Friday 30 September 2022, JW Marriott Grosvenor
November 2022, Virtual
21 November 2022, Hilton London Metropole
Mark Frary talks to Airplus International UK managing director Caroline Haywood
WHEN A NEW BOSS TAKES OVER at the head of an organisation, they often feel they need to make an early impact to show that the old era is over and a new one is beginning – a sort of “my way or the highway” moment. Yet Caroline Haywood, who has been appointed to take over from Airplus’s outgoing UK managing director, Yael Klein, says that massive structural and strategic changes are not on the way.
This is because, in her former role as head of customer services, Haywood worked closely on the organisation’s current strategy with Klein, whom she admits is a “tough act to follow”. She says: “I believe in what we are doing. There will be no big changes on the outside.” That said, there are likely to be internal changes, particularly in terms of helping deliver better service to customers and partners – understandable, given her previous role.
“We are looking at some innovations in global provision to improve customer service,” she says. “We are also potentially taking in-house some roles that we use third parties for today.” Haywood says this will mean taking on more staff. “We are growing and have some interesting product developments coming.”
Having worked for Airplus for several years, she is well known within the organisation, if less so to the outside world. “While the public hasn’t seen me much, the team is only too aware of my existence. There was a lot of transparency about my taking over from Yael early on. We were keen that there was total stability for employees, customers and products,” she says.
Asked about her management style, Haywood laughs. “I am slightly bossy, but I think I am naturally very collaborative. I like to feel that everyone is on board before saying we are going a particular way. I believe that unless people want to go that way, there is no use in pushing them.”
Change and innovation
The payments industry is sometimes described as being slow to change and, dare we say, boring. Yet this could not be further from the truth, says Haywood. “It is such a saturated market, yet we continually see change and innovation. I am constantly astonished by how much innovation goes on,” she says.
Technology will be the driver of innovation, and it is rapidly changing in the payments sector, where Airplus has always been a pioneer. Haywood says: “We are currently undergoing a ‘Betamax vs VHS’ battle with mobile vs near-field communication. Everyone is waiting to see which way it goes before delivering their solution to the market.”
She believes Airplus’s agile approach puts it in a good position. “If you look at a traditional bank, business travel payments are a tiny part of what they do, whereas it is our entire life. When we make technology changes, that is our bread-and-butter.”
Haywood recognises there is a need for Airplus to stay ahead of the curve in terms of product development to retain market share. So where is the company heading next? “We have a number of product enhancements for future release and, although I can’t talk about specifics, their general focus is to give the end-user more flexibility as well as control. There is a lot of talk of control, but there is also a danger of over-control.”
Surviving and thriving
Looming over this exciting future is the shadow of enormous change, driven by regulation. In March, the European Commission made a last-minute change to regulations on interchange which, if implemented, would see the fees charged by corporate payment providers capped at 0.3 per cent, as against 1.5 per cent today.
Haywood is sanguine about Airplus’s future, though. “The interchange regulations are clearly going to bring a lot of change,” she says. “But I think we are hopeful that the ink’s not dry on the paper yet. Our position is that there needs to be a level playing field.”
Even if the corporate world does have to live with lower levels of fees, Airplus can survive and thrive better than its rivals, Haywood believes. “We have put a lot of effort into scenario planning. Traditional banks are like big ships that take a long time to turn, and will suffer a lot more than us where they have a number of products that will be affected. We are much better placed.”
CAROLINE HAYWOOD was born in Kenya and travelled extensively as a youngster as a result of her father’s occupation – as an airport designer. Caroline’s first job was at Visa, working in its commercial products team. She then had a brief stint working in the mortgages sector with Alliance and Leicester, before returning to the world of payments. She started with Airplus eight-and-a-half years ago, in the role of product manager, before moving into servicing and operations. Caroline worked on the launch of the UK corporate card, and also on banking relationships with JP Morgan and Santander.