Half our transactions are done online, says CEO of American Express

American Express, which is aggressively expanding its merchant coverage and broadening its card reach in India, recently launched a 360-degree marketing campaign.

Half our transactions are done online, says CEO of American Express

American Express, which is aggressively expanding its merchant coverage and broadening its card reach in India, recently launched a 360-degree marketing campaign. Manoj Adlakha of American Express, in an interview with Ankita Rai, talks about the company’s evolving customer base, expansion beyond metros and whether mobile payments could possibly impact the card business. Edited excerpts:

What is the idea behind Powerful Backing — the first ATL campaign from Amex in a long time?

We did a survey with Morning Consult, which was called Live Life. It was conducted across eight countries, including India. It showed that more customers were leading a hybrid life — the lines between life and work were getting blurred. That was the key finding on which we created the new brand platform — Powerful Backing of American Express: Don’t Live Life/Don’t Do Business without it.

Amex caters to diverse segments — in the consumer space (B2C); then we have the business segment. The third lot is merchants. We have been evolving into a relationship brand and now, our advertising reflects that.

Is Amex trying to shed the perception of being a premium credit card company?

Expanding our leadership in the premium consumer space continues to be a strategic imperative for the company. Globally Amex is regarded as a premium credit card company, but a majority of card members are now millennials. The average ages of prospects that are getting into the Amex franchise are becoming younger. About 50% of our new card members are under the age of 35.

On the merchant side, we added 1.8 lakh merchants last year alone. I would not say that Amex is elitist. Our products are spread across the spectrum. For example, the entry level card comes with an annual fee of Rs 1,000. In addition, we also give Rs 1,000 worth reward vouchers. We have a reward programme that leads to stickiness of card members once they enter the Amex franchise.

How is Amex expanding the merchant ecosystem beyond metros? Does QR help in expanding in a market like India?

Merchants are very important in the supply chain. Payment innovations such as Bharat QR and our partnerships with ICICI and SBI have driven growth in new merchant adoptions across major cities. We have many merchants on QR. It works well as the merchant doesn’t need to invest in a POS terminal. We are issuing cards in 15 cities. In terms of distribution, we don’t have branches. We call it open market sourcing. The sales team uses databases and referrals to acquire customers. This is done face to face. Apart from this, 30-40% acquisitions are digital through affiliates such as BankBazaar, Paisabazaar and PolicyBazaar.

Can you elaborate on how American Express is marketing differently?

For the first time, we have experimented with experiential marketing — AR/VR — in India. It was very well received. We created activation kiosks in key catchment areas such as shopping malls. We got people to experience skydiving and Northern Lights in 3D. Apart from this, we are doing OOH, cinema, ATL, digital, print and TV. This also includes branded content and working with influencers.

Are you using machine learning for targeted promotions?

For us it is about customisation and with machine learning, we have improved targeting. For example, we use machine learning for geo-targeted promotions, increasing the line size of the credit in real time depending on consumer needs, offering upgrades to the consumer and so on.

Were you late to enter the mobile wallet space in India? Do you foresee impact on the card business due to a shift towards mobile payments?

No, in fact, we are ahead of the curve. We first launched Amex eZeClick digital wallet in 2013 to simplify online payment. Consider this: in 2017, the GDP for India was $2.5 trillion of which private consumption was 60%; of this, $150 billion (6% of GDP) was credit, debit, plus online (digital transactions). So 94% of transactions are still happening in cash. There is so much of headroom for all of us to play in. As of now, there are about 300 million smartphones and 35-37 million credit cards.

The measure of a credit card is not the number of cards but the spends on them, which are increasing 30% y-o-y. Some enablers of that include demonetisation and GST. In fact, at Amex, 50% of transactions are happening online.

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