Surprisingly, one credit card CEO honestly thinks Apple (NASDAQ: AAPL ) and Facebook (NASDAQ: FB ) are going to revolutionize his industry. Yet he can sleep well knowing his firm will benefit no matter how things change.
Much has been made about the possibility of Apple, Facebook, and other technology firms diving into the payments landscape. And it turns out that the CEO of American Express (NYSE: AXP ) is one more executive who believes the question isn't if, but when.
At the recent Mobile-First Summit in New York, Jessi Hempel of Fortune Magazine interviewed Ken Chenault, CEO of American Express. Their conversation focused on the future of the payments industry as the shift to mobile payments quickens.
One of the most fascinating insights came when Chenault said:
What's happening is a gigantic opportunity. Mobile will redefine how commerce is done. Steve Jobs redefined the retail experience. I think commerce and mobile will do an even more transformational job in an exponential way. The opportunity for start-ups to redefine the power of mobile is incredible... Clearly there are five platforms that will play an important role and be very powerful: Amazon, Apple, Google, Facebook, and Alibaba.
This follows the remarks from Jamie Dimon of JPMorgan Chase earlier this month when he said that, while his bank operates "one of the largest payments systems in the world," it is "going to have competition from Google and Facebook and somebody else."
Tim Cook, the CEO of Apple, recently revealed that his company has 800 million iTunes users, nearly all of whom have credit cards on file.
And although he didn't speak to the possibility of Apple expanding into mobile payments on the latest conference call, in January, Cook said: "The mobile payments area in general is one that we've been intrigued with... I don't have anything specific to announce today, but... it's a big opportunity on the platform."
Some of the most powerful executives across a variety of industries are saying the payments industry is poised for disruption.
What it means to American Express
Realizing change is coming as a result of "fundamental change," the natural question becomes, what does all this mean for American Express?
American Express operates in a unique position in the payments industry. Unlike Visa and MasterCard, American Express generates revenue not simply from fees charged to merchants -- known as "discount revenue" -- but it's also the provider of the credit cards themselves. It collects interest and fees from consumers -- who love their AmEx cards -- as well.
As a result, it operates a "closed-loop network," which means that, when an American Express card is swiped, instead of the data going through a variety of different channels, it all remains in the secure hands of American Express. This allows it to provide not only greater security, but also a more seamless flow of data.
Since it's operates a closed-loop system, it's possible American Express could be positioned to have the greatest risk as the payments model shifts to be more mobile phone oriented and new entrants emerge. But I'd take the opposite position. With a new major data breech being reported practically every month, both customers and merchants will both applaud and desire a payments network that can provide safety and security. And American Express does just that.
And when you combine enhanced security with strong customer loyalty, even if fundamental change occurs, American Express has positioned itself to continue to thrive.
Fortune began by noting, "Ken Chenault plans to insure that American Express remains in the center of every transaction." With such a compelling business model, one has to think that, no matter how the payment industry evolves, Chenault will be absolutely right.
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