This month’s CFO Insight section features Mark Hampton – the Chief Financial Officer of Collinson Group, a global leader in influencing customer behaviour to drive revenue. The company brings together a unique blend of industry and sector specialists across four core capabilities: Loyalty, Lifestyle Benefits, Insurance and Assistance. Collinson Group is the organisation that created Priority Pass, the first independent global airport lounge access programme and was the first to sell travel insurance directly in the UK through Columbus Direct. The firm also created the first loyalty marketing agency, ICLP. Now, Collinson Group operates 25 offices across the globe, supporting more than 800 clients, in over 170 countries, and manage more than 20 million end customers.
Mark’s role as a CFO is not simply financial control and management – he drives the group’s overarching strategy, both by contributing to its development and by ensuring the plans are robust and that sufficient financial and human resources are available to deliver them. He also drives the Group’s merger and acquisition strategy, has responsibility for Human Resources, Legal, Information Security and PMO across the group, and is Non-Executive Chairman within the insurance business.
Collinson Group is currently going through a period of rapid growth – what have been the company’s major achievements in 2016?
Once again the group has reached new highs with revenues of £420m, up 20% over the previous year and the fifth year in a row in which we have experienced annual double digit revenue growth. This is testament to the strength of the business, and puts us in the position to continue to invest in new technology and capabilities.
This year’s success has been underpinned by strong organic growth of existing clients and the successful launch of new propositions. Looking at specific achievements, we have gained a lot of traction with our loyalty commerce product suite, helping organisations generate incremental revenue from their loyalty programmes along with driving increased customer engagement. Our loyalty platforms integrate with over 4,000 retailers, offering in excess of 6,000 rewards globally, across 40 product categories including travel inventory from 400,000 hotels and 120 major airlines. Working in partnership with our clients, we have advanced our data analytics to optimize both behavioural and contextual data to provide highly relevant and personalised content that delivers value to programme members globally.
We have both expanded our global client base across the Americas, Asia-Pacific and the US along with our partner networks to deliver truly international benefits that reflect the needs of modern travellers. Our growth ensures that we are able to offer our clients best in class technologies, regional expertise and continued economies of scale.
We have facilitated significant digital transformation in our client businesses and we have doubled the size of our data and insights team to provide business intelligence and enhanced customer experiences for our clients end customers and to better serve our own direct customers.
Our independent lounge access programme passed a significant milestone this year, offering members access to 1,000 lounges globally. And our LoungeKey product offers the swiftest and most secure payment-card and digital airport access programme worldwide.
We also introduced an ID Assistance solution this year which provides protection against identity loss, theft or fraud offered wholesale/ as a package or NAC benefit or a retail solution. This benefit demonstrates a commitment from organisations to ID security and can generate incremental income for brands.
Collinson Group also launched Care and Support at Home, a unique product in the UK insurance market that seeks to help financial services companies provide comprehensive at-home assistance services for millions of Britons who struggle to receive adequate care after a period of hospitalisation.
Our insurance and assistance businesses will now benefit from a single, enterprise-wide platform, enabling transparent visibility of financial flows from policy sales through to claims management. Powerful management information will drive benefits across the business, including more accurate underwriting, improved product targeting, and more efficient allocation of customer service resources
Looking into 2017 and beyond, what do you anticipate for the company?
Collinson Group’s growth is expected to continue over the next decade, fuelled by the strength of the mass affluent consumer, increased consumer expectations and a dramatic rise in customer data availability. This growth is likely to be particularly strong within financial services and travel, where we continue to focus our investment.
The advance of technology, the exponential growth of personal data and the increasing complexity of customer interactions will continue to drive demand for leading expertise in our specialism of shaping consumer behaviour. We will invest in new propositions and improved infrastructure, to fuel sales growth, increase efficiencies, and build a stronger, more collaborative structure across our global footprint. Our continued investment in digital and data resources, and in upgrading legacy systems will ensure that we fend off the ever-strengthening competition that globalisation presents.
