American Express (NYSE: AXP), sometimes known as "AmEx" or "Amex", is a diversified global financial services company, headquartered in New York City. The company is best known for its credit card, charge card and traveler's cheque businesses.
The company's common stock trades on the New York Stock Exchange under the ticker symbol "AXP." It is one of the 30 stocks that comprise the Dow Jones Industrial Average and is ranked as the 74th largest company by Fortune. In 2007, BusinessWeek and Interbrand ranked American Express as the 14th most valuable brand in the world, estimating the brand to be worth US$20.87 billion.
The current CEO is Kenneth Chenault, who took over in 2001.
American Express was founded in 1850, in Buffalo, New York, as a joint stock corporation that was a merger of the express mail companies owned by Henry Wells (Wells & Company), William Fargo (Livingston, Fargo & Company), and John Butterfield (Butterfield, Wasson & Company), as an express business. American Express first established its headquarters in a building at the intersection of Jay Street and Hudson Street in what was later called the TriBeCa section of Manhattan, and enjoyed a virtual monopoly on the movement of express shipments (Goods, Securities, Currency, etc.) throughout New York State. In 1874, American Express moved its headquarters to 65 Broadway in what was becoming the Financial District of Manhattan, a location it was to retain through two buildings.
American Express buildings
In 1854, the American Express Co. purchased a lot on Vesey Street in New York City as the site for its stables. The company's first New York headquarters were in an impressive marble Italianate palazzo at 55-61 Hudson Street between Thomas Street and Jay Street (1857-58, John Warren Ritch), which had a busy freight depot on the ground story with a spur line from the Hudson River Railroad. A stable was constructed nearby at 4-8 Hubert Street, between Hudson Street and Collister Street (1866-67, Ritch & Griffiths), five blocks north of the Hudson Street building.
The company prospered sufficiently that headquarters were moved in 1874 from the wholesale shipping district to the budding Financial District, and into rented offices in two five-story brownstone commercial buildings at 63 and 65 Broadway, between Exchange Alley and Rector Street, and between Broadway and Trinity Place that were owned by the Harmony family.
In 1880, American Express built a new warehouse behind the Broadway Building at 46 Trinity Place, between Exchange Alley and Rector Street. The designer is unknown, but it has a façade of brick arches that are redolent of pre-skyscraper New York. American Express has long been out of this building, but it still bears a terra cotta seal with the American Express Eagle. In 1890-91 the company constructed a new ten-story building by Edward H. Kendall on the site of its former headquarters on Hudson Street.
By 1903, the company had assets of some $28 million, second only to the National City Bank of New York among financial institutions in the city. To reflect this, the company purchased the Broadway buildings and site.
At the end of the Wells-Fargo reign in 1914, an aggressive new president, George Chadbourne Taylor (1868-1923), who had worked his way up through the company over the previous thirty years, decided to build a new headquarters. The old buildings, dubbed by the New York Times as "among the ancient landmarks" of lower Broadway, were inadequate for such a rapidly expanding concern. In March 1914, Renwick, Aspinwall & Tucker filed for the construction of a 32-story concrete-and steel-framed office tower in which all of the company's operations, then in four separate buildings, were to be consolidated. The building proposal of 1914 was abandoned, probably due to the war in Europe, but was resurrected two years later in a reduced form, at an estimated cost of $1 million.
