SBC Digital Summit: Betting leadership focuses on ‘reopening unknowns’

C-level leaders on the first day of the SBC Digital Summit spoke about the challenges of ‘business continuity in the face of COVID-19’ disruptions and mitigating the unprecedented circumstances that have changed global betting’s operational strategies. 

The discussion was started by moderator Jordan Levin, CEO of SG Digital, who asked the panellists to detail ‘first responses’ to the COVID-19 outbreak.

Leading diverse betting organisations covering all components across retail and digital disciplines, all panel members recognised ‘workforce safety’ as their first response to the crisis.

Noting a ‘rapid escalation’, GVC Holdings COO Shay Segev Group detailed that the FTSE firm was forced to implement a ‘crisis task force’ to coordinate group-wide contingency planning covering GVC’s global footprint.

Segev stressed that this was no easy task, highlighting the varied response and guidance given by individual governments. He said: “None of us really understood the scale of the virus, so we chose to focus on business continuity.”

A month into the lockdown, Segev explained that GVC leadership has chosen to evolve its task force programme to focus on COVID-19’s future response, evaluating dynamics related to ‘cash management, scenario planning and exit preparations’.

For Segev, ‘exit preparations’ are now the industry’s great unknown. Leading GVC operations, he said that retail’s “covid’s reopening will be harder than its closure”.

Segev continued: “Its been a tough challenge, as we have closed our large retail presence in the UK, Italy and Belgium. However, reopening will be the toughest challenge, as we will face tough procedures on customer social distancing and health and safety equipment to protect our workforce”. 

George Daskalakis, CEO of Stoiximan, shared Segev’s concerns on retail unknowns, but underlined that leadership must simply accept its COVID mandate in which ‘there is no return to normal’. 

Daskalakis stated that he has instructed Stoiximan management to study changes in consumer behaviour witnessed during this unprecedented period. 

Operating in Greece and Cyprus, Stoiximan has seen older die-hard retail consumers ‘change their motivations to adapt to playing online’ – a factor that has led the bookmaker to restructure its customer service to cater for these underserved consumers.  

For Daskalakis, COVID-19’s biggest disruption relates to the fundamental changes in the relationship between player and operator.

“We are seeing changes right now,” he added. “Especially in communications with our customer service teams. In the past players would be in a rush when talking to our agents, now they really want a discussion and a detailed chat about our long term plans. These are benefits we have to keep.”

Mirroring Daskalakis’ positive remarks, Jesper Svensson – CEO of Betsson Group – underlined the need for betting to act on the front foot “responding to its individual community needs”.

Svensson stated that leadership should have no surprise at regulators holding closer scrutiny of all high-risk sectors such as gambling during lockdown.

Leading Betsson, Svensson has placed a strong focus on developing ‘community bonds’ which should require no regulatory mandate to be implemented.

“We have increased our proactive interactions significantly,” he said. “Betsson is part of a local community and we have to contribute. Where we operate, we have given our apartments and resources to frontline workers.”

Svensson reaffirmed that this is “no PR practice, it’s just the right thing to do”.

The panel focus then shifted towards workforce impacts, in which Tim Heath – CEO and Co-Founder of Coingaming Group – said he has noticed intriguing reactions from his staff working under lockdown.

Leading a digital enterprise, whose workforce has transferred seamlessly to working from home, Heath noted that “people have been more productive, but I fear that they are burning the candle at both ends – this could be a dangerous precedent”.

Heath added that Coingaming would have no trouble in becoming a ‘remote style business’, but that work from home policies holds limited value for a young company seeking to move forward.

“I’m very strong on and insistent in maintaining an office culture,” he said. “I value that we have an office, that we have personal meetings and I believe that those water-cooler moments are important. Employees can like work from home policies, but they can kill a company’s culture.”

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The SBC Digital Summit runs from 27 April to 1 May 2020, featuring seven conference tracks, a virtual exhibition and virtual networking lounges, attracting an estimated 10,000 delegates from around the world. There is still time to register for the event, with company discounts available HERE.

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