It feels like we’re becoming a more divisive, win-at-any-cost society. I don’t believe that is a recipe for success in the long run. Winning is most rewarding in the context of the greater good. We can’t lose sight of our values and integrity to get ahead, or we’ll give up so much that winning won’t matter anymore. I hope businesses can move forward with optimism, values and dignity. We can aspire to win while also doing some good along the way.
I had the pleasure of interviewing Talbott Roche, CEO and president of Blackhawk Network. As Blackhawk’s co-founder, she was integral to the company’s transformation from a gift card network in one grocery chain to a global prepaid leader. Before becoming CEO, she served as Blackhawk’s president through a successful IPO (2013) and led the growth of the company’s retail and digital businesses. In recent years, she integrated multiple acquisitions in incentives, making Blackhawk a leader in commerce and incentive solutions, employing over 3,000 people in 26 countries. Prior to Blackhawk, Roche held leadership roles with News America Marketing, a News Corp company, and The Clorox Company among others. Roche sits on the board of directors of Electronic Arts Inc. (EA), and previously served as an Executive board member of the Network Branded Prepaid Card Association (NBPCA). Roche has received awards recognizing her professional achievements, most notably the PYMNTS Innovator Award for Women Driving Innovation in Payments, and Paybefore’s Industry Achievement Award. She is regularly asked to speak on payment innovation and was included in Progressive Grocer’s list of Top Women in Grocery and the San Francisco Business Times’ list of the Most Influential Bay Area Women. Roche holds a B.A. in economics from Stanford University.
Thank you so much for joining us! Can you tell us the “backstory” about what brought you to the fintech and payments field?
When we started building Blackhawk Network, we had no idea we were creating a payments or financial services company. We started with the concept of helping consumers find better gift options in a more convenient way.
In 2001, the popularity of gift cards had just started appearing in stores. We set out to help consumers find gift cards in the place they already shop multiple times a week: the grocery store. We were the first company to put gift card malls in grocery stores to offer gift cards from a variety of retailers all in one place. We also created the technology to activate those cards at point of purchase. The result: consumers have an easy process, and a variety of gift card brands available in one retail location.
I’m proud of the work and dedication that has grown that vision into the company we are today. All in, Blackhawk now reaches 100 million consumers through branded payments every day. We’ve grown through smart expansion and acquisition, diverse leadership, and a commitment to learning and adapting alongside a changing industry and consumer.
Can you share with our readers the most interesting or amusing story that occurred to you in your career so far?
Back in 2010, after the market crash, there was a lot of focus being put on the regulatory control of big banks. At the federal level, legislators were preparing to enact the CARD Act to control the amount that banks could charge in fees to customers. Somewhere along the line, gift cards were swept up in this legislation and faced regulation that could have effectively wiped out our industry.
Within 50 days, we worked to grow a trade association and collaborate with our biggest competitors to educate legislators and leadership in Washington, D.C. on the impact their legislation would have on gift cards, and the benefits of our industry. I worked really hard to bring people together for the larger cause — a skill that has translated well in my role as CEO.
I suppose it’s not an amusing story, but it was certainly surprising to me. I never imagined that I would have the opportunity to work with legislators and regulators to help protect gift cards into the future. It was an immense opportunity. And it was a good lesson in the unintended consequences of legislation, and the importance of having a shared mission as an industry.
Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?
One thing I love talking about is our new Happy Cards product. To me, it’s a powerful extension of our original purpose — a solution that empowers customers with a truly flexible, convenient gift-giving experience. Happy Cards give consumers more choice and flexibility by combining multiple brands onto one gift card for various consumer groups. Think, a card for teens, one for brides-to-be, or another for dads — each spendable at a variety of relevant brands for a more unique gifting experience.
Another thing that we’re constantly focused on is digital transformation of payments. How do we tap into the changing spending habits of millennials and Gen Z who are used to living life on mobile devices? It’s a fascinating new challenge for our team: finding new ways to give people options to gift in a few moments via thumb swipe and make purchases in contextual environments like social media or peer-to-peer payment applications.
What do you think makes Blackhawk stand out? Can you share a story?
One of the major things that makes Blackhawk stand out is our commitment to relationships. We have deep, long-standing relationships with our customers, and work with more than 1,000 merchants across 26 countries.
We’ve grown and expanded via a variety of smart, targeted acquisitions. I think relationships play such a critical role within those decisions, growing with companies who place a similar emphasis on relationship building — that’s what we look for in our partners and opportunities.
I take pride in bringing that same focus on relationships to work with me every day. I strive to create a culture at Blackhawk that is focused on bringing people together to drive value. Relationships with our customers, and strong relationships within our own teams are what continue to elevate our brand and success.
Wall Street and Finance used to be an “all-white boys club”. This has changed a lot recently. In your opinion, what caused this change?
