India is one of the top global innovation hubs for us: Leila Pourhashemi, CIO, Blackhawk Network

A pioneer in the branded payments industry, Blackhawk Network has its first Strategic Development Centre in APAC, located in Bengaluru. The company is on an aggressive growth path to leverage branded payments and views India as an important destination for the expansion of its development efforts globally. Leila Pourhashemi, CIO and VP, Technology Business Operations-Blackhawk Network, shares with us some of the key details about Blackhawk Network’s strategy and expansion in the Indian market, while outlining why India is a key contributor to the technological prowess of Blackhawk Network

Please share some details about Blackhawk Network’s strategy and expansion in the Indian market
Fintech adoption is steadily increasing in India and across the world. While consumers have numerous payment methods at their disposal, there is not a single value-based ecosystem that effectively connects cash, digital, and loyalty rewards today. Blackhawk Network is at the forefront of driving high-level innovation through its India Strategic Development Centre (SDC) —a key hub of activity around digital payments, talent, and business development. As a branded payments provider, Blackhawk focuses on delivering omnichannel payment products and the core enterprise roadmap that powers the organization’s consumer and partner ecosystems.

The top initiatives of the SDC are mobile payments, a global data lake, internationalization of incentives products, consolidation of multiple settlement systems, and global expansion of its retail and online commerce product offerings. The SDC in India will continue to be a testament to Indian engineering capabilities and develop next-gen products and solutions for the global market.

Please elaborate on India’s role and importance as a market and as a contributor to the technological prowess of Blackhawk Network
India’s technological prowess, robust innovation ecosystem, and increasingly booming talent pool have enabled the SDC to become one of the top global innovation hubs for Blackhawk Network. We chose Bangalore as SDC’s location because of its proficiency in IT and rapidly expanding talent base which enables agility and provides optimal proximity to our global customers and partners. We are committed to advance branded payments ecosystem by driving cutting-edge digital technologies and innovations from India. Globally, India is recognized as the technology powerhouse, which adds significant value to our mobile strategy as we grow. It will help us leverage synergies and enable us to deliver value to customers faster.

How do you see the future of the payments space in India especially in context to India’s success in establishing national platforms such as IndiaStack and innovations such as UPI?
As per Boston Consulting Group and FICCAI’s latest report, India’s fintech industry is estimated to inch up to USD 150-160 billion by 2025 from the current value of USD 50-60 billion . For India to realize its vision of becoming a $5 trillion economy by 2024-25 , it will have to bet big on its top-performing sectors like fintech. Platforms such as IndiaStack and innovations such as UPI have become the revolution themselves.

Therefore, investing in new and emerging technologies and integrating them with high-growth sectors like fintech will be very crucial for India. Apart from their growing adoption locally, platforms like UPI have been cited as a lucrative model that could be replicated globally. India is at a juncture of implementing a series of infrastructure changes that can connect and unify its segregated market. Subsequently, allowing every market player with more degrees of freedom and autonomy within the fintech ecosystem.

How do you see the role of technologies like AI and ML with respect to the fintech and payments space in India?
Harnessing customers’ digital information is crucial to the success of any business, and artificial intelligence (AI) and Machine Learning (ML) can be powerful tools. At Blackhawk Network, we integrate AI & ML to solve problems in the areas of inventory planning, demand forecasting, planogram optimization, fraud prediction, risk identification, product recommendation, cloud capacity planning, and hosting cost optimization.

AI & ML applications have significantly increased the top-line growth and the bottom-line improvement for multi-billion-dollar gift card businesses. AI adoption is used to design and execute intelligent algorithms that solve specific problems. Hence, we prioritize the problems by focusing on organizational alignments providing a realistic scope and a dedicated team of engineers to solve them. Along with exercising our prowess in fintech, a lot of effort goes into data architecture design, offering stability to the organization’s growth and support to the consumer’s needs. Investing in these AI solutions allows us to enhance customer experience and improve fintech driven decision-making. These technologies also enable us to gain a greater competitive advantage and accelerating our business growth.

Blackhawk NetworkCIOLeila Pourhashemi
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