We will continue our expansion of digital platforms including LoungeKey 2.0 and loyalty platforms to further digitalise the customer experience.
What are currently the hottest topics being discussed in the loyalty sector in the UK? What motivates you most about working within the field?
Loyalty and influencing customer behaviour is an exciting field to work in. It’s becoming increasingly important for brands, as the only real way to differentiate in a very crowded market. Loyalty is fast moving and dynamic with customers demanding highly personalised experiences, so my personal motivation and passion to continue in our broad depth of capability across the Group is high.
The loyalty landscape is changing at a rapid pace. The industry has shifted from generic reward models based on points and prizes, to something that is highly bespoke, contextually relevant, real time and digital. Our proprietary research shows that consumers are less attracted to simple discounts; they value lifestyle experience above all. They want seamless and personal customer experiences across all channels and they want personal, money can’t buy experiences as a reward for their brand loyalty.
This shift is being powered by the availability of digital tools and data analytics, and some organisations are still coming to grips with how to get the most out of these tools. The aggregation of data across almost every channel, presents a powerful opportunity to build meaningful relationships with consumers. Organisations that are not using data insights as an opportunity to personalise their programmes will almost certainly be left behind.
You joined Collinson Group in 2013 – what goals did you arrive with as a CFO of Collinson Group?
I joined Collinson Group after spending eight years at Bupa, including a period as CFO of Health Dialog, a Boston-based care Management Company. It was an exciting opportunity to join a more dynamic and entrepreneurial organisation.
My initial goal was to nurture the business and help to integrate a diverse range of companies, products and services. This involved building a layer of governance that would introduce a more structured approach to operations, without hindering the entrepreneurial culture of Collinson Group. The success of this approach to date, has been evidenced by the Group’s continued growth.
What achievements have you made in your role thus far and how have they contributed to Collinson Group’s performance in 2016?
There are many brands within Collinson Group, and all of these are now growing in terms of their revenue, offering and capabilities; it has been incredibly satisfying to be able to help drive this growth. We have worked hard to ensure that we offer our clients a broad service offering, consolidating capabilities in a combined and integrated manner. I have also overseen several key acquisitions for the business, which are starting to gain traction in the market and expand our expertise.
My role as CFO differs to my peers in other organisations as HR directly reports into me. This is really working for us, as I am able to advise on how we invest in our people. It’s cliché, but our people are the key to our success, and they are the strongest asset that we have. The development and nurturing of our employees is paramount to the success of the business, and I find it personally rewarding to be part of people’s personal development as well as the growth of our business.
What do you think are the main challenges for your company in the year ahead?
In retail banking, regulatory pressures remain a significant factor, but are now accompanied by the increasing threat of emerging competitors fuelled by technology investment. The FinTech space is particularly buoyant in the payments arena, where the likes of Google, Samsung, Alibaba and Tencent threaten to disrupt the core relationships between consumers and traditional banks. In the EU, competition will be catalysed by the arrival of the Payments Directive II, enabling a new wave of intermediaries to repackage consumers’ bank account data. These developments are galvanising banks’ efforts to invest in their consumer relationships and improve their ability to extract value from customers.
These pressures are accentuated by a protracted period of low interest rates in many mature markets and ongoing regulatory moves addressing interchange fees. The latter is particularly relevant to loyalty programmes, both those of banks themselves and those of travel programmes for which over 70% of miles can be earned on payment cards. Collinson Group is well positioned to support customers in identifying and operating more effective loyalty programmes than traditional business models, and drawing upon our cultural heritage in innovation to solve our clients’ challenges today.
The tumultuous political and economic environment created this year also presents a unique set of challenges both in Europe with Brexit and the change in President in the United States. However, our global footprint continues to be a fundamental asset to the business, providing economic stability, exposure to capitalise on growth opportunities and unique access to insight from leading markets. It’s going to be an unpredictable few years ahead, but our diversification will enable us to meet the challenges head on from a position of strength.