65 BroadwayThe 21-story (plus basement), neo-classical, American Express Co. Building, was constructed in 1916-17 to the design of James L. Aspinwall, of the firm of Renwick, Aspinwall & Tucker, the successor to the architectural practice of the eminent James Renwick, Jr.. The building consolidated the two lots of the former buildings with a single address: 65 Broadway. This building was part of the "Express Row" section of lower Broadway at the time. The concrete-and-steel-framed building has an H-shaped plan with tall slender wings arranged around central light courts, a type of plan employed from the 1880s through the 1910s to provide offices with maximum light and air. Faced in white brick and terra cotta above a granite base, both facades employ the tripartite composition of base-shaft-capital then popular for the articulation of skyscrapers, with a colonnaded base and upper portion. The famous American Express Eagle adorns the building twice: there is an asymmetric eagle on the lower arch, while a symmetric eagle adorns the arch atop the building. The Broadway entrance features a double-story Corinthian colonnade with large arched windows. The building completed the continuous masonry wall of its block-front and assisted in transforming Broadway into the "canyon" of neo-classical masonry office towers familiar to this day
American Express sold this building in 1975, but retained travel services here. The building was also the headquarters over the years of other prominent firms, including investment bankers J.& W. Seligman & Co. (1940-74), the American Bureau of Shipping, a maritime concern (1977-86), and currently J.J. Kenny, and Standard & Poors, who has renamed the building for itself
American Express extended its reach nationwide by arranging affiliations with other express companies, (including Wells, Fargo – the replacement for the two former companies that merged to form American Express.) railroads, and steamship companies.
In 1882, American Express started its expansion in the area of financial services by launching a money order business to compete with the US Post Office's money orders.
Sometime between 1888 and 1890, J.C. Fargo took a trip to Europe and returned frustrated and infuriated. Despite the fact that he was president of American Express and that he carried with him traditional letters of credit, he found it difficult to obtain cash anywhere except in major cities. Mr. Fargo went to Marcellus Flemming Berry and asked him to create a better solution than the traditional letter of credit. Mr. Berry introduced the American Express Traveler's Cheque which was launched in 1891 in denominations of $10, $20, $50, and $100.
Traveler's cheques established American Express as a truly international company. In 1914, at the outbreak of the First World War, American Express offices in Europe were among the few companies to honor the letters of credit (issued by various banks) held by Americans in Europe, despite other financial institutions having refused to assist these stranded travellers.
 Loss of railroad express business
American Express became one of the monopolies that President Theodore Roosevelt had the Interstate Commerce Commission investigate during his administration. The interest of the ICC was drawn to its strict control of the railroad express business. However, the solution did not come immediately to hand. The solution to this problem came as a coincidence to other problems during World War I.
During the winter of 1917, the US suffered a severe coal shortage and on December 26 President Woodrow Wilson commandeered the railroads on behalf of the US government to move US troops, their supplies, and coal. Treasury Secretary William Gibbs McAdoo was assigned the task of consolidating the railway lines for the war effort. All contracts between express companies and railroads were nullified and McAdoo proposed that all existing express companies be consolidated into a single company to serve the country's needs. This ended American Express's express business, and removed them from the ICC’s radar. The result was a new company called the American Railway Express Agency company formed in July 1918. The new entity took custody of all the pooled equipment and property of existing express companies (the largest share of which, 40%, came from American Express, who had owned the rights to the express business over 71,280 miles of railroad lines, and had 10,000 offices, with over 30,000 employees).
American Express today
Current CEO Kenneth Chenault took over leadership of American Express from Harvey Golub, CEO from 1993 till present. Prior to that, it was headed by James D. Robinson III from 1977 to 1993.
American Express established a Travel Division in 1915 that tied together all of the earlier efforts at making travel easier, and soon established its first travel agencies.
Charge card services history
American Express executives discussed the possibility of launching a travel charge card as early as 1946, but it was not until Diners Club launched their own card in March 1950 that American Express began to consider seriously the possibility. At the end of 1957, American Express CEO Ralph Reed decided to get into the card business, and by the launch date of October 1, 1958 public interest had become so significant that they actually issued 250,000 cards prior to the official launch date. The card was launched with an annual fee of $6, $1 higher than Diners Club, to be seen as a premium product. The first cards were paper, with the account number and cardmember's name typed. It was not until 1959 that American Express began issuing embossed ISO 7810 plastic cards, an industry first.
In 1966, American Express introduced the Gold Card and in 1984 the Platinum Card, clearly defining different market segments within its own business, a practice that has proliferated across a broad array of industries. The Platinum Card was billed as super-exclusive and had a $250 annual fee (it is currently $450). It was offered by invitation only to American Express customers with at least 2 years of tenure, significant spending, and excellent payment history.
