Apple Is More Like American Express Than You Think

The credit card industry is facing threats from Silicon Valley, but one executive at American Express (NYSE: AXP  )  sees a lot of parallels between one company and his.

What company is that? None other than Apple (NASDAQ: AAPL  ) .

Source: Flickr / Clemson.

The remarks
At the recent "Disruptive Trends in Financial Services" Conference, the American Express President of Enterprise Growth, Dan Schulman, discussed the strategy for American Express surrounding what it's focused on as the payment industry evolves. The discussion about the possible threats it faces, as more and more companies are reportedly preparing to dive into payments, was notable.

One of the most fascinating remarks wasn't about the possibility of Apple coming into the industry -- although he did mention that may be possible -- but that American Express, and its business model, was strikingly similar to Apple's.

In his own words:

Apple owns the hardware, software, obsesses over consumer experience. Android has more volume, but they can't control what happens on the phone, Samsung can control that. So, American Express is like Apple; we have relationship with the card member, with the merchant, we obsess over customer experience. Visa and MasterCard are like Android, they have more volume than we do, but they can't control what happens with the customer, the banks that issue it does. They can't control what the merchant does, the acquirer does that. So they have more volume, interesting business model, but they can't control their ecosystems.

So what?
Often, it's easy to make comparisons only to companies within the same industry. When American Express is considered, most investors look to other companies that operate payment networks, or those that issue credit cards, and sometimes we'll look more broadly into the financial sector.

But to step across industry lines and consider how its business model compares to Apple? That would be unheard of.

Yet, the thing is, I have to say that Schulman is exactly right in his comparison. And that helps craft the broader investment consideration when thinking of American Express.

Source: Flickr / Jun Seita.

One of the reasons Apple has been so successful is it controls the entire ecosystem of its business, whereas its competitors just have one piece of the puzzle.

In the same way, American Express doesn't just make money when its cards are swiped at stores; it also collects interest on credit card loans that its customers amass, and the annual fees it charges.

In addition, the unending focus on customer satisfaction and experience at American Express allows it to charge a premium relative to other credit card issuers that consumers gladly pay. In the same way, consumers know that iPhones are more expensive than smartphones made by other companies, but they're more than happy to shell out for the higher costs because they believe iPhones are a better product.

The Foolish bottom line
I never would have thought to compare American Express to Apple. While more work needs to be done as it relates to how -- if at all -- this can tie into determining the true value of American Express, it's a helpful point of comparison when considering the core focus and operations of the company.

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Patrick Morris

After a few stints in banking and corporate finance, Patrick joined the Motley Fool as a writer covering the financial sector. He's scaled back his everyday writing a bit, but he's always happy to opine on the latest headline news surrounding Berkshire Hathaway, Warren Buffett and all things personal finance.

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