Isabelle Andres Interview: The industry is about to change – albeit slowly


isabelle andres
t’s exciting times for BetClic, Euro 2016 is taking place in its back yard and its been awarded the first online sports-betting licence in Portugal’s new regulated market. BetClic Group CEO Isabelle Andres sits down with Gambling Insider to reflect on a prosperous time for the company, discuss the perceived gender bias at the top of the gaming industry, and explain how senior executives could promote an equal opportunities culture

BetClic’s launch in Portugal is big news at the moment. How excited are you to be the first regulated online operator in the market and what does the launch mean for the BetClic Everest Group as a whole?

Obviously we are very excited to be the first online operator to be regulated in Portugal, the achievement was a target for the company and we’ve been working hard to hit that over the past few months, so we’re proud and happy to have been successful in launching in the market first.

We believe there is huge potential in the Portuguese market, it’s is a small market but very dynamic, and because of the experience we have in regulated markets we are well positioned to capitalise on this opportunity. Portuguese regulation is pretty similar to France in terms of its sports offer and its business model. We are used to restricted offers in France. We are used to having technical concerns, we are used to high taxation on turnover. I will never say that that I’m happy with taxation on turnover specifically and I am hoping for change, but we do know how to deal with it, so we believe we have a competitive advantage and a competitive edge to leverage our experience in France and be successful via the specific business model required in Portugal.

And being the first operator in the market will obviously give us another competitive edge, which we didn’t have in France when that market opened. For the time being we are the only the only legal option for Portuguese customers and that will give us the opportunity to show people that want to bet on a legal site how good the product we are offering to them is.

Are you expecting to have competitors soon?

I believe that the Portuguese regulator has reported that it is currently reviewing 10 licence applications, so obviously sooner or later there will be other operators in the market to compete with. Whether any manage to obtain a licence before the Euros or during the tournament is a good question, I’d be surprised if we saw any movement on those licences before the Euros though which is obviously good news for us. We are expecting that we’ll have local operators in the market and perhaps a couple of international operators as well soon though, maybe in time for the new football season if not before the end of the Euros.

There’s an advantage with being the first operator in the market, but would you rather have competitors than not in the long run to aid the growth of the market?

In the medium term I would for sure. We have seen in other markets we operate in that the more operators you have communicating in the market, the more dynamic the market is. That being said, I was very impressed to see our first results in Portugal. Obviously it’s far too soon to congratulate ourselves, but from the day we went live in Portugal we didn’t have to do anything to promote the product, it went viral. After a couple of days we had more than 10,000 customers. After 10 days we were heading towards 30,000 customers active on our site which is impressive considering there had been no active communication from our side.

Has that led you to reassess the size of the market? Or is it too small a sample size?

It’s too small a sample size, so I prefer to not speculate too soon. It will be a tough market for sure so although we are very excited we’re also cautious and that’s how we’ll approach things. But after 10 days, what we’ve seen has exceed our expectations by far. I’m not even sure we need to reach out for customers yet because we haven’t done that so far and the customers have found us instead and are already using the site.

You mentioned Euro 2016, that’s obviously a huge event on the horizon for sports-betting operators. Does the fact that BetClic is a French operator and the Euros are being held in France mean there is extra expectation to have great results throughout the tournament?

For the French market, the fact that the Euros is based in France and that the French team is amongst the favourites is a great opportunity for us, and we are expecting a lot of activity from our French players. To be honest, for other markets I’m not entirely sure that that fact that Euro 2016 is being held in France makes a difference, for Portuguese customers or Italian customers in those countries it won’t make a difference where the Euros are being held. And anyway, my goal has been to make the group international rather than exclusively French.

It is definitely not something that I want to push to our foreign customers. Globally, I want BetClic to also be seen as an international brand and not a French brand, we want to be known as the champion of the regulated market in south Europe, and we have other brands in the Group, like Expekt, that are definitively not addressing the French market.

But Euro 2016 being held in France is a massive opportunity for us to communicate in France, we have a huge marketing plan and new innovative products. We are obviously expecting the recruit massively during the Euros.

Euro 2016 is huge and is clearly the biggest event of the summer for sports-betting operators, but almost straight after the tournament is the Olympics. Is the Olympics betting market something that you’re interesting in?

We are of course offering odds on the Olympics. More generally, we are trying to increase what we offer as much as we can. So whether it is on the Olympics or US sports, I strongly believe that improving your market share today depends more on the product than on your marketing. You will attract customers, and more importantly retain customers, if you offer a good range of products and services, and the Olympics is part of that.

That being said, football represents 50-60% of GGR and tennis is about 20% so with two sports you are covering the vast majority of your GGR. So I’m not expecting the Olympics to be a game changer in terms of our volumes, but again I believe that the broader your product offer the more you can retain customers, so that’s where it’s important for us to offer as many games as we can.

