate into their new digital offerings. This will require a significant pivot in the way their consider, run and develop customer marketing and loyalty programs.
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