- The adoption of digital payments has taken off amid the coronavirus pandemic, as consumers look to avoid cash.
- American Express, both a card network and credit issuer, is riding the digital wave with products like contactless cards, partnerships with players like Venmo, and QR codes to pay.
- The card giant is set to acquire small-business lender Kabbage for a reported $850 million.
- From fraud monitoring to credit decisioning to exploring new ways to pay, here are the 11 power players leading Amex's digital push.
- Visit Business Insider's homepage for more stories.
While the adoption of digital payments has been increasing for some time, the coronavirus pandemic has accelerated consumers' move toward non-cash options when it comes time to pay.
And this move away from cash is good news for card companies like American Express.
In an effort to capture that non-cash spend, Amex is pushing more digital payments options, like contactless cards, mobile wallets, and QR codes to pay.
It's also moving beyond cards with partnerships to help facilitate more transactions. In 2019, Amex expanded its partnership with PayPal to offer its customers the ability to send Venmo requests when they want to split bills on the Amex app.
And whereas Mastercard and Visa offer payment rails, but partner with banks like Chase and Wells Fargo to issue consumer credit, Amex manages it all themselves.
Amex lends to both consumers and businesses. And now the card giant is set to acquire small-business lender Kabbage for a reported $850 million.
Read more: POWER PLAYERS: Meet the 8 PayPal execs shaping the payment giant's future as its stock rockets to record highs and e-commerce surges
Luke Gebb, head of Amex Digital Labs, told Business Insider it's an important distinction that separates the card giant from its rivals, especially when looking to collaborate with tech companies moving into the payments space.
"Having the end-to-end data set is really big and really important for a lot of the things that we do," he said. "It also gives us a different angle when we're working with a player like Apple or Amazon," Gebb said.
"We hear that we're able to move faster, because Visa needs to show up with Chase, and we can show up with two parts of American Express," he added.
See more: POWER PLAYERS: Meet the 12 key execs driving Shopify, the breakout e-commerce star that's inking partnerships with Walmart and Facebook and seen its stock price triple since March
Having data on both the transaction side and the consumer behavior side is helpful, especially when thinking about targeted consumer offers like rewards, said Gebb.
From fraud prevention to credit decisions and building new ways to pay, here are the 11 execs driving every aspect of Amex's digital payments strategy.
Raff Breaks, senior vice president of enterprise digital member experiences
Breaks is responsible for card members' digital experiences at Amex, from managing the firm's mobile app, to raising awareness of merchants through digital offers and rewards for customers. Breaks oversees Amex's website and all customer communication channels like email and text.
"We're continuing to see significant growth in mobile-app adoption and a lot of that is coming from Millennials and Gen Z," Breaks said.
In its app, Amex has focused on personalization and push notifications to engage with users.
"We know from extensive customer research that our younger customers expect this proactive outreach," she added.
Breaks joined Amex in 2000, and has held several leadership roles across the firm in digital product development, design, and research.
Gina Taylor Cotter, senior vice president and general manager of global business financing
Taylor Cotter oversees the business lending side of Amex, which includes working capital and other financing solutions for small, medium, and large businesses. Taylor Cotter launched Amex's small-business lending product and its supply-chain financing product, Early Pay.
As a digital lender, Amex's business clients are able to apply for credit at any time, not needing to visit bank branches or fill out piles of paperwork.
"Our team focuses on serving small, mid, large and global customer's working capital and financing needs with a variety of short-term lending solutions that are digital and 'always-on,'" said Taylor Cotter.
Business financing continues to be one of Amex's fastest growing product lines, Taylor Cotter said.
Taylor Cotter joined Amex in 1997, holding several leadership roles, many of which centered around Amex's business clients.
Danielle Crop, senior vice president and chief data officer
As chief data officer, Crop oversees the use, management, and storage of Amex's data for all its consumer and business customers. Crop manages an internal platform called Customer 360°, which provides a global view into all of Amex's customer relationships and product usage.
"The range of opportunities for businesses to use data will continue to rapidly multiply, and I see two important trends as a result," said Crop.
The first is an increased importance of managing data with a focus on consumer trust, as well as evolving government regulations, she said.
The second, Crop said, is "a race to unlock the potential of these data-powered growth opportunities through such things as open banking services for consumers and businesses."
Crop joined Amex in 2001, and became chief data officer in February.
Tina Eide, senior vice president of global fraud and credit bust out (CBO) risk management
Eide is responsible for Amex's fraud prevention strategy across its entire business. She's led machine-learning efforts that can detect fraud at the point of sale, and predict fraud before it happens. For over a decade, Amex has had the lowest fraud rates in the credit-card industry, according to a recent Nilson report.
And as more spending moves online, managing fraud becomes more complex. Fraudsters look to steal personal information at scale online, and their tactics have become more sophisticated with social engineering (like phishing) and bot technology.
"While the sophistication and scale to which organized criminals operate has steadily evolved over the years, we've been able to outpace them," Eide said.
There is a team of over 1,200 employees at Amex who manage and monitor these risks globally.
Eide joined Amex in 1998, working in international risk management.
Luke Gebb, senior vice president of Amex Digital Labs
As head of Amex Digital Labs, Gebb leads Amex's innovation efforts. From QR code payments to artificial intelligence and open banking, Amex Digital Labs' 150 employees work with different parts of Amex's business to deliver on innovation projects.