In 1987, American Express introduced the Optima card, their first credit card product. Previously, all American Express cards had to be paid in full each month, but Optima allowed customers to carry a balance (the charge cards also now allow extended payment options on qualifying charges based on credit availability). Although Optima is no longer heavily promoted, Optima and Optima Platinum cards are still available on the American Express website. Today American Express offers a wide range of other credit card products including co-branded cards like the JetBlue Card and the Starwood Preferred Guest Card, as well as other credit cards promoting customer rewards like the Blue from American Express Card and the Blue Cash Rebate Card.
In 1994, the Optima True Grace card was introduced. The card was unique in that it offered a grace period on all purchases whether a balance was carried on the card or not (as opposed to traditional revolving credit cards which charge interest on new purchases if so much as $1 was carried over.) The card was discontinued a few years later; however, the currently-available One from American Express card offers a similar feature called "Interest Protection."
In 1999, American Express introduced the Centurion Card which is often referred to as the "black card," catering to an even more affluent and elite customer segment. The card charged a $1,000 annual fee at the time of its introduction (today, it is $2,500 with an additional one-time initiation fee of $5000) and offered (and continues to offer) a variety of exclusive benefits. There have always been rumors of a super-exclusive card that gives American Express' richest and most powerful customers special perks. It was this rumor that caused Amex to profit off the word-of-mouth and sparked the launch of Centurion.
The company made another addition to its products in 1999 by introducing Blue from American Express, which quickly became a popular card among young adults due to an appealing marketing campaign directed towards a youthful demographic. Based on a successful product for the European market, Blue had no annual fee, a rewards program, and a multi-functional onboard chip. A cashback version, "Blue Cash", quickly followed.
American Express also launched an exclusive agreement with Costco in 1999, replacing an earlier agreement with Discover Card. Under the agreement, American Express cards replaced Discover as the only credit/charge card accepted at the warehouse club in the US, and American Express became the first and only credit/charge card accepted at Costco's locations outside the US. To introduce Costco members to American Express, a no-annual-fee co-branded cashback credit card was also introduced. An added benefit of the agreement for the Costco member is the annual Costco membership fee is billed the American Express card.[clarify] The agreement was highly successful and was renewed in 2004 for an additional 10 years.
As of 2005, the US Centurion card has a $2500 annual fee, while other American Express cards range between no annual fee (for Blue and many other consumer and business cards) and a $450 annual fee (for the Platinum Card.) Annual fees for the Green card start at $95, while Gold card annual fees start at $125.
In 2005, American Express introduced Clear, advertised as the first credit card with no fees of any kind. It also incorporates the ExpressPay technology premiered with the Blue card. Also in 2005, American Express introduced One, a credit card with a "Savings Accelerator Plan" that contributes 1% of eligible purchases into an FDIC-insured High-Yield Savings Account. Other cards introduced in 2005 included "The Knot" and "The Nest" Credit Cards from American Express, co-branded cards developed with the wedding planning website theknot.com. They have also introduced City Reward Cards that earn INSIDE Rewards points to eat, drink, and play at New York, Chicago and LA hot spots.
Also in 2005, American Express introduced ExpressPay, a MasterCard PayPass clone, based on a wireless RFID payment method, that requires a card to simply be waved in front of a special reader and not swiped. This technology replaced the smart chip on the Blue card. Many US merchant and restaurant partners including 7-Eleven, CVS/pharmacy, McDonald's, Regal Entertainment Group, and Ritz Camera, now offer ExpressPay at most or all of their locations. The technology was tested on the ski bus from Salt Lake City to local resorts.
In 2006, the UK division of American Express licensed the Product Red brand and began to issue a Red Card. With each card member purchase the company contributes to good causes through The Global Fund to help African women and children suffering from HIV/AIDS, malaria and other diseases.
