18 May, 2021
Warren Jacobs, MD of ActiveWin and CEO of Grace Media, describes applying the successes of 2020 as a springboard for growth, while actively engaging in CSR to focus on the greater good when you’re on a roll.
What kind of opportunities have you seen in the affiliate sector over the past year?
First of all, I think it's important to recognise the good fortune that the majority of people who work online have had during this pandemic. Throughout it, the gaming industry has increased its requirement for social responsibility and monitoring of problem gambling. In terms of pure online, the affiliate industry has been fantastic over the last 12 months.
Can you pinpoint why that's the case or what circumstances have occurred to make that happen?
People have been bound to their homes, only able to go out for essentials and not had the daily distraction of their usual roles to occupy their time in the same way. This has meant that the demand for entertainment and online video therapy has been very significant. According to research from Astound Commerce in their recent Covid-19 and the Consumer Report, online shopping rates are continuing to surge, growing 129% week-on-week in UK and Europe. We basically had a global captive audience. And that's not just for gaming it's been for anything that's relevant to online consumption or online retail.
Of course, that's come at a cost on the flipside as well.
How have you been able to manage that good fortune on one side but still be sympathetic to others?
You always have to be thankful for your good fortune, but for us it's been more about monitoring and supporting the mental health of our employees and the well-being of our customers. We have a business that over the course of the pandemic has encouraged us and served as a catalyst to perfect technology. We have a business called Rdentify, which is essentially a machine learning intelligence technology, working seamlessly with web chat apps and technology. When a customer support representative is talking to a gambler, the technology can identify issues and increase the propensity of spotting people who have gambling habits or are in problematic scenarios. This is not something that customer support may necessarily find immediately, unless the person says he or she has a problem. Rdentify monitors every conversation that person has had and ties them all together without impacting GDPR or privacy because it's all included. So there are certain trigger words it picks up on.
Yes, exactly. It might not be a trigger that comes from the first conversation. It could come as a result of the first, second and third conversations together that paints a picture. However, those first few conversations invariably will be with different customer support reps and ordinarily won't be logged, but the technology does it all. We've already managed to identify and help numerous people, and we're now working with more companies that see the value in this product. Companies are seeing that by using the technology, it gives them another layer of responsibility.
And if you were to make an assessment after the first call, it would be too much of a snap judgement or be too immediate to get a full picture or a customised case for an individual?
Yes, the technology operates a sort of traffic light system, so users don't need to be an expert to understand the output. It also enables managers to see things in real time and respond quickly to potentially problematic customers, without any overkill that may put off good-value customers who are happy and in a good place.
Was Rdentify something that was borne out of the pandemic or was it already in the planning stages beforehand?
Both. There were so many projects and things going on pre-pandemic with Rdentify. However, with the onset of the pandemic and the recognition that gaming was going to boom for us, this became the catalyst to really push this forward and to get it front and centre. You can't just expect everything to be amazing. You have to understand and recognise that with more gamblers, there will be more people with gambling problems, and it enabled us to do something good. It's built, it's live and it's monitoring thousands of chats every minute as we speak. How has the importance of partnerships, both within and outside the company, been accentuated or become more of a priority over the past year? Affiliates were very nervous to begin with because they didn't know how it was going to impact them and the deals they had in place. What we found in terms of the brands we manage is that we've grown stronger with the affiliates we work with across ActiveWins, House Affiliates and the other programmes we manage, one of them through Grace Media where we have in excess of 100 white labels. We work with a lot of affiliates and the nervousness passed quite quickly when they saw that things were going to be stable.
Do you see things stabilising now or will people eschew online once land-based operations get back on track?
There are a few factors to consider here. One is seasonal. Winter is over and as such, people tend to be outside socialising more and spending less time online. Also, with more places of work reopening, the furlough scheme ending and more people getting vaccinated, it's inevitable that the numbers of people playing online at any given moment will reduce. For me, as easy as it is to say that won't be ideal for business, I'm very happy about it. So we're nowhere near a stabilisation in terms of the marketplace and what's going on. There are going to be more ups and downs. Unfortunately, there will be more businesses that will go under. I think there's going to be a very busy period for restructuring and corporate recovery in the finance sector. For us, I think it'll continue to be good for gaming but perhaps not as strong as it was over the last year.
What is your risk mitigation strategy like in terms of how unpredictable things are?
For us, it's all about being sure that the business is centred on risk mitigation as well as we can with as strong a compliance team as possible. We're also going in a few different directions. First of all, we're imminently going to receive our Gibraltar licence for Grace Media, which means we'll be going international and growing in different markets. This will reduce a dependency on the UK market and economy. Also, we've now successfully tested and launched some apps and as a result, we're able to offer them for white labels, which are going to increase revenue across the board as well as acquisition. So those are two exciting things we're working on.
And as you branch out internationally, what other markets are particularly attractive?
We're still researching and reviewing it. The focus was initially to get the licence, but we've recently launched a bingo network in the UK with about nine brands and it's continuing to expand. We're not resting on our laurels and expecting things to continue the way they have over the last year.
But it has put you in a very competitive position.
It has indeed.