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Head of Government Relations (Canada) for PayPal Inc, Nicole Watts on the Impact of third wave of COVID-19 on SMBs

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Nicole Watts – Head of Government Relations (Canada) for PayPal Inc.

Nicole is Head of Government Relations (Canada) for PayPal Inc. PayPal is a leading technology platform company that enables digital and mobile payments on behalf of consumers and merchants worldwide.

Prior to joining to PayPal, she was a Director at Allstate Insurance Company of Canada leading Government and Regulatory Affairs. Prior to Allstate, Nicole worked for a boutique public affairs consulting firm in Ottawa as well as for Rogers Communications Inc. In the public sector, Nicole worked for the Rt. Hon. Paul Martin and served in the Prime Minister’s Office.

She is currently Vice-Chair of the Board of Directors for The Shoebox Project.

Originally from New Brunswick, Nicole has a Bachelor of Arts (Political Science and Commerce) from Mt. Allison University. She currently lives in Toronto.


As Head of Government Relations for PayPal, what can you tell us about your responsibilities to give our readers a better idea of your role?

Most of my days are spent tracking various pieces of legislation and regulation, working with industry associations, and providing input and feedback to government consultations. Our team is engaged on a wide range of issues in Canada and around the world that matter to our PayPal customers.

I am also a champion and advocate for small businesses—urging our government at every opportunity to do more to help small business owners, particularly those from under-resourced communities. At PayPal, we recognize the critical role SMBs play in the global economy. Our business solutions and tools are designed to help entrepreneurs succeed and thrive online, regardless of their background or location. In this instance, my role aims to raise our customers’ interests and to communicate first-hand the ways the government can encourage small business growth and enact change.


What would you say is the most challenging part of your role? What are some of the strategies you use to overcome these challenges?

Similar to what many small business owners experiences, every day brings a new challenge. Time management has been key, especially during the pandemic in Toronto where I live. I’m a mom of two young kids so I’ve been focusing on balancing work with homeschooling during the lockdown. Thankfully, I work for a company that really prioritizes its employees’ well-being, not only throughout the pandemic but always. During PayPal Wellness Days (paid time off for employees to focus on their mental health) I try and do something that will re-energize me. I love my job and the people and the issues I work on which makes even the stressful days a little easier.


What’s been the biggest impact that COVID-19 has had on PayPal? How has the global pandemic impacted the company and its customers?

COVID-19 really emphasized the importance of PayPal’s role in helping merchants adapt to and master the booming digital economy. Small businesses in Canada have historically been slow adopters of e-commerce but the pandemic quickly changed that as many business owners altered their business model to include online sales. In just four years we saw the number of businesses transacting online increase by 400 percent with half of those coming online this year alone. It’s clear — business owners who once considered online sales a luxury now understand it is a necessity.

At PayPal, we witnessed a three-fold increase in businesses across Canada signing up for our products and services during the past year. As a result, we recorded our best year in history, reporting exponential growth throughout 2020, and capping the year off with our strongest quarter yet, with a 36 percent increase in total payment volume in Q4.

This growth speaks to the accelerated adoption of digital payments by businesses during the pandemic and demonstrates PayPal’s relevance and value proposition.


A recent survey of Canadian small business owners found that 60% of small businesses are concerned about remaining sustainable. What advice do you have for Canada’s small business industry that can help them in regard to these concerns?

It has been challenging for Canadian small businesses to weather the storm throughout the pandemic. This can be true especially for brick-and-mortar businesses who have only operated in-person and are adjusting to the accelerated digital transformation we are experiencing.

Our own small business survey found 55% of small business owners say they have experienced a downturn or have had to temporarily stop work and 26% say they’re not confident they can survive the next six months.

I believe the biggest lesson we have all learned this year is to prepare ourselves for the ‘Future of Everything.’ We don’t know what tomorrow brings us—but we do know that it’s a digital-first world. My advice is to understand that a fundamental key to survival is to adopt a digital and mobile strategy to stay connected and relevant for our customers and communities, here in Canada and around the world.