In 2007, American Express again raised the annual fee for their American Platinum charge cards, moving the Personal cards fee to $450, and the Business division to $395. With the increase, customers now receive four complimentary companion coach tickets per calendar year. Additionally, a long rumored "relationship" fee of $5,000 to establish a Centurion card was added. The annual fee of $2,500 remains the same, however. In late 2007, they announced their new Plum Card as the latest addition to their card line. The card provides a 2% early pay discount or up to two months defer pay on purchases. However, the 2% discount is only available for billing periods where you spend at least $5,000. The first 10,000 cards will be issued to members on December 16.
Features: Some versions of the card include various features such as Damage waiver on cars rented with the card, and accident insurance during travel bought with the card.
The "Boston Fee Party"
From the early 1980s until the early 1990s, American Express was known for cutting its merchant fees (also known as a "discount rate") to merchants and restaurants if they accepted only American Express and no other credit or charge cards. This prompted competitors such as Visa and MasterCard to cry foul for a while as the tactics "locked" restaurants into American Express.
However, in 1991, several restaurants in Boston started accepting and encouraging the use of Visa and MasterCard because of their far lower fees as compared to American Express's fees at the time (which were about 4% for each transaction versus around 1.2% at the time for Visa and MasterCard). A few even stopped accepting American Express credit and charge cards. The revolt, known as the "Boston Fee Party" in reference to the Boston Tea Party, quickly spread nationwide to over 250 restaurants across the US, including restaurants in other cities such as New York City, Chicago, and Los Angeles. In response, American Express decided to reduce its discount rate gradually to compete more effectively and add new merchants to its network such as supermarkets and drugstores. Many elements of the exclusive acceptance program were also phased out so American Express could effectively encourage businesses to add American Express cards to their existing list of payment options.
Currently, American Express' average US merchant rate is about 2.5%, while the average Visa/MasterCard credit card US merchant rate is about 2% (Visa/MasterCard signature debit cards are at 1.7%). Some merchant sectors, such as quick-service restaurants including McDonald's, have special reduced rates to accommodate business needs and profit margins.
Not all the changes from 1991 have taken wind: A very small number of restaurants in major cities still exclusively accept American Express because the vast majority of their customers primarily use Amex cards. Likewise, Neiman Marcus accepts only American Express and their store card; however, the current exclusive agreement with American Express is due to expire soon and may not be renewed as an exclusive agreement. Costco also has an exclusivity agreement with American Express; however, Costco's agreement with Amex was the result of a long negotiation process for exclusive acceptance with multiple parties that also included Visa, MasterCard, and Discover.
Financial services history
During the 1980s, American Express embarked on its dream to become a financial services supercompany. In mid-1981 it purchased Shearson Loeb Rhoades Inc the second largest securities firm in the US. In 1984 it purchased the 90-year old Investors Diversified Services, bringing with it a fleet of financial advisors and investment products. Also in 1984, American Express acquired the investment banking and trading firm, Lehman Brothers Kuhn Loeb, and added it to the Shearson family, creating Shearson Lehman/American Express. In 1988, the Firm acquired E.F. Hutton, forming Shearson Lehman Hutton until 1990, when the Firm's name became Shearson Lehman Brothers. When Harvey Golub took the reins in 1993 he negotiated the sale of Shearson's retail brokerage and asset management business to Primerica and in following year, spun-off of the remaining investment banking and institutional businesses as Lehman Brothers Holdings Inc.
In April 1992, American Express spun off its subsidiary, First Data Corp., in an IPO. Then, in October 1996, the company distributed the remaining majority of its holdings in First Data Corp., reducing its ownership to less than 5%.
In December 2000, American Express agreed to acquire the credit card portfolio of Bank of Hawaii, then a division of Pacific Century Financial Corp. In January 2006, American Express sold its Bank of Hawaii card portfolio to Bank of America (MBNA). Bank of America will issue Visa and American Express cards under the Bank of Hawaii name.
