It is one thing to innovate and achieve breakthrough success—to reach the pinnacle, the mountain top. It is quite another to sustain that leadership position decade after decade, in a competitive marketplace that has become increasingly digital and data-and-analytics driven. The ability of American Express (AMEX) to sustain its brand and continue to reinvent and build upon its core strengths as a leader in customer experience and payment processing is a rare and notable feat. Founded in 1850, AMEX has transformed over the years from a leader in freight forwarding to a leader in travel services, credit cards, payment processing, and now, an innovator in digital products and services.
Today, American Express ranks no. 67 on the Fortune 500 (up from no. 86 just two years ago), reporting $43 billion in revenues. AMEX is widely regarded for its ability to develop senior leaders. Two years ago, I wrote about How American Express Excels as a Data-Driven Culture, on the occasion of the retirement of long-time AMEX executive Ash Gupta who stepped down after 41 years with the firm, most recently serving as President for Global Credit Risk and Information Management. AMEX is now two years into the tenure of new CEO Steve Squeri, having succeeded long-time CEO Ken Chenault who held the top position from 2001-2018.
American Express has a long history of developing and retaining executive leadership, and has along the way nurtured executives that have assumed leadership positions within the industry—notably Al Kelly, Chairman and CEO at VISA, who spent 23 years as an executive at AMEX, and more recently, Mike Ruttledge, now CIO and Head of Technology Services at Citizens Bank after 32 years with the firm, and Greg Keeley, now Executive Vice President and CIO at TD Bank after 22 years at the firm. With 59,000 worldwide employees, American Express is recognized by Fortune as no. 9 among Best Companies to Work For and no. 14 among Most Admired Companies.
It is within the context of an organization engaged in a new chapter in its journey that CP Duggal assumed leadership in September 2017 as Executive Vice President for Enterprise Digital and Analytics—known within AMEX as EDA. Duggal is a 19-year AMEX veteran, having held leadership positions in risk management, international consumer and small business services, and global consumer services. Duggal has forged an ambitious agenda, which includes:
1. Accelerating digital distribution on a global basis—including increasing online traffic conversion and onboarding experiences for its customers.
2. Accelerating digital membership engagement—including managing product, design, research, analytics and personalization for the enterprise membership mobile app and websites with combined 25 MM users per month globally.
3. Enterprise-wide data management—including the Global Data Office function that focuses on data governance and unlocking the potential of data-powered growth opportunities.
4. Driving AI/ML powered personalization—for prospect/customer marketing and servicing messages.
5. Leadership of the Open Banking steering committee—responsible for the Amex for Developers portal and API strategy for third-party integrations to connect consumers, merchants and businesses to AMEX services.
Duggal recognizes the extent to which digital, data, and analytics have become intertwined, and the power and possibility that integrating these capabilities represent for an organization such as AMEX which seeks to provide world-class customer service in all its interactions with customers. His mandate includes maintaining the company level data platforms, and in this capacity, he recently appointed another AMEX veteran, Danielle Crop to fill this role. Prior to assuming the Chief Data Officer role, which had been vacant for two years, Crop had been responsible for various functions during her tenure at AMEX including Enterprise Digital Application Experience and Platforms. Duggal notes that managing data has become more critical than ever for identifying opportunities for growth and differentiation, citing Open Banking as a prominent example.
Open Banking, as Duggal explains, is an initiative that originated in Europe to accelerate innovation and customer value through consent-based sharing of data. It developed as an outgrowth of GDPR and the European Payment Services Directive (PSD2) to promote the development and use of innovative online and mobile payments using open data and self-service. The benefits of open banking are many including improved customer service. Banking data can be made available to customers with companies outside their bank with their consent, providing consumers with better ways to conduct transactions, save, and invest their money. Customers reap the benefit of choice and more customized and relevant product offerings.
Personalization of the customer experience continues to be an area where AMEX excels. Duggal asks, “How do we make sure we are reaching our customers with relevant offers and content based on their interactions and behaviors.” His team continually tests which designs customers are engaging with the most digitally to support bill payment, balance requests, and adding Amex Offers. These efforts seem to be paying off, as AMEX has been recognized for its leadership in credit card customer experience, receiving the JD Power Award for customer service, announced on August 20, and ranking no. 1 in JD Power’s credit card mobile app satisfaction survey announced in June.
Duggal believes that digital journeys and experiences have become more integral in customer’s lives, noting the ways in which advanced statistical techniques, AI, and machine learning are being used by AMEX to refine and improve customer interactions and the customer journey—a topic that my colleague Tom Davenport and I wrote about a few years ago in a Harvard Business Review story. He is excited about the future and the direction of the enterprise digital and data journey at AMEX, noting, “we are operating at greater scale of data and speed than ever before.” He also recognizes the necessary importance of ensuing that investments in digital, data, and analytics initiatives must always produce successful top-line business outcomes for the company, noting the top business priorities for his organization:
- Innovating and growing customers relationships through digital acquisition
- Growth of the sales channel
- Self-service for customers in digital membership channels
- Deepening relationships with customers in proprietary digital channels
Looking forward, Duggal envisions a future where the company will accelerate the creation of data-powered growth opportunities, concluding, “The digital world and the worlds of Big Data have come together, enabling us to create great digital experiences for our customers.” Digital, data and analytics—operating in tandem and at scale—look to be the fuel for the next stage of growth in the 170-year journey of American Express.