Over the past five years, we've seen a dramatic rise in the popularity of prepaid corporate incentive cards in the U.S. and the U.K., as more and more companies have chosen prepaid incentive cards over traditional rewards programs. And now, this trend is beginning to take hold among Canadian businesses.

In a recent survey conducted by Berkeley, we found that the way Canadian companies look at corporate incentive programs is changing. Canada's business leaders are looking for more creative incentive programs, programs that can be easily and cost-effectively tailored to meet their employees', customers', and partners' needs.

In particular, the survey found that an overwhelming majority of respondents (74%) ranked prepaid corporate incentive cards as the most valued incentive by recipients. I find it interesting, although not surprising, that the second-highest ranked incentive, retail gift cards came in so far behind, at just 55 per cent. And the more traditional incentives, such as merchandise, barely ranked at all.

The introduction of new options, like prepaid incentive cards, are driving this change in the corporate incentive landscape. In addition, more traditional incentive programs are losing favour among many employees, leaving companies searching for other options. For companies of all sizes, the best incentive program is cost-effective, flexible, and can be easily adapted as business goals change. Rewards programs such as "pay-for-performance" aren't always the best choice, since they need to be set months, if not years, in advance. Travel, points, and corporate merchandise programs are challenging to administer and costly to run. And those types of incentives don't always appeal to today's employees and customers. Gift cards promote other companies' brands, and who needs to promote someone else's business? Prepaid incentive cards, on the other hand, can be branded with your company's logo, and can easily be used by recipients how and where they choose.

Yet here's where our business leaders' perceptions don't quite match up with current reality. Although almost three-quarters of respondents said they believe prepaid corporate incentive cards would be most valued by recipients, only half said they had used prepaid incentive cards. To me, however, that's good news. It means that many Canadian companies are already using prepaid incentive cards, and I believe that number will only increase as companies realize the importance of providing incentives that offer real value to their employees, customers, and business partners, and as they realize that prepaid incentive cards offer business benefits that other incentive programs just can't match.

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