Until 2004, Visa and MasterCard rules prohibited issuers of their cards from issuing American Express cards in the United States. This meant, as a practical matter, that U.S. banks could not issue American Express cards. These rules were struck down as a result of antitrust litigation brought by the U.S. Department of Justice, and are no longer in effect. In January 2004, American Express reached a deal to have its cards issued by a U.S. bank, MBNA America. Initially decried by MasterCard executives as nothing but an "experiment", these cards were released in October of 2004. Some said that the relationship was going to be threatened by MBNA's merger with Bank of America, a major Visa issuer and original developer of VISA. However, an agreement was reached between American Express and Bank of America on December 21, 2005. Under the terms of the agreement, Bank of America will own the customer loans and American Express will process the transactions. Also, American Express will dismiss Bank of America from its antitrust litigation against Visa, MasterCard and a number of U.S. banks. Finally, both Bank of America and American Express also said an existing card-issuing partnership between MBNA and American Express will continue after the Bank of America-MBNA merger. The first card from the partnership, the no-annual-fee Bank of America Rewards American Express card, was released on June 30, 2006.
Since then, Citibank, GE Money, and USAA have also started issuing American Express cards. Citibank currently issues several American Express cards including an American Airlines AAdvantage co-branded card, while GE is currently issuing a co-branded card for Dillard's. HSBC Bank USA is currently testing both HSBC-branded and Neiman Marcus co-branded American Express rewards credit cards, with a full rollout scheduled for late 2007 or early 2008. Also, UBS launched its Resource Card program for US Wealth Management clients issuing Visa Signature credit cards and American Express charge cards linked to their customers accounts and employing a single rewards program for the two cards.
In 2005, American Express released the American Express Travelers Cheque Card, a stored-value card that serves the same purposes as a traveler's cheque, but can be used in stores like a credit card. The card has since been discontinued as of October 31, 2007, due to "changing market conditions". All cardholders were issued refund checks for the remaining balances.
On 30 September 2005, American Express spun off its American Express Financial Advisors unit as a publicly traded company, Ameriprise Financial, Inc.. Due to this, American Express revenues for 2005 are down around $5 billion, however, like-for-like they are up 10.5% in 2005. Also, on September 30, 2005, RSM McGladrey acquired American Express Tax & Business Services (TBS).
In 1975, David Ogilvy of Ogilvy & Mather developed the highly successful "Don't Leave Home Without It" ad campaign for American Express Traveler's Cheques, featuring Oscar-award-winning actor Karl Malden. Karl Malden served as the public face of American Express Travelers Cheques for twenty-five years. His television ads were a combination of suspense, excitement, news, and a compelling call to action. First, you would see a thief stealing money from some poor unsuspecting tourist's wallet or beach bag or hotel room. Then Karl would arrive on the scene looking like the cop he played in the famous television series, Streets of San Francisco. He would say, "This could happen to you!" And then the call to action: "Don't let a thief spoil your vacation. Get American Express Travelers Cheques. Don't leave home without them." After Karl Malden's departure, and the card was promoted over the traveller's cheques, American Express continued to use celebrities. A typical ad for the American Express Card began with a celebrity asking viewers: "Do you know me?" Although he/she gave hints to his/her identity, the star's name was never mentioned except as imprinted on an American Express Card; after which announcer Peter Thomas told viewers how to apply for it. Each ad concluded with the celebrity reminding viewers: "Don't Leave Home Without It." The "Don't Leave Home Without It" slogan was revived in 2005 for the prepaid American Express Travelers Cheque Card.
The long-running PBS children's TV series, "Sesame Street" parodied the "Do you know me?/Don't Leave Home Without It" ad campaigns with three skits involving a Muppet Character holding a Grown-Up Friend's Hand while crossing the street. One skit featured Forgetful Jones (performed by Richard Hunt) with Olivia (Alaina Reed Hall) as his Grown-Up Friend, a second featured Bert and Ernie (Frank Oz and Jim Henson respectively) with Gordon (Roscoe Orman) as their Grown-Up Friend, and the third featured Big Bird (Carroll Spinney) with Bob (Bob McGrath) as his Grown-Up Friend. All three skits ended with their names being embossed at the bottom of a card looking like an American Express Card that had a big human left hand in the middle with the words "Grown-Up Friend's Hand" above it, and a voiceover saying "A Grown-Up Friend's Hand. Don't cross the street without it."
