Rogers planning deeper relationship with banks

Earlier today I attended Rogers 2013 Annual General Meeting and Nadir Mohamed, President and CEO of Rogers, proudly communicated highlights from the past year – record revenues, market share, and subscriber numbers. It’s known that Mohamed will be retiring from Rogers effective January 2014, but that hasn’t stopped him from declaring Rogers intentions for the coming years.

From a wireless perspective – straight from his speech – Rogers will be looking to “improve their customer service to build loyalty, drive internet connectivity and content investments to grow the top line and deliver the fastest and most reliable Internet experience.” Smartphones, data, and content will be a huge play for Rogers. Yesterday it was reported that 71% of their postpaid subscriber base now has a smartphone, with an ARPU of $59.68. People are simply consuming more data on a daily basis – probably Gangnam Style or Gentleman on YouTube.

There was one interesting nugget on how Rogers will possibly differentiate themselves from the other carriers. Back in 2011 Rogers filed an application to establish “Rogers Bank.” At the time Rogers noted that “this application is only related to the possibility of launching a niche credit card business at some point in the future.” Looks like the future is almost upon us.

Rogers and CIBC recently teamed up to launch the NFC-based suretap mobile payment service and it seems their relationship with banks is only going to get deeper. Mohamed said “Today the average Canadian carries 22 cards in their wallet… collectively we’re carrying 675 million pieces of plastic. Your wireless device already acts as your phone, personalized bobbleheads, your computer… in the next five years it will act as your mobile wallet. For you this means safely storing all your information in one place… from credit cards to transit passes. For Rogers it means a new business that leverages the trusted security of the SIM… we’ve already partnered with CIBC and look forward to working with all of the other banks. We’ve also applied for a bank license so we can offer a credit card to strengthen customer loyalty and retention… and of course the Rogers credit card would be one of many cards in the mobile wallet.”

Rogers notes that these changes will come within “the next five years,” but probably sooner. In the audio clip I recorded below Mohamed said they’ll be doing more to retain customers, specifically coming out with a new loyalty program. “Loyalty is one element in the customer experience and customer service in the broader sense. Because what you have is people saying ‘Now that we’ve been a customer with Rogers, with one of the products or several of the products, for sometime, how do you let me know that you value my tenure?’ When you connect the dots… it really ties into a loyalty rewards points program which will actually further reinforce this idea of ‘we value our customers, we reward our customers for staying with us and if you grow with us you’ll be even better served.”
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The Google car was convincing at first glance, a tiny white Fiat with a cheery Google logo and "self-driving car" emblazoned on the side. A mysterious grey cylinder spun rapidly on the roof. In the real Google car this contains a laser-powered radar unit which serves as the eyes for the car's computer brain, but here it was a dumb chunk of polymer that had been 3D-printed by a friend of James' and attached via PVC piping. As such, the only way the car could appear "self-driving" was if the driver steered with their knees, a skill James had perfected while delivering food for a regional chain restaurant in high school. (Even in the real car, a human sits behind the wheel as an emergency fallback.)

In the tiny back seat was Lindsay Howard, the curator of the F.A.T. retrospective, and Magnus Eriksson, a F.A.T. member and one of the founders of the Pirate Bureau, the Swedish copyright activist organization which created the infamous piracy website the Pirate Bay. Eriksson, now a graduate student in sociology, wore small round glasses and spoke thoughtfully about the philosophical similarities between Google and the Pirate Bay.

He said, "We always claim we do the same thing. It's an open technology that anyone can put anything on." Four of the Pirate Bay's founders tried arguing as much in Swedish court when they were charged with copyright law violations. "The court didn't buy it," Eriksson said, with a laugh.

James said he has a more ambivalent relationship with Google. Google is so powerful, with such an overwhelmingly positive brand association—"Don't be evil"—that it has become thought as almost as a public service, he said. But Google is only really beholden to its shareholders, like any other company. The success it has had in convincing people of its benevolence is dangerous. As Google branches out into automotive technology, questioning it will become even more important.

"They're coming into the physical world, but they're doing it as a private company," James said. "I think there's some limited return to society if they remain only a for-profit company, because what they're messing with now is public goods. It's the road, you know." He paused often to mug for awestruck pedestrians snapping photos with their phone, waving both arms out the window while he steered with his knees.

F.A.T. has a history tweaking Google. The Google driverless car was a sequel of sorts to a 2010 F.A.T. project called "Fuck Google" in which the crew drove a fake Google Street View car around Germany, which has had a particularly contentious relationship with Google over privacy issues. (Germany recently imposed the largest-ever fine on Google over its Street View project: a measely $189,000.) The fake car sparked real pantsless protests by pedestrians, and an official denial from Google. "Fuck Google" was entered into the 2010 Transmediale Festival, an art and technology festival that happened to be sponsored by Google that year.

Today, we were going to see if anything could properly troll the Big G. James guided us through a McDonald's drive-thru with his knees, pumping the brakes violently and shaking the car to simulate a glitch in the system as a confused and slightly frightened employee tried to pass fries and a Coke through the window.

But almost everyone else responded to the robot car with outpourings of wonder and curiosity. "This is the perfect car for college kids," marveled a British tourist in an LA Galaxy jersey. He meant for the weekends. "If you can drive it through your iPhone, then who's drunk driving?" Many others mistook the spinning radar unit for a camera. Two doormen at the Intercontinental Hotel in Times Square rushed into the middle of the street to strike Charles Atlas poses and flash sideways peace signs while waited for a light to change.

KATSU drove like he paints: Illegally. He sent the Fiat screeching around corners and zoomed down streets before yanking the parking brake and putting us into power slides. He was not kidding about provoking a minor accident. The first came as he was chatting with a couple of guys next to us a moving van, who shrieked in delight when KATSU told them the car was self-driving.

"Awesome, awesome," the driver hollered shaking his head in delirious amusement. That's when we smashed into one of the plastic barriers lining the side of the road that KATSU had been slowly drifting towards, perhaps purposefully. KATSU grabbed the wheel and yanked us from the barriers and looked back at the guys in the truck, who were now weeping with laughter, custom bobbleheads.

Soon after, KATSU blatantly cut a cab off and the Fiat was whacked hard in the back bumper. Despite the New York cab drivers' fearsome reputation, this one was cowed. "He looked at the Google logo and he thought it was his fault," KATSU said. "He got a really scared face like he was doing something wrong."

Indeed, the Google car was treated with deference no matter how recklessly we drove. There was a sense that the world was rooting for you, in the Google car. You felt like a mayor with an approval rating of 98 percent surveying your crime-free city. A man waiting with his two daughters at at a crosswalk pointed to us: "Even one of you could sit in the driver's seat and it would take you where you wanted to go," he said. These girls might remember this moment with awe 30 years from now when robot cars actually do dominate the road, a fake vision of a real possibility.
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