William Hill outlines strategy for sustainable growth

26 February 2020

William Hill has set out how it plans to grow into a “digitally led, internationally diverse business of scale”, with a focus on growing revenue, improving operational efficiency and scale, underpinned by a competitive customer offering and agile team.

The competitive customer offering will be created through continuous innovation, the operator said following the release of its 2019 results, with increased personalisation and high standards of customer support.

Its product roadmap will be focused on delivering “brilliant basics”, by offering the best possible experience for depositing, withdrawals, login, bet settlement and registration. Alongside its ongoing technology revamp in the US, it aims to innovate around football and in-play, which the operator says can give it a competitive advantage in the market.

This is to be supported by faster response times to customer queries and complaints, as well as a focus on safer gambling, an area where it highlighted a number of key developments in 2019.

William Hill said that it had achieved its target of increasing the number of online customers that set deposit limits by 50% in 2019, amid a period of regulatory changes across a number of key jurisdictions.

It noted that, alongside its industry peers, it had agreed to increase its financial support for safer gambling research, education and treatment to 1% of gross gaming yield by 2023. This was followed by a voluntary whistle-to-whistle advertising ban around live sports broadcasts - something which William Hill claims has led to a 97% reduction in betting adverts seen by children.

“Our aim is that all of our customers play safely and within their means,” the operator said. “To support this goal, we have continued to invest in personnel, IT systems and rigorous processes to ensure our customers are appropriately protected.

“With the support of technology we closely monitor patterns of play, provide our players with tools they can use to remain in control and, where appropriate, we will enforce a break in play. As we continue to embed customer protection and self-regulation at the heart of our culture, we will develop tools and processes that ensure we protect our customers from gambling related harm.

“There is more to do with respect to customer protection but the progress that has been made at William Hill and by the industry is real.”

This customer commitment will be complemented by a “collaborative and agile team”, for which a number of executive changes have been made. A new chief product and technology officer role has been introduced, with Satty Bhens appointed to the role last year. In addition, a new chief operating officer role has been created, and currently filled by Philip Le Feuvre on an interim basis, with a brief to consolidate business support operations into a single, customer-centric function.

Through this customer focus and expanded management team, William Hill aims to grow revenue, improve operational efficiency and generate economies of scale as it executes on its strategy.

It expects the UK online business, which reported year-on-year declines in betting and gaming revenue for 2019, to return to growth in the year ahead. This will be aided by the summer’s European Football Championships, and supported by increasing yield from existing customers.

However, UK online faces a financial hit from the credit card betting ban, due to come into force from April this year. Credit cards accounted for around 5% of online deposits, it said, which would result in operating profit for the channel falling by up to £10m. Online profits look set for a further £3m hit, in the form of a fine from the GB Gambling Commission, for historical compliance failings.

Elsewhere, it will look to accelerate growth in the Nordic region by developing its Swedish offering, as well as improving its Danish offering, and expanding its presence in Italy and Spain to increase revenue from non-UK markets.

The US, arguably the operator’s only strong performing segment in 2019, will benefit from its focus on customer experience and product, while profitability will be improved by a focus on greater returns from marketing investment. It also aims to leverage partnerships to gain access into newly regulated states, with the likes of Colorado and Michigan among those expected to go live in 2020.

This division’s results, currently split into Nevada and the states to regulate post-PASPA, will be reported under the William Hill US banner going forward.

UK retail, however, is expected to continue to decline in the wake of the FOBT stake cut, with operating profit for 2020 to fall in the range of £60m to £70m.

Operational efficiency will be improved by a review of the current operating model, launched in 2019, to drive automation, improve location footprint and remove duplication of efforts. This has already seen a number of customer service improvements identified, with a greater focus on automated solutions. A new smart data platform also launched during the year, providing William Hill with greater analytics capabilities, to refine marketing efforts.

Finally, economies of scale will be achieved through using core platform components and processes across multiple divisions, such as the Global Trading Platform and Smart Data Platform.
 
"As we evolve our business, we will optimise our technology blueprint, location strategies and core back office operations to ensure we maximise the benefits of scale,” the operator explained.

Summing up, William Hill echoed chief executive Ulrik Bengtsson’s assessment that 2019 was “a year of transition”, albeit one in which it laid the foundations for long-term growth.

“We are on track to perform in line with our expectations for 2020, assuming normalised gross win margins and a stable regulatory landscape,” it said. “We will continue to manage our leverage carefully as we balance the investment opportunities available to us against the potential for regulatory developments across the group."