Another parody was seen on an episode of the CBS game show, "Press Your Luck," when the animated "Whammy Character" would give the "Do you know me?" tag line, followed by the display of an AmEx card-parody, which then had "WHAMMY" typed in on the bottom line of the card.
The 1989 movie, Major League also parodied the campaign. In one scene, in which every player is dressed in a tuxedo, the Cleveland Indians tell viewers of the film why every player carries the American Express Card with much of the explanation done one line at a time by players Jake Taylor (Tom Berenger), Eddie Harris (Chelcie Ross), Rick "Wild Thing" Vaughn (Charlie Sheen), Pedro Cerrano (Dennis Haysbert), and Roger Dorn (Corbin Bernsen), and Manager Lou Brown (James Gammon). The scene ends with Willie "Mays" Hayes (a tuxedo-clad Wesley Snipes) sliding into home plate in front of the rest of the team, holding up his card and saying to the viewers: "The American Express Card. Don't steal home without it."
To this day, American Express continues to use celebrities in their ads. Some notable examples include a late 1990s ad campaign with comedian Jerry Seinfeld, including the two 2004 webisodes in a series entitled "The Adventures of Seinfeld and Superman." In late 2004, American Express launched the "My life. My card." brand campaign (also by Ogilvy & Mather) featuring famous American Express cardmembers talking about their life. The ads have featured actors Kate Winslet, Robert De Niro, Ken Watanabe and Tina Fey, Duke University basketball coach Mike Krzyzewski, fashion designer Collette Dinnigan, comedian and talk show hostess Ellen DeGeneres, golfer Tiger Woods, professional snowboarder Shaun White, tennis pros Venus Williams and Andy Roddick, Chelsea Football Club manager José Mourinho, and film directors Martin Scorsese, Wes Anderson, M. Night Shyamalan and most recently singer Beyonce Knowles. In 2007, a two-minute black-and-white ad entitled "Animals" starring Ellen DeGeneres won the Emmy Award for Outstanding Commercial.
In April 1986 American Express moved its headquarters to the 51-story Three World Financial Center in New York City. After the events of September 11, 2001, American Express had to leave its headquarters temporarily as it was located directly opposite to the World Trade Center and was damaged during the fall of the towers. The company began gradually moving back into its rehabilitated building in 2002.
The company also has major offices in Fort Lauderdale, FL; Salt Lake City, UT; Greensboro, NC and Phoenix, AZ. The main data center is located in Phoenix, with a secondary back-up facility in the Boston area.
Amex Canada is based just north of Toronto, in the City of Markham.
American Express has an 8-storey European Service Center, known as Amex House in Brighton, England. It is a large 1970s-built white tower block, surrounded by several other smaller offices around the city. Amex House deals with card servicing, sales, fraud and merchant servicing. The official UK HQ is located in London at Belgrave House on Buckingham Palace Road, SW1; other UK offices are based in Sussex at Burgess Hill.
The Asia-Pacific Headquarters is located in Singapore, at 16 Collyer Quay.
The headquarters of the Latin America & Caribbean division is in Miami.
The headquarters of the Australian division is in Sydney's King Street Wharf area, with the new state-of-the-art building receiving greenhouse status due to the environmentally friendly workspace that it provides.
American Express was named one of the 100 Best Companies for Working Mothers living in the U.S. in 2006 and 2007 by U.S. based Working Mothers magazine.
Acquisition of American Express Bank Ltd. by Standard Chartered plc
On 18 September 2007, it was announced that Standard Chartered plc agreed to acquire American Express Bank Ltd, a commercial bank, from American Express Co, for an estimated $1.1 billion, through a friendly divestiture process. The transaction is currently subject to regulatory approvals. Lehman Brothers is advising American Express in this deal.