So how many loyalty cards do you own?

And do you actually use them?

So how many loyalty or rewards cards do you use regularly? I stress the word regularly. On a quick straw poll of colleagues around the office, wallets and especially purses are full of loyalty cards.

Ask the follow up question of how engaged are workmates with their various rewards programmes and enthusiasm wanes. Consumer behaviour is changing at a rate of knots. In the UK 8 million of us are using our loyalty cards less than we did one year ago, according to figures released by payments processor WorldPay.

I was not greatly surprised to note that as many as 1 in 3 consumers say that they fail to derive any value from their loyalty cards. The reasons are various but include difficulty in spending points and the potential for cards to be lost. I have never forgiven British Airways for its sneaky time bar rules on loyalty points I had accrued.

The Ts and Cs were in the contract right enough – no argument there and it was complete mea culpa – but slashing my balance to zero due to being dilatory in encashing points means that I now choose BA as a last resort. There are a lot of loyalty programmes out there that can at best be described as useless.

For a rewards programme to work, customers need to feel as if loyalty is earned through loyalty to a brand, not through fumbling through their wallet to find a card – so it must be easy to access and spend.

How might this be achieved?

The survey found that 21 per cent want loyalty cards to be stored on a smartphone payment app - dispense with all cards and have a loyalty scheme tied to your smartphone. That number is, I suggest, set to grow and rise sharply.

A number of payments start-ups are launching mobile wallet apps, offering secure contactless payments via smartphone. Earlier in the summer, Zync launched its mobile wallet and then last week international payment technology firm MPayMe announced a new mobile business platform, dubbed ZNAP.

The service from ZNAP optimises transactions through the bundling of secure multi-channel mobile payments with value added solutions – that means rewards to you and me. I have lost count of the number of tech companies claiming to offer the neatest and most novel way for consumers to pay retailers.

If any of the new payments start-ups are to prosper, they would do well to remember that customers are more likely to use payment apps if they also make it easy to redeem loyalty rewards.  There is also an argument that women could hold the key here – they are by a distance more loyal to brands than men. If marketers can get women using mobile payments, combined with a unique customer experience, they are on to a winner.

But as Jane Cunningham, founder of strategic marketing consultancy Pretty Little Head and co-author of The Daring Book for Boys in Business tells me, too few brands are capable of connecting powerfully with the female market. The winners – and losers – among the new tech payments start-ups will certainly be worth watching and one or two will no doubt prosper. The only safe prediction is that their investors will require patience and deep pockets in the short to medium term.

Loyalty card. Photograph: Getty Images

Douglas Blakey is the editor of Retail Banker International

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Donald Trump wants to terminate the Environmental Protection Agency - can he?

"Epa, Epa, Eeeepaaaaa" – Grampa Simpson.

 

There have been countless jokes about US President Donald Trump’s aversion to academic work, with many comparing him to an infant. The Daily Show created a browser extension aptly named “Make Trump Tweets Eight Again” that converts the font of Potus’ tweets to crayon scrawlings. Indeed, it is absurd that – even without the childish font – one particular bill that was introduced within the first month of Trump taking office looked just as puerile. Proposed by Matt Gaetz, a Republican who had been in Congress for barely a month, “H.R. 861” was only one sentence long:

“The Environmental Protection Agency shall terminate on December 31, 2018”.

If this seems like a stunt, that is because Gaetz is unlikely to actually achieve his stated aim. Drafting such a short bill without any co-sponsors – and leaving it to a novice Congressman to present – is hardly the best strategy to ensure a bill will pass. 

Still, Republicans' distrust for environmental protections is well-known - long-running cartoon show The Simpsons even did a send up of the Epa where the agency had its own private army. So what else makes H.R. 861 implausible?

Well, the 10-word-long statement neglects to address the fact that many federal environmental laws assume the existence of or defer to the Epa. In the event that the Epa was abolished, all of these laws – from the 1946 Atomic Energy Act to the 2016 Frank R. Lautenberg Chemical Safety for the 21st Century Act – would need to be amended. Preferably, a way of doing this would be included in the bill itself.

Additionally, for the bill to be accepted in the Senate there would have to be eight Democratic senators who agreed with its premise. This is an awkward demand when not even all Republicans back Trump. The man Trum appointed to the helm of the Epa, Scott Pruitt, is particularly divisive because of his long opposition to the agency. Republican Senator Susan Collins of Maine said that she was hostile to the appointment of a man who was “so manifestly opposed to the mission of the agency” that he had sued the Epa 14 times. Polls from 2016 and 2017 suggests that most Americans would be also be opposed to the agency’s termination.

But if Trump is incapable of entirely eliminating the Epa, he has other ways of rendering it futile. In January, Potus banned the Epa and National Park Services from “providing updates on social media or to reporters”, and this Friday, Trump plans to “switch off” the government’s largest citizen-linked data site – the Epa’s Open Data Web Service. This is vital not just for storing and displaying information on climate change, but also as an accessible way of civilians viewing details of local environmental changes – such as chemical spills. Given the administration’s recent announcement of his intention to repeal existing safeguards, such as those to stabilise the climate and protect the environment, defunding this public data tool is possibly an attempt to decrease awareness of Trump’s forthcoming actions.

There was also a recent update to the webpage of the Epa's Office of Science and Technology, which saw all references to “science-based” work removed, in favour of an emphasis on “national economically and technologically achievable standards”. 

Trump’s reshuffle of the Epa's priorities puts the onus on economic activity at the expense of public health and environmental safety. Pruitt, who is also eager to #MakeAmericaGreatAgain, spoke in an interview of his desire to “exit” the 2015 Paris Climate Agreement. He was led to this conclusion because of his belief that the agreement means “contracting our economy to serve and really satisfy Europe, and China, and India”.

 

Rather than outright closure of the Epa, its influence and funding are being leached away. H.R. 861 might be a subtle version of one of Potus’ Twitter taunts – empty and outrageous – but it is by no means the only way to drastically alter the Epa’s landscape. With Pruitt as Epa Administrator, the organisation may become a caricature of itself – as in The Simpsons Movie. Let us hope that the #resistance movements started by “Rogue” Epa and National Parks social media accounts are able to stave off the vultures until there is “Hope” once more.

 

Anjuli R. K. Shere is a 2016/17 Wellcome Scholar and science intern at the New Statesman

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