Retail Banking

Creating an alternative lifestyle

by Mariejean Li

Kenneth Lee, vice president, head of charge products, Hong Kong
American Express International Inc
Photo: Johnson Poon

Multifaceted corporation still heralds superlative client experience

Charge and credit card products cater to every possible individual, appealing to different users from all walks of life. When choosing a new card, consumers consider several factors and card companies are now going the extra mile to attract more clients.

In recent years, a rise in both lending and spending has led economists in leading research companies to believe that Hong Kong consumers are optimistic about the future. The booming economy, healthy business prospects and growing consumer affluence make Hong Kong an ideal market for the credit card industry.

With almost 30 years of accumulated knowledge and experience, American Express is a leading global payment, network and travel company with operations in more than 130 countries worldwide. Locally, the company has developed extensively to become a leading card issuer, well known for its ability to attract big spenders and high net worth individuals and corporations. "We're a market leader with a keen focus on cards, specifically in the premium sector," says Kenneth Lee, vice president and head of charge products, Hong Kong, American Express International Inc.

The company was among the first in Hong Kong to introduce a line of premium charge products, offering a wide range of attractive and exclusive benefits with the aim of serving a broader customer base. "We were the first to launch the gold, platinum and centurion cards for high-end users in Hong Kong. The rewards programme was also our brainchild," Mr Lee adds. "American Express Membership Rewards Programme now offers the widest choice of frequent flyer programme options and lifestyle rewards."

New era

The company's unique advantage lies in its comprehensive closed – loop network where American Express acquires both the cardholders and merchants' network information facilitating close scrutiny and a better understanding of customer spending habits. "Our closed – loop merchant network gives us a serious competitive advantage over others," reveals Mr Lee. "This is especially important when it comes to crisis and emergency situations. American Express goes to the very frontline to ensure our customers are safe. If an unexpected emergency occurs, crisis teams are immediately mobilised to provide emergency support to customers in that location."

According to Mr Lee, Hong Kong's economy is among the world's most buoyant with ample scope for continuous growth in the card industry. Although rising competition and market saturation are a concern for some, the percentage of credit card versus other methods of payment such as cash or cheque is still relatively low. Regarding credit card penetration, Hong Kong is still in its nascent stages in comparison with a more mature market such as the US. "Currently, card payment represents roughly 20 per cent of the consumer spending in Hong Kong versus 40 per cent in the US," Mr Lee says.

"In terms of the card industry as a whole, we've witnessed a lot of changes in the past 30 years," he notes. The demand for credit cards has dramatically increased due to the adjusting mindsets and changing lifestyles of today's consumers. A survey conducted by American Express in 2006 which aimed to understand the lifestyle preferences and behaviour of affluent consumers revealed that they have become "connoisseurs" of luxurious lifestyles. "We want to learn the story behind this and be the expert," Mr Lee says. "American Express cards are more than mere payment tools. They are lifestyle accessories that cater to the discerning needs of lifestyle connoisseurs."

In the past, credit cards were a luxury only for the selected few. Consumers knew little about their usage and very few merchants accepted them as legal tender. However, this concept steadily changed as lifestyles gradually evolved. "In today's fast-paced economy where time is precious, card payment has become a way of life and it is widely accepted practically everywhere from supermarkets to gas stations around the world," adds Mr Lee.

Revolutionising retail

The benefits of charge and credit cards quickly revolutionised a whole new era of purchasing power allowing card members to shop or travel without carrying large sums of cash or a chequebook. Users also enjoy immediate use of their purchased goods and services as well as protection against theft and fraud and even price protection. For the merchant, receiving card payments discourages cash theft by unscrupulous employees or thieves.

"Customers nowadays want to be distinctive and benefit from value-added products and services," emphasises Mr Lee. Depending on the type of card, the company's high-end card members can indulge in luxury services ranging from simple wake-up calls to having a fully-planned vacation or business trip prepared by a concierge service available 24 hours a day, 365 days a year.

"Our company ultimately builds our high-end customers' loyalty through our continuous dedication to providing excellent products and services. One example is our concierge service team, which is exclusive for our platinum and centurion card members. Any request from a card member, as long as it is both ethical and legal, is always attended to immediately with the utmost care and attention to detail by our dedicated team of experts," Mr Lee says.

When it comes to nurturing the right talent to handle such Herculean tasks, Mr Lee says it's all about serving the customer with heart.

On a different note, the company offers an excellent start for career development in the industry with attractive benefits and prospects for growth. "The opportunity to transfer from one country to another is always an option for our staff as we have offices all over the world," Mr Lee adds. "We're looking for proactive, highly motivated, customer service oriented individuals with accomplished problem-solving skills, who understand the high-end customer mindset. After all, we're the greatest card company in the world."


Taken from Career Times 11 January 2008
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