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Tue 1 Apr 2008 04:00 AM

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Express delivery

Trevor Stokes, president and CEO of American Express MENA, discusses its recent partnership with Doha Bank and plans to increase its regional reach.

Trevor Stokes, president and CEO of American Express MENA, discusses its recent partnership with Doha Bank and plans to increase its regional reach.

Why did you choose to distribute through third parties like Doha Bank?

We're trying to forge alliances that are intended to expand the demand for American Express cards through new distribution channels, and we think that creates a win-win situation for the bank and for all the merchants who work with us in our network.

We’re not trying to sign every single bank in every country.

It's win-win because it puts more cards in force, that drives more transaction volumes, that helps the merchants, and it delivers superior value for the bank and for ourselves because it attracts more high-spending affluent customers.

At the end of the day, it significantly expands the reach of the American Express brand. It's proving to be a very strong means of expanding the business, both for the banks and ourselves.

What criteria are there for banks wanting to become partners?

We're not promiscuous; we're not trying to sign every single bank in every country.

That's not our approach. We're trying to find a select number of banks on a market by market basis, which have a core set of values or attributes that mean they have a capability to drive business themselves, they have a commitment to quality standards that we believe in, they share our ethos in terms of delivering good service to their customers, strong marketing expertise and a strong customer base in each market in which we approach a bank.

How does Doha Bank meet those criteria and share your values?

If you consider their progress over the past five years, they've had nothing but exemplary success, they have a pioneering approach to product development, a very good quality service tradition and a growth strategy that's been tremendous over the past four or five years. They were very much deciding factors in why we chose to work with the bank.

It wasn't just the fact that they had attributes or various boxes that were easy for us to tick, we felt that the chemistry was right, from the CEO down to the management and the branch network.

How do you see Qatar as a market?

Qatar is one of the fastest growing economies in the world. We're very pleased with the fact that last year we increased, on our own, our cards in the market by about 80% and we increased our billings by 50%. I think we can grow it a lot faster over the next few years working with Doha Bank. The market is seeing unrivalled business growth, as indeed is the region, so we're very optimistic about the future.

Are more merchants in the region accepting American Express?

We're very proud of the fact that in the last three or four years we've virtually doubled the number of merchants in the Middle East that now take American Express cards. And we wouldn't be able to do that if the merchants themselves didn't see the value that American Express provides to them. The typical American Express transaction is three to four times bigger than our competitors' products.

Are you seeing growth in corporate cards in this region?

Worldwide, American Express is very strong in that arena. Seventy of the top Fortune 100 companies are accredited American Express corporate card users.

Of the big international companies here in the Middle East, a very high percentage use American Express and increasingly many more of the growing companies within the region are using corporate cards.

It's a very important service that we provide to companies and we think it's an area that's going to grow very significantly over the next few years. It is a sector that right now we dominate, so we want to try to keep our leading position in that area.

Are you facing more competition from regional card issuers?

Yes, but we're actually pleased. The market is growing is very fast. All it is doing is drawing attention to the affluent end of the market, the quality end. That's where we compete. We need to work hard, we need to stay on top of our game, and it means we must continue to be innovative and adaptive of best American Express practice in the rest of the world.

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