Gebb oversees initiatives around emerging payments, like contactless cards and QR codes, as well as different customer-experience projects, like enabling an Amazon Alexa integration where users can make payments and check their balances.
"We are meant to drive innovation on behalf of all business units," said Gebb.
Often that means partnering with other leadership to deliver on specific projects.
Gebb joined Amex in 1994, briefly leaving in 2000 to work with e-commerce startup ClickTheButton.com. Gebb rejoined Amex in 2002, starting Amex Digital Labs in 2017.
Priscilla Kam, senior vice president of global strategy & capabilities
Kam oversees the strategy and development of products and platforms at Amex. Focused on new forms of digital payments, Kam leads Amex's rollout of contactless payments and the industry-wide Click to Pay product, launched in collaboration with Discover, Mastercard, and Visa.
The US has lagged other markets like the UK and Australia in adoption of contactless payments. But amid the coronavirus pandemic, consumers are increasingly looking for touch-free ways to pay, both online and in-store.
"These new payment habits are likely to have sticking power – not only are more U.S. customers using contactless, but more are saying that it's becoming their preferred form of payment," said Kam. "Early signs are indicating that COVID-19 may be the accelerator for contactless adoption in the US."
Kam joined Amex in 2004, leading various marketing, operations, and business strategy efforts before moving into her current role in 2018.
Read more: Rivals Visa, Mastercard, Amex, and Discover are partnering up for one-click checkouts to compete with the likes of Apple Pay and PayPal as e-commerce booms
Ben Leventhal, CEO of Resy, part of the American Express Global Dining Network
Leventhal is the CEO of Resy, which was acquired by Amex last year. In June, it launched Resy At Home, where restaurants can set up take-out offerings like multi-course meals and grocery boxes.
In late June, Amex announced a new small-business initiative where its customers can earn credits for shopping at small businesses, which extends to restaurants on Resy's platform. And Resy has launched products like mobile waitlists for restaurants.
"Innovation will be critical in rebuilding the restaurant industry," Leventhal said. "We are also exploring tools related to contactless menus, takeout, delivery and more."
Leventhal cofounded Resy in 2014, and is also the cofounder of food publication Eater.com.
Stacy Poritzky, vice president of partnership marketing and global consumer services group
Poritzky is responsible for Amex's co-branded programs, including Delta, Hilton, and Marriott. In addition to overseeing Amex's existing co-brand relationships, Poritzky is also responsible for acquiring prospective partners.
"When the pandemic hit, we saw a shift in how our card members were spending as they adapted to new ways of living and working from home," Poritzky said.
With travel effectively halted, the typical rewards Amex offers on these co-branded cards, like frequent flier miles, became less relevant. So Amex introduced new rewards targeted toward things like restaurant take-out and grocery shopping.
Amex also has an API through which it can link partners' platforms with its own, ensuring consumers see consistent messaging, whether interacting with Amex's website or booking travel through an Amex partner like Delta.
Poritzky joined Amex in 2000, and currently leads various digital marketing efforts across its U.S. co-brand partners, like Delta, Hilton and Marriott.
Erich Ringewald, senior vice president and chief technology architect
As chief technology architect, Ringewald is responsible for Amex's internal tech and software strategy. Ringewald has been leading an initiative called "One Amex," an open-source approach uniting Amex's tech into a more standardized platform.
For many financial institutions, legacy and disjointed tech stacks can be a drag on efficiency and innovation.
"Prior to One Amex, our many digital experiences were created using unrelated tech stacks," said Ringewald. "Interoperability was almost non-existent; small changes in design were slow and expensive to implement; and customizing experiences for different markets was complex. With One Amex, that has changed."
Ringewald joined Amex in 2012, having previously spent time at tech giants Apple and Amazon.
Harshul Sanghi, senior vice president and global head of Amex Ventures
Sanghi leads Amex Ventures, the firm's venture investing arm. With over 60 portfolio companies, including Better.com, Instacart, and Stripe, Amex Ventures typically invests in early stage startups. And often, Amex will form business partnerships with its portfolio companies.
While some may see disruptive fintechs as a threat to institutions like Amex, Sanghi says that partnership is necessary as the future of payments evolve. Two-thirds of Amex Ventures' portfolio companies, like Stripe and Better.com, also have business relationships with Amex.
"The success of Stripe, one of our Amex Ventures portfolio companies, has been due in part to its ability to process payments on networks such as American Express," Sanghi said. "In the same vein, Stripe has brought tremendous innovation to the merchant acquiring and payment processing sector, which is a mature industry."
Sanghi joined Amex Ventures in 2011, after leading corporate venture investing at Motorola.
Read more: Payments giants like PayPal and Amex are making hundreds of startup bets to transform how we shop and pay — and it's part of a $1 billion-plus wave of VC investment
Chao Yuan, senior vice president and head of decision science & data strategy
Yuan has global oversight of Amex's credit risk, fraud risk, and regulatory models. Yuan's team is responsible for building out the tech that Amex uses to make credit decisions and limit fraud on its network.
Traditional credit data, like FICO scores, are used by most lenders to make credit decisions. But alternative data, like looking at consumers' bank account activity, has come into the spotlight among lenders.
"Traditional credit data continues to be the most powerful source of data in credit decision making," said Yuan.
"Alternative data, such as a customer providing their bank balance and details about their financial assets, can provide a more complete view of consumer's financial behavior, which means we can make better underwriting and lending decisions."
Yuan joined Amex in 1996 working on the fraud-decision science team.
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