Why reinventing the business was critical for American Express’ success

PaymentEye spoke with Jose Carvalho, SVP, Global Commercial Payments Europe at American Express about why listening to customer feedback is critical, how to keep up with increasing competition and the challenges of trading abroad. 

What are your responsibilities as head of the European Commercial Payments business at American Express?

 I lead the European Commercial Payments business at American Express which offers financial solutions and payment services to businesses of all sizes, ranging from SMEs to some of the world’s largest companies.

Whilst American Express is perhaps best known for our Travel & Expense and Corporate Card products, we offer a host of payment and lending solutions to help companies navigate an increasingly competitive and globalised business environment.

This includes supplier payment and working capital solutions, helping organisations streamline every day payment processes and free up capital to enhance financial performance. We also help companies do business overseas through cross border payment services and global currency solutions, designed to make trading abroad simpler and hassle free. Our corporate cards provide companies with integrated management tools, business expense reporting and rewards programmes.

The focus of my team is to provide innovative payment, cash flow and financing solutions to businesses across the region.

How does American Express provide businesses with insights to help hit targets, grow revenue and control expenses?

We aim to help businesses achieve efficiencies, drive savings and ultimately help boost their growth by giving them access to insights over their spending. Our position as a card issuer, merchant acquirer and global payments network gives us direct relationships with many players in the payments ecosystem, including merchants, consumers and technology providers, helping us to deliver effective products and services which help businesses grow.

We offer businesses of all sizes flexible and innovative cash flow solutions to help give them the power to diversify their capital resources without the need for external financing. This is achieved by offering businesses easier payment processes for payment of their suppliers and invoicing parties, as well as extended payment terms.

How do you keep up with new technologies & increasing competition in the financial services market?

Reinventing our business to meet changing needs has been critical to our success. American Express started out as a freight forwarding company, and today we’re a global payments business. The key for us is to listen to the voice of our business customers and to anticipate their needs by investing in product innovation and future-proof technology and services that will help them achieve their long-term goals.

Virtual and mobile payments are driving a significant change in payments. As companies digitise their businesses, it has led to a growth in the use of digital payments to help further facilitate the secure and efficient payment of goods and services.

In an increasingly globalised environment, how does American Express help businesses address the challenges associated with creating seamless and frictionless cross-border payments?

Managing frictionless cross-border payments is a key challenge – but also a big opportunity – for businesses of all sizes, from SMEs through to large global companies.

We aim to help take the complexity out of cross-border payments to ensure a smoother and simpler process for our clients. Offering complete end-to-end solution, allowing businesses to settle international payments swiftly and take payments from overseas clients with minimal administrative work from the business helps simplify the process. We also provide companies with a range of products to pay suppliers and help manage exchange rate risk through our hedging solutions.

Alongside these solutions, we are also a trusted source of information around strategy and planning – from hedging to buyers’ rewards. A recent study we conducted showed that the majority of SMEs (62%) don’t use FX Forward Contracts to hedge their international payments – with 92% of those citing lack of information as the reason why, so education is a big part of what we do.

Trading abroad is a big opportunity for any company, and it’s hugely rewarding to help them succeed beyond their home customer base.

Do you have any trends or predictions for 2017/2018?

Recent Amex research conducted in partnership with East & Partners in the UK showed a big but untapped opportunity for businesses looking to start trading overseas, and I’m expecting that to continue into 2018.

The recent unpredictability of FX rates are in fact giving some businesses a competitive advantage – and helping as many as nine in ten SME exporters increase their margins by an average of 16%.

The same research showed that 95% of SMEs that are already exporting are now planning to take advantage of these conditions by boosting business abroad even further over the next 12 months.

Businesses of all sizes need to focus more on building partnerships and increasing collaboration; this is a key way to keep up with the speed of innovation we see in all major industries worldwide.

The corporate world is also in the midst of transformative change which is set to continue, largely driven by technology innovation and the growing proportion of Millennials in the workplace.

Currently, 40% of the global workforce are Millennials and by 2025 this proportion is set to reach 75%. Millennials have new expectations of the workplace: they want better work-life balance, and to be able to use the same tools and experiences in their work life as in their personal life. They are also looking to connect with companies that mean something to them and share similar values. We are continually evolving our organisation to ensure we offer a place to work that’s relevant to the needs and aspirations of all our employees. Equally we need to ensure our products and services are prepared to meet the needs and requirements of the next generation of customers.

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