Speaking of new products, you signed a deal with Colossus Bets to offer their pool betting products recently. What’s the thinking behind hosting that sort of product?

It is certainly a wonderful acquisition tool. Being able to tell your customers they can win €10m is definitely something you want to have in your marketing plan. As online casinos are not regulated in France, unless you want to go to the illegal market you have no possibility to win jackpots. This is the only offer online on the French market with the possibility of winning a massive game. You have to guess the correct scores if you want to hit the jackpot which is totally different from casino games, still in terms of marketing and advertising there is nothing similar to this in France because we have exclusivity with this game there; it’s the only place that you can have a chance to win a jackpot of €10m.

There aren’t very many senior female executives in the industry. Why do you think that is? Is it something you think is an issue?

Well it is true that the industry has a gender bias. That said it is interesting to see that what I consider the most successful operator online, bet365, is also managed by a woman. And if you allow me to be immodest, I would also consider Betclic Everest Group as a successful company. So maybe there is something there that industry people in general should think about. I have a great respect for what bet365 is doing because they are absolutely successful, but except for that I agree with you, we mostly see men running sports-betting operators.

Why that is is easily understandable. The industry is new. It was created by people that were experts in their field that had a passion for sport. People that have a passion for sport are generally men, for whatever reason seems that women as a whole are less interested in sport compared to men.

That said, I believe that now the industry is changing, especially because of regulation, moving from needing experts to being more of a more management industry. In other words, when you were launching a site back in the day you definitely needed people who knew exactly how to do the betting and what it meant it terms of odds, so you would find at that time only men. Now that we are seeing consolidation, global industries and more difficult regulation, what you need more in terms of general management is somebody able to run a global company rather than someone who is an expert in sport. In that respect we should see more women in senior roles.

The industry may evolve naturally, but do you think there is anything that people who are in it could actively do to increase that pace of change. Is it a subject that you think gets talked about enough?

I don’t like to speak about gender specifically, because what a company needs is not a woman rather than a man or a man rather than a woman. It’s about having a good manager instead of a bad manager, and statistic distribution would tell us that because a woman can be as good a manager as a man or as bad manager as a man, we should see a 50:50 ratio in senior executives rather than 90:10. At the moment we probably have too many inefficient men in the industry and not enough efficient women.

When I’m recruiting people I am more interested in their skills than their gender. Statistically speaking though, when I focus on the skills of the candidates I have a 50 percent chance of finding a good woman for a role and a 50 percent chance of finding a good man. My executive committee is not 50:50 yet, but I have three women in my executive committee so we are heading towards 40%.

I would expect that everybody has the same approach. For me this is the real way to increase the female presence at the top of the industry, a focus on skills. Trading and IT are difficult ones that have to be addressed at an earlier educational stage than at employment level, but apart from those sectors nowadays you can find a lot of women in companies, in marketing, customer services, HR, finance etc. There is plenty of potential for your next CFO to be female in a lot of companies. The best way to promote the female presence is to focus on skills, which is what I do.

It sounds like you’re trying to cultivate an equal opportunities culture, are you unimpressed when you go to the trade shows and conferences and see so much marketing that’s set up with male industry representatives in mind?

I would go even further. When I go to places like ICE or similar what I see is white British men mostly. So it’s not only about men and women, it’s about all manner of diversity in the gaming industry. But the lack of diversity in global management today is not only an issue in gaming. If you look at most of the companies in Europe they are managed by white men in their fifties. So what can we do about that? Again it will take time, but it is definitely changing. If I compare myself to the few women that were my boss when I was 20 years old, I can see that things have already changed for the better. Compared to women that were in business at my level 20 years ago I have to fight less, and I hope that if my daughter decides to be a CEO one day she will not have to fight at all. That will take time, and that does need to start at an educational level.

Do you have a lot of correspondence with women in the industry who tell you that they see you as an inspiration in sports betting?

I do receive messages from other women in the industry saying that I am an inspiration. I am always honoured and surprised to receive these messages, but if I can be a good example for women that it’s possible to be successful and that you don’t have to underestimate yourself then I am happy with that. “We are as good as men and as bad as men” is my message. Do you know the saying: “Real equality will be achieved when a woman can be as incompetent a manager as a man”? I like that saying a lot because I believe this is the real difference today. Compared to what was the case 20 years ago we've progressed, because as a woman you can be a CEO, but you have to be extremely good and no one will excuse any mistakes. As man you aren’t put under that pressure in the same way, you can make mistakes and be forgiven. Hopefully we are moving towards attitudes being the same towards everyone.

The interview was first published in Gambling Insider magazine in July 2016
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