Why Did American Express succeed in the U.S.A. And Internationally?
It succeeded because the company established an outstanding reputation in its core businesses very early in its lifetime. It also took advantage of the competition during both World Wars to support its customers with financial assistance when they needed it. Its business decisions, all told, were solid. It divested itself of non-profitable segments when necessary, and put the emphasis always on its core businesses -- travelers' checks, its travel business, and credit cards. AmEx has maintained flexibility as well in adapting to consumer's demands and the needs of its business, such as issuing the revolving credit card when that segment might have failed.
Today it is one of Forbes Magazine's top 100 companies.
How is American Express surviving the 2008-2009 Economic Crisis?
Diversification of its business. The American Express credit card business in the U.S. dropped 96% from early 2007 to mid-2008 -- a huge loss. However, the company overall reported profits of $655 million during the second quarter of 2008. It wasn't that people weren't using the cards. As the financial crunch worsened, more and more folks relied on their credit cards to get by month-to-month. The enormous losses came from those cardholders not paying their bills in record numbers.
There are two other reasons for the company's continuing survival. First, its capability to take advantage of the U.S. Government liquidation facilities funded through Chapter Three of the Federal Credit Union Act passed in 1998 by Congress. Second, Warren Buffet owns 13% of AmEx. Besides just the weight of his opinion and reputation, evidently, a financial lifeline may be available if needed.
Make no mistake, American Express is having a rough couple of years. Just three weeks ago, May 20th, the company announced it is laying off 4000 workers worldwide in an effort to slash $800 million from its budget. And this is only the latest addition to its 7000 layoffs last October. Though these are huge "pullbacks," AmEx is still expected to survive.
Would the AmEx Strategy Work in Asia and China?
Our third surprise is that American Express has been involved in Asia and China since 1918. That's when it opened a branch of the American Express Bank in Shanghai. Many of its core businesses, such as credit card services and its travel business have been widely located in that country for many years. Its travelers checks are sold in the branches of over 25 Asian banks.
Early in this century, American Express joined forces with China International Travel Services (CITS) to create a business travel joint company. They provide an entire menu of business travel arrangements from obtaining visas to handling domestic travel arrangements, and everything in between. CITS and AmEx also have a leisure travel business jointly in China. By the year 2005, that business had over 100 offices throughout the country and Asia.
Then, in 2004, jointly with one of China's biggest banks, AmEx launched their credit card business. These cards are dual currency -- both Chinese and U.S.
Another reason AmEx succeeds in China is that it is committed to China's tourism business, since that is also one of their core businesses. AmEx, for decades, has been involved with many and varied community and historical site renovations and has made numerous contributions and grants for the ongoing preservation of Chinese historic sites.
Though, because of the poor economic times, AmEx has had to sell a significant quantity of its stock in one of China's main banks, there is no discussion of its pulling back from China. The layoffs, budget cuts and gathering together of cash is just something most smart companies do in times like these, according to American Express management.
In March, 2009, American Express reaffirmed its intent to expand its business in China and the Asian continent, and to build an even stronger credit card presence in that region.
Only the length and depth of the current worldwide economic crisis will determine when (if) that will happen. It is American Express' desire and the Chinese financial institutions support the AmEx' efforts there. However, in the end, business is business, and the financial…