Bernhard Brugger on Joining Forces for Innovation

15 Jun, 2021

Bernhard Brugger is CEO of the Global Loyalty Coalition and EVP American Express at PAYBACK. He believes that it takes a lot of determination and commitment to fight Internet giants: You can’t do it alone. And when it comes to innovation, the forces should be as diverse as possible

1. Which topics and issues drive today's business?

The number one issue at the moment is still Corona. We at PAYBACK have focused on digital innovations, services and partners at an early stage, which is why we're in a very stable position despite the crisis. However, certain sectors such as travel, fashion and beauty have of course suffered. We all need to support the retail sector right now — it's the only way to preserve the variety of shopping experiences. Companies can no longer avoid digitization, and the pandemic may even accelerate this process. At PAYBACK, we will continue to do everything we can to support our partners with digital solutions, new services, and of course, our marketing platform.

2. ... And what are the biggest challenges?

All you have to do is look at our industry's sales performance. Internet giants have increased their sales immensely in the past year. What's more, they are assimilating more and more industries. How are we in Germany supposed to keep up if we don't join forces and finally increase the pace of digitization? Our company already has a retail initiative in place: With a strong alliance of 680 companies, we offer PAYBACK to over 31 million customers, providing them with relevant and therefore attractive offers. They perform very well, especially in times like these.

3. What innovations and tech trends do you find particularly exciting? 

The ones that truly make a difference right now. The smartphone is still the number one driver of innovation: It's convenient for customers, and for retailers, it connects the analog and digital worlds. We have put our entire program on mobile and app users are our best customers. The fact that we bundle all services in the app certainly plays a part, it was a real boost in terms of relevance. With location-based services such as PAYBACK Go and mobile payment, we offer customers and partners enormous benefits. And we are already working on the next exciting digital projects with our partners, such as e-mobility points at Aral or Fuel & Go, which allows you to make contactless payments from your car without having to queue at the checkout. 

4. Which ideas have inspired you recently?

What inspires me is how consciously our parent company American Express deals with the idea of diversity and puts it in practice worldwide. Diversity and inclusion are at the heart of the Amex culture. It seems only natural that our workforce should be just as diverse as our customers. The public attention that this topic currently receives is crucial, and I am personally committed to ensuring that we live by a company culture that includes everyone. We also see diversity as an absolute advantage in the competition for ideas. We have just created a board of four 'Diversity & Inclusion' Ambassadors in the PAYBACK Group. I'm sure they will bring about a lot of progress!

5. Why do cultural change and digital transformation belong together?

Over the past few years, we have evolved from start-up to international tech company. We have grown steadily, entered new countries, and this combination has had an impact on our culture and mindset, of course. It has also shaped our way of working. For example, we adopt agile work, which is the opposite of hierarchical: Here everyone contributes to the success, we act as a team. And where there are diverse teams, I believe that their strength lies in their different perspectives, which often lead to finding better solutions faster. 

6. In one sentence, what's a topic that we should no longer be discussing in five years?

The name of the game: Digitization in Retail.

7. What makes companies and their leadership successful in the long run?

Teamwork, transparency and active participation – this is what determines a company's success at the end of the day. The way I see it, the main goal of I leadership is to create a framework that ensures that each person in the company is trusted, that every voice counts and that all the colleagues enjoy working at PAYBACK.

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