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BW Businessworld

'India Continues To Be A Key Market For Amex'

Saru Kaushal, Country Business Head of Global Corporate Payments, joined American Express Banking Corp in September 2014. According to Kaushal, the business climate in India has improved over the years and in the next few years, India will lead the world in economic confidence and investment. In an interview with Arshad Khan of BW|Businessworld, Kaushal talks about how India is one of the biggest markets for corporate cards in the world.

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Excerpts
 
How big is India for Amex and what has been the growth since the Modi government came in power in May 2014?
India continues to be one of the fastest and key growth markets for American Express and we have a strong business presence in the country. American Express Corporate Card business has demonstrated excellent performance in India with a double digit business growth.
 
As per our latest survey, India is leading the world in economic confidence and planning biggest increase for investment and spending. A resounding 94 per cent of Indian finance leaders surveyed expect to see economic expansion this year. A similar number, 94 per cent, expect to increase spending and investment either aggressively or moderately.
 
We are witnessing that the companies are enthused by the development agenda of the government and planning to increase spending and investment. We will continue to work with businesses to help them find the expense management solutions that can best meet their needs. 
 
After the 2008 recession, card repayments witnessed a sharp decline. Has the market recovered?
The economic outlook in India is gradually stabilising and more and more companies are looking at impending growth. However, they carry the lessons and experiences while adopting prudent cost practices and following stringent approach to excesses - giving them more control over the expenses.
 
We have seen an increased uptake of the corporate card programme. Today, more and more companies approach American Express to seek advice; solutions and technology that can help them to control their expenses and grow their bottom line.  There in an enhanced relevance of our products and services particularly due to the benefits that businesses have experienced during the recent economy slowdown. 
 
What is the new technological advancement Amex is introducing to be ahead in the race?
Our constant endeavour has been to bring value to our members through innovation and solutions. We have a comprehensive range of payment solutions to match every need a corporate has - be it a centralised expense management tool like BTA (Business Travel Account) or issuing individual cards for travel and entertainment, meetings, purchasing items for running an organisation effectively.
 
What is the market share of American Express in India?
The American Express Corporate Card business has demonstrated excellent performance in India with a double digit business growth. We have 65 per cent of Fortune 500 companies in India as our clients and several thousands of large and mid-size Indian corporations. 
 
What is your strategy for India? Who are your target audience? Are you planning to go to tier II and III cities?
In India, we look at both large corporate and SMEs to provide advice; solutions and technology that can help them to control their expenses and grow their bottom line. Both these segments are equally vital in our success story.
 
Large corporates look at bringing in process efficiencies and controls in their current business environment. They want to control costs across their national and global operations, particularly during challenging economic times. From our corporate card program to our meetings management solutions, to our superior data and reporting -- our products and services help them in saving time and money; improve compliance; negotiate better deals with suppliers.
 
Mid-cap companies are eager to manage their growing expenses, but often lack the buying power of larger companies in negotiating discounts with suppliers. They often look at cost savings. American Express provides mid-cap companies with tools to analyse costs, control spend, improve their leverage with vendors and improve employee compliance.
 
We are currently present in 12 cities including some of tier II and III cities.
 
Defaults are common in India. What is your experience? Is there any improvement in the condition?
American Express Corporate Card programme has stringent fraud control measures and spend control mechanism with various liability options to control delinquency/ defaults both in large corporate and SME segment.
 
Moreover, companies have increasingly learnt that financial discipline can help them tackle slower business growth in a slackened economic environment. Awareness of need for financial discipline is growing.  Today, large corporate and SMEs look at their businesses from a long-term perspective and put in place efficient financial management systems and processes which further reduces defaults.
 
What are the solutions American Express provides for corporates to control Travel & Entertainment (T&E) expenses?
In India, American Express currently offers several corporate cards to cater to the needs of both large and mid- sized companies for their diverse requirements.
 
For companies and specifically for CFOs and procurement heads, the corporate cards deliver many key advantages such as visibility, control and savings on expenses being made by employees, online reporting and programme management, seamless integration with existing systems, dedicated account management coupled with world-class customer service and consulting services.  The programme also offers extended payment terms and provides liability & limit options.
 
With American Express Corporate Meeting Card, card members can track, analyse and improve their meeting and event spends. And, American Express Purchasing Solutions is designed to help streamline the day to day business expenses like telecommunications, office durables etc.
 
Our Jet Airways American Express Corporate Card is the only airline corporate co-branded Card in the market that helps small & mid-sized companies and their executives save substantially on business travel and entertainment expenses. Companies earn a share of the JPMiles accrued by their employees on T&E expenses, and incremental JPMiles on reaching various spend thresholds on booking with Jet Airways. Employees earn a welcome bonus of 10,000 JPMiles, 3 JPMiles for every Rs 100 spent on T&E and 6 JPMiles for every Rs 100 spent and a 5 per cent Discount on jetairways.com for air travel bookings.
 
How is the American Express corporate card different from the other players?
We offer a first-in-market corporate membership rewards (MR) program that enables mid-market companies achieve greater savings and benefits. It allows companies to consolidate reward points earned through multiple cards issued to employees into a single company account. Corporate MR points can also be redeemed for cash-back or for a variety of relevant Corporate rewards that directly benefit business. And that’s not all - the Corporate MR points do not expire!
 
Corporate Card members enjoy exceptional global service and benefits of Card membership such as  24/7 customer service, online account access, statements, payment, and expense report submission as well as worldwide cash access through designated ATMs. For legal and medical emergencies while travelling, Card  members can call the complimentary Global Assist service that will connect them with an English-speaking lawyer or doctor. The service is available 24 hours a day from virtually anywhere in the world.
 
American Express is also the first player to accept online applications for cards.