Creeping Toward Normal

By Jack Hojnar

Powerful events induce sustained effects. Whether in work or family or personal pursuits, we trust joyful memories endure, and more painful experiences ease over time.

In this regard, the Covid pandemic remains seismic.

Prior to 2019, my career generated tremendous joy: travel, attending industry conferences, collaborating with peers, and publicly promoting the story of cbsi and why our products and services matter.

All of those joys were lost in an instant.

When Covid started, my career interests evaporated faster than toilet paper off grocery store shelves.

Never did I expect to miss crying babies on airplanes or flight delays or sitting in seemingly endless meetings. While many of my friends and peers embraced Zoom calls and work-from-home simplicity, I was quite the opposite: the silence was deafening and the solitude more like punished isolation.

The negative impact on our company, cbsi, appeared short-lived. As with most organizations during the early days of Covid, our largest undertaking was to convert existing work processes to remote environments without disrupting client expectations. We pivoted and excelled. We came together as a team, we grew as a company, we treated each other as family and client interactions flourished as though a pandemic never occurred.

But consumers stopped traveling. On April 12, 2020, less than 90,000 people passed through TSA security lines; by comparison, TSA witnessed more than 2 million travelers the same day the year prior.

People also dramatically changed the way they shopped. Though widely-publicized supply chain issues affected consumer purchasing, the pandemic also created a change in brand loyalty sending negative impacts to retailers globally.

Both of these industries - travel and retail - represent a life’s work for cbsi. The virtual dead stop to our livelihood, to what we truly enjoy doing, forced us to examine near-term and long-term impacts. Covid changed all of us and, as a result, we needed to shift focus. Our business might never be the same. At the height of the pandemic, we were like every other company across the world as we wondered aloud, “Will we survive?”

So we changed. We invested in technology to enhance delivery of our card products. We worked with our partners to create opportunities to match marketplace changes. We listened to clients and cardholders to improve call center interactions. We worked from home, then morphed into hybrid spaces to ensure employees would be safe and productive. We, much like many businesses, found a way.

It’s now the end of 2022 and much looks familiar though nothing will quite be the same. What we knew could work, is working. Our patience and persistence - even in the face of long odds - seems to be supporting our clients even better.

Ken Kraetzer’s Talking Business series became a resource for Executives during the pandemic as they embraced his platform as a mechanism to reach more people. Today, Talking Business thrives with some of the best information available regarding our industry and the leaders who shape it. This year, thousands of people watched Ken's YouTube video series.

Peter Alter, always a thought-leader for our organization, and has once again been in high demand to provide his industry insight. This past summer, he joined forces with cbsi partner, Jason Steele, to discuss the past, present and future of card benefit products during the Annual CardCon conference in New Orleans.

Our product development team launched new insurance products - in fact, one aimed at protecting travelers from future pandemic-type events - to continue to offer new ways to build cardholder relationships.

Within cbsi Client Services, cbsi leaders like Sonia Perugini and Megan Delaney created new internal processes and support mechanisms aimed at easing cardholder claims. Our understanding of travel and retail trends grew from enhanced social media tools, all of which we used to create our weekly Travel and Retail Industry News Report.

Perhaps most ironic, and even a bit humorous, is that our company celebrated its 50th year in business this fall. It’s easy to imagine our founder, Robert Conte, wondering if indeed the end of his organization might occur from such a powerful and unforeseen force like Covid. Instead through his leadership and poise, our 50th year occurred and we endured. We treated this Anniversary year as we would any other year, without fanfare or publicity, because it’s not about us and never will be.

The changes of the past two years, painful to experience, now provide an element of gratitude we might not have otherwise experienced without the pandemic.

Gratitude represents the energy we now embrace as we move toward 2023.

We see travel on the rise. On December 18th of this year, more than 2.3 million travelers passed through TSA checkpoints indicating a near return to numbers seen pre-Covid. We see an increase in retail spend and a considerable increase in contactless payments - card payments - which means our bank partners will again be able to promote the benefits of our cbsi retail card products. We see a return to meeting in person, to attending conferences, and to engaging with one another at the office - and with Zoom - in a perfect mix of home and workplace lifestyles.

In leading the Marketing and Technology efforts at cbsi, I like our direction and what it means for our clients. We continue to find more ways to connect to consumers and to help grow awareness of card benefit products and services. We are forming new partnerships that build better products and better product delivery tools. We are advocating the power of card benefits through increased social media marketing reaching more people with our message than possible only a few years ago. We are creating new reporting platforms that give us better insight, all designed to make faster, better decisions.

Late last week, I stumbled across photos from our last company Holiday Party. It was December of 2019. Ugly Christmas sweaters seemed the norm and Holiday decorations matched the festive looks on everyone’s faces. Who would have known that only three short months later our lives would change so dramatically?

Fortunately, despite the immense challenges of the past two years, we are getting things done at cbsi. And for me, I expect next year will once again find me sharing a seat with a crying baby on a flight to a conference; it’s the best start to a new year that I could ever imagine.

Here’s to you and your family, to overcoming challenges and enjoying the best that life can offer you in 2023.

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