The explosion of fintech has been a major factor, making the industry more accessible to many new players, including startups and female entrepreneurs who are innovating through technology. It’s not just a small group of people on Wall Street dictating the financial world anymore.
There has been some positive governance of gender parity on corporate boards of directors. This happened first in Europe and now is happening in the US. This changes things, to see more female leadership at the highest levels.
I’m so proud that nearly 50 percent of our leadership at Blackhawk is female. (Highly unusual in the industry.) Making diversity in leadership a priority has had huge benefits on our company and culture — and certainly to the larger financial world.
Of course, despite the progress, we still have a lot more work to do to achieve parity in finance and fintech. According to this report in CNBC, less than 17 percent of senior positions in investment banks are held by women. In your opinion or experience, what can be done by a) individuals b) companies and /or c) society to support this movement going forward?
Women must support other women to ensure this trend continues. I also believe that promoting, supporting and communicating about diversity as a leader is important. Otherwise, diversity rarely has a long-term impact on the organization. As colleagues, we need to reach alignment in our approach, but that doesn’t mean we all need to think the same or have the same background. Bringing different perspectives improves decision making and results.
As a company, it is critical to build diversity fully into your processes and business philosophy, and a committed and empowered HR team is crucial to ensure that you’re achieving and exceeding your goals for parity and diversity. You may have to make an additional investment to do this.
Individuals and institutions are more empowered to promote diversity today. Because of changing social norms and movements like #MeToo, there is an increased sensitivity to disparities and focus on achieving inclusive work environments. I hope we continue to make progress together.
You are a “business and fintech expert” — if you had to advise your adult child about 5 non-intuitive things one should do to become more financially literate, what would you say? Can you please give a story or example for each.
My parents inspired me in finance at an early age, and I’m now trying to instill this passion in my own children. When I was young, my parents gifted me small stock and savings, and from there, I truly enjoyed working to become financially independent. I was very proud to pay for some of my college, to pay for my own wedding, etc. It’s also a core way that I bonded with my grandfather, and that led to so many powerful and memorable conversations while I was growing up. At Stanford, I was a member of the Student Investment Fund Club. It was an immense learning curve, for sure, but something that helped propel my knowledge of business forward even further.
Today, I’m working to instill many of those same things in my children, getting them involved early. For the past several years, around the holidays, we’ve given our children the choice of companies to invest in and purchased shares for them. Naturally they pick companies that interest them, like Google and Disney. But when Blackhawk went public, they were also keen to follow it. We show them how to track performance on their phone, and they really enjoy it. It’s like a game. In many ways, technology has helped boost financial literacy of the younger generation. Gamification of investments, in some ways, has helped to make the whole process of researching and investing fun and tangible for our children. They don’t look at it as a chore, but rather a challenge, or an opportunity.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?
Certainly, none of us get here by ourselves. Having mentors has always been comfortable to me, and an important part of my growth. I have sought out mentors from the time I was a student. One of my most important mentors is Bill Tauscher, our executive chairman at Blackhawk. I’ve known Bill for more than a decade, working for him and alongside him to build this company. I’ve built a deep relationship with Bill; he is a sounding board that I fully trust, whose judgement has helped me steer through many challenges and opportunities.
Another mentor and champion of mine is Paul Hazen, former chairman and CEO of Wells Fargo. Paul is accomplished and attentive He is a force who draws out the strengths of others and drives you where and when you need it.
It’s those impacts from my own mentors that drive me to make mentoring a part of my focus at Blackhawk, and in our industry. It’s one of the most rewarding pieces of my work — the mentor/mentee relationship. We should all strive to make an impact on others through mentorship and shared experiences.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
”You get what you put in.” Commitment, persistence and work ethic will be a defining factor in your success. That has certainly been the case in every facet of my life, from school, to career and even in my own personal relationships.
The key to success is resilient commitment — you have to commit through the hard times and the good. You have to be resilient. Big achievements are more of a marathon than a sprint. Embrace the opportunities and the challenges with equal persistence and energy. I carry that focus and mentality with me every day, and work to model it for our employees and my children.
You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the greatest amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger!
I would like to inspire women to have more confidence. Women doubt themselves and hold themselves back. I see it every day among women with whom I work, and every morning when I look in the mirror. One of the biggest opportunities that women have to grow is to focus on action over perfection. I know that in many situations, men are not focused on perfection as much as they are in taking action and making decisions. We can benefit from trusting ourselves to take strong stands as leaders, decision makers and innovators.
Separately, it feels like we’re becoming a more divisive, win-at-any-cost society. I don’t believe that is a recipe for success in the long run. Winning is most rewarding in the context of the greater good. We can’t lose sight of our values and integrity to get ahead, or we’ll give up so much that winning won’t matter anymore. I hope businesses can move forward with optimism, values and dignity. We can aspire to win while also doing some good along the way.
Thank you for all of these great insights!