Building the bridge between intangible and tangible is the goal for nearly every tech company in existence. Startups and enterprises battle to identify complicated processes and simplify them for consumers. Right now, blockchain technology is somewhere in-between that bridge—many have heard of it, but few fully understand it. With the release of two blockchain-powered pilots, Interac is crossing that bridge.
Only a few companies can realize the scale and interoperability necessary for blockchain to connect consumers with industry and see a tangible immediate impact. More often than not, these rollouts happen in the supply chain or cryptocurrency realm. With these pilots, Interac is taking blockchain out of its normal ecosystem and finding new ways to connect and incentivize consumers.
“Blockchain is one of the enabling technologies that offers a means to an end,” explains Oscar Roque, AVP of innovation, research, and emerging solutions for Interac.
“You can use blockchain to connect different industries together and harness the power of multiple networks to create a seamless business network—or, more broadly, a network of networks. Blockchain enables us to do that and really create that interoperable system.”
Blockchain’s core principles
Interac has launched two pilots over the past year that use blockchain technology to offer value and promote positive change through real-time incentivization. These pilots move away from the traditional implementations of blockchain and instead rely on leveraging trusted networks, ubiquity, and a nuanced understanding of behavior. However, despite these pilots straying away from the normal blockchain frameworks involved with cryptocurrency, they still need underlying respect for what makes the technology effective in the first place.
With principles of transparency, immutability, security, consensus, and smart contracts always in focus, enterprise companies can use blockchain technology to reach consumers in new ways and create business opportunities that have never existed before.
“At the end of the day, privacy must be foundational across every entity,” says Roque. “You have to deliver value while also protecting data, which is extremely important for the consumer.”
Incentivizing environmentalism with Interac and blockchain
Blockchain has evolved to the point where many different companies and partners understand its significance in the broader technology ecosystem. However, it is just now entering proof-of-concept and pilot stages outside of cryptocurrency as many businesses find ways to use blockchain to instantly connect with consumers outside of the financial world.
The two pilots Interac has been involved in aim to create real-world change in industries beyond what is typically associated with the nascent technology.
Working with Alectra Utilities, participating homeowners earned incentives when they performed energy-efficient behaviors. Interac worked with IBM to power the pilot, which succeeded in demonstrating that consumers will change their behavior when real-time incentives are available.
Interac and Alectra’s two-month pilot rewarded select homeowners for using solar energy, batteries, and electric vehicle chargers. Pilot participants earned rewards (an average of $100) from Alectra, which were delivered via the Interac e-Transfer platform.
This is where the pilot gets interesting. Energy companies have long been providing credits and rewards for choosing to go green. The key factor behind this project is real-time incentivization. As soon as consumers made an energy-efficient choice, they were rewarded with ‘sparks.’ These sparks could then be redeemed for real dollars using the Interac e-Transfer platform and spent at any one of the 500,000+ Interac accepted merchants in Canada. Being able to instantly spend at almost any merchant in any city is incredibly important.
“Generally, blockchains have a problem of entering in and getting that asset, whether it’s cryptocurrency or something else. But they also have a problem exiting and being able to use or spend that asset easily,” says Roque.
“Interac can enable the spending of an instantaneously received incentive, right away, at over half a million merchants. Real-time earning, real-time spending—I think that’s groundbreaking in terms of how you think about changing behaviors.”
Changing behaviors is one of the most important parts of the Interac pilots. With traditional incentive models, it can sometimes take months to receive credit. In this case, consumers received their monetary reward in real-time. As a result, all program participants in the Alectra pilot actively altered their behavior.
Improved wellbeing through real-time, behavior-based change
The second pilot Interac launched saw the payments company partner with The Heart & Stroke Foundation to incentivize citizens to enroll in Activate, a blood pressure management program. The idea was to reward citizens for checking in on and looking after their personal well-being. Those that enrolled in the program would receive money into their bank account through Interac e-Transfer. The pilot is currently ongoing, set to end this month, and has shown positive results so far.
“It’s very important to have that real-time capability when you’re asking consumers to do something differently,” says Roque. “Consumers often forget if you don’t reward them instantly. They forget what it took to get that reward. It’s behavioral sustainability. Those little nudges in real-time are paramount to creating a real habit.”
“Interac can enable the spending of an instantaneously received incentive, right away, at over half a million merchants. Real-time earning, real-time spending—I think that’s groundbreaking in terms of how you think about changing behaviors.”Oscar Roque, AVP of Innovation, Research, and Emerging Solutions, Interac.
In both pilots, the focus of blockchain integration is to collect and securely store the information of participants at key points throughout the programs. Through both the Alectra and Heart & Stroke projects, consumers are positively and instantly rewarded for making good choices, whether it’s related to the environment or personal health.
“The actual programs we’re piloting are all so different within themselves. If you look at traditional loyalty, it’s a spend-to-earn model. The model we’re looking at is an evolution. It’s a do-to-earn model,” says Roque.
While incentives are embedded within both “spend-to-earn” and “do-to-earn” loyalty programs, a do-to-earn model is truly consumer-centric.
“In the Interac network and incentive platform, we think about how everything centers around the consumer. The consumer as a household owner, or as an individual around health and wellness,” says Roque. “But at the end of the day, it’s always them in the middle. Other incentives have the program itself at the center.”
Keeping consumers at the center
The Interac incentivization blockchain pilots focus on putting power back in the hands of the consumer. They are rewarded for making positive choices, and the rewards they receive are instant and able to be spent anywhere. Those are the differentiating factors that make these pilot projects special—there are few companies that have the ability to connect partners from vastly different industries and enable real-time behavioral change.
“Everything we’ve created, from platforms to products, it’s all about being able to build a network on two fronts,” says Roque. “First from a pure technology perspective that brings together multiple stakeholders in any ecosystem. Second is going above and beyond technology. It involves bringing together those stakeholders and building a network we can govern successfully so that every partner wants to continue to be a part of it and deliver value for the consumer.”
As a champion of interoperability, Interac is a facilitator for different enterprises, non-profits, and businesses of all sizes to come together to create real change.
“Yes, we have the power of that ubiquity and scale within the financial services arena,” explains Roque. “But when we think about other arenas, it’s how we deliver that real-time value movement capability to another sector.”
Positive behavioral change via incentivization and monetary reward is the current objective, but eventually, the goal of future blockchain pilots is to completely empower the consumer’s control of data. Roque and Interac believe this should be the case for every program and every instance where a customer is willing to change their behavior.
“The consumer has full consent and full control of who has access to their data, and if they give access, they should earn a real-time incentive for changing behavior,” says Roque. “It’s all in an interface for them to say yes or no to. We can better protect the consumer while also giving them real value.”
The floodgates are just beginning to open for opportunities to change behavior through incentivization. Blockchain enables the secure storage and dissemination of information, and as more companies understand its effectiveness beyond cryptocurrencies, new verticals will open up. Wellness and energy are only two examples of industries where real-time rewards can completely shift the way people react to and affect the world around them.
“When it comes to pilots and commercialized activities, we have a rich history of building and scaling networks to deliver value that bodes well to successfully rolling out blockchain projects,” says Roque.