is one of the big players in the league of credit cards. The
company is best known for its charge card, which even now is
considered a status symbol in the corporate world. Over the
years the brand name of the American express has grown and presently
its importance can be gauged from the fact that it is one of
the 30 stocks that comprise the Dow Jones Industrial Average.
This is the bench mark of the NSE. American Express is commonly
abbreviated in speech and sometimes in print as "Amex". This
name by itself has become a brand name.
American Express card is among the oldest cards conceived. Though the credit for the first charge card goes to Diners club, American Express was not far behind.
In 1957, the then American Express CEO Ralph Reed made a conscientious decision to get into the credit card business. A massive publicity campaign was launched. This paired with the American Express brand name resulted in almost 250,000 cards being physically issued, even before the card was launched on October 1, 1958. The aim of the card was to carve a niche for itself as a brand leader. This resulted in its initial pricing being $ 1 higher than the charge for the Diners card.
American express cards are associated with the charge card which is their most branded and famous product. For years this remained their staple product. The Amex cards have generally targeted the affluent and well heeled customer. However with the passage of time and the introduction of the Master and Visa cards there has been a change in the thinking of the Amex top brass. They have now since 1987 introduced a card with revolving credit as is the vogue with Master and Visa cards.
The original Express card was issued on paper and only a few years later it was embossed on plastic. Also the original Amex card was the green card which became synonymous with the Amex trade mark.
In 1966 American Express introduced
the Gold Card. This catered to a particular clientele and a
definite market segment. This card had no preset credit limit
and the credit limit was worked out on the pattern of use and
payment by the consumer.
In 1984 Amex further introduced the Platinum Card. The Platinum Card was marketed as super-exclusive card and had an annual fee of $250. Initially it was not marketed en masse, but could be got only by invitation. Amex customers, who had held this card for more than 2 years with a good credit record, were only offered this card.
With Visa and Master thriving in the credit card market with their revolving credit facility a rethink in the higher echelons of the Amex management resulted in the launch of the Optima card in 1987.It was the first Amex card that offered revolving credit facility. Monthly payments were also kept down to 2% as was the practice in Visa and master cards. Over the passage of time American Express has made available an upgraded optima card. The Optima credit card was a landmark as far as American Express cards were concerned, as it was the first card to offer the revolving credit facility. However the charges on all other Amex cards were higher than masters and visa.
In 1991 Amex received a jolt that needed immediate attention. It started with many elite restaurants in Boston discouraging or stopping the use of Amex cards in preference to Visa and Master cards. This was because American Express fees at the time were many notches higher than Visa and Master. Amex charged 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. This revolt soon spread to other major cities of the United States. American Express reacted and introduced a lower discount rate to be more competitive
American Express propensity to cater to the affluent segment of society led it to launch the Centurion card in 1999. Also called the Black card it presently charges an annual fee of $ 2500. It also offers a host of exclusive benefits catering to an even more affluent and elite customer segment. The card is available only by invitation and, as of January 1, 2006, requires minimum annual spending of $250,000 on another American Express card and exceptional credit history among other requirements to get an offer for this card.
In 1999 Amex has introduced the blue card. This is a gigantic success. The card was based on a successful product for the European market. Blue had no annual fee, a rewards program, and a multi-functional onboard chip.
The Red card soon followed. This is a special card where the card member can contribute to good social causes like malaria, Polio and help children and poor mothers.
As of 2005, the 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 $395 annual fee (for the Platinum Card).
Currently, American Express' average US merchant rate is about 2.3%, while the average Visa/MasterCard credit card US merchant rate is about 1.9% (Visa/MasterCard signature debit cards are at 1.7%). However keeping in mind the spiraling personal debt of consumers, Amex has been one of the first to raise the minimum payments to 4 % of the outstanding on a credit card.
American express has also launched co branded cards, which is a far cry from their original exclusivity. However American Express cards have kept abreast with the latest technology. In 2005, American Express introduced Express Pay, a wireless RFID (radio frequency identification technology) payment method for credit cards. This revolutionary technology only requires a card to be tapped to a special reader and not swiped. Many merchant and restaurant partners including 7-Eleven and McDonalds have opted to be the partners of Amex.
Amex cards are now available world wide. In fact they operate in 130 countries
around the globe. Despite this they still retain their exclusivity
and prefer the affluent and rich as customers. Amex has its
European Headquarters in Brighton a sea side resort in the UK,
while the Asian Headquarters are located in Singapore
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