Businesses have an opportunity to re-examine what they’re doing and how they can do it differently – be more creative, innovative, and experiment with new ideas. A great example of this is one of our business customers, Nadia Lloyd, a painter and fashion designer from Toronto. Her creativity drove her to repurpose fabric from cushion covers to make masks when there was a shortage of PPE. For Nadia, being online, using social media, and adopting digital payments is a significant part of her success story as a small business owner. In fact, 72 percent of online small businesses say selling online is necessary to have a successful business these days and 69 percent of online small businesses say selling online has made their business more successful.

Those who are open to pivoting their business strategy and those who embrace e-commerce will have better opportunities and a better chance at success navigating the new normal.


What are some of the initiatives that PayPal Canada has implemented to help small business owners during these challenging times?

At PayPal, we know that life as an entrepreneur is always challenging and so we’ve always had a strong and diverse portfolio of capabilities to address the needs of merchants and help them thrive in the era of digital commerce. These range from end-to-end digital payment processing to sophisticated risk management, and shopping tools that ultimately help to drive increased sales and engagement.

We saw how the COVID-19 crisis forced large and small companies to implement a digital-first strategy – even in the analog world. Being able to pay in-store without contact has become extremely important – for both customers and employees. That’s why in June, we launched QR codes for payments in 28 countries, including Canada for small businesses who wanted a quick contactless payment solution without having to invest in expensive POS devices. All they and their customers need is a PayPal account and a phone. Everyone from a seller at the store or a farmer’s market can simply print their QR code and put it on a stand so that customers can pay via the PayPal app.

We also launched our Business of Change series to highlight stories of small businesses who have found a way to adapt and pivot during the pandemic with the goal of inspiring other entrepreneurs to get online, and with the help of PayPal, thrive in this digital economy. A great example is Melanie Harrington who was able to impressively navigate a pandemic and transform her flower farm business from a local, homegrown initiative into a thriving seven-figure force in the digital floral industry. She was not online at all before the pandemic but she quickly got online. Offering delivery was a huge part of her pivot strategy as well as rebuilding her website so that it was optimized for mobile shopping. She immediately included PayPal as a payment option, which she found a lot of her customers were most comfortable using.

This combination of our capabilities and our ability to help businesses scale their success provides merchants of all sizes a comprehensive, consistent, simple, and seamless experience they can count on, in the best of times and in the worst of times.


More than half of Canadian entrepreneurs have found it difficult to stay current with the constant changes of government regulations. How would you address this concern?

Canadian entrepreneurs are grappling with navigating multiple layers of often complex government regulations which makes it challenging for them to operate their business. Thankfully, there is a network of non-profit and government organizations that focus on small businesses and helping them navigate the resources that are available to them. Most importantly, small businesses can stay one step ahead by arming themselves with the right digital tools, technologies, and sales channels to help them make the most out of the opportunity that comes with a digital economy. This year, we’ve seen more movement on Canada becoming a digital economy than in the last five years. Digital commerce is no longer a luxury, it’s a necessity to survive given our new norm and changing consumer behavior.


On a final note, how do you believe Canada’s small business industry will be impacted once COVID-19 is behind us? How will it have changed the way we do business?

The global pandemic has impacted the way businesses operate now but also for the future. The digital economy is here and will continue to grow post-COVID-19. Businesses who want to be future-proof will have to continue to make e-commerce a critical part of their strategy — this will be necessary especially given the notable changes in consumer behavior.

While online shopping isn’t new, the last 12 months proved that it is here to stay, and customers don’t plan on turning back. In the future we will likely see AI-driven technology leveraged to enhance the customer experience. For businesses that leverage AI to collect data, they will be able to tailor preferences for their customer and build a compelling shopping experience.

As consumers continue to expect more personalized shopping experiences, more and more businesses will need to utilize data to send customers offers that are highly targeted at them, as individuals, with products, offers, and communications that are uniquely relevant to them.

Social commerce will likely also persist as an option for small businesses to provide their products and services while reducing overhead costs and increasing profitability. Social commerce has offered a simplified way to build an e-commerce outlet and provide consumers with a frictionless shopping experience.

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