Arnaud Bernet, Directeur commercial Grands Comptes France d'American Express Cartes. Arnaud Bernet, Key Account Sales Director France for American Express Cartes.

Through the travel expenses that you can observe, how has business travel evolved in recent months?

Arnaud Bernet – As far as the business travel market is concerned, the decline has naturally been very significant in 2020, with revenues down by about 9 billion euros for American Express Cartes, i.e. – 70% compared to 2019. By 2021, the market has recovered 40% to 50% of 2019 levels, depending on spending commodities, and could reach 60% by 2022. There will likely still be ups and downs, with a return to pre-Covid volumes not expected until 2023 or even 2024. But a lot will have changed in the meantime, the mix will evolve. A certain number of trips will no longer exist and will be replaced by other things, for example around mobility, enabling us to reach previous levels. In this context, our objective is to partner with all the players that may emerge as the business travel mix changes. This can go as far as looking at intra-urban mobility players who rent scooters, bicycles and electric cars, with the aim of ensuring that our payment methods are well accepted.

For example, what developments do you anticipate?

A. B. – Without disappearing altogether, internal meetings that require travel over one or two days will decrease in number and could be replaced by longer stays. On the other hand, we do not expect any major changes in external customer-facing meetings. As the saying goes, “if you don’t go to your customers, your competitors will”. This necessity will prevail and external meetings will resume as normal once the constraints are lifted. On that note, we conducted the “Back to Blue” study with American Express GBT in the United States in May 2021. More than four out of five business travelers surveyed said that business travel leads to an 85% increase in both profits and revenues.

Is a payment solution such as the lodged card losing momentum due to the drop in air travel? How can you offset this decline?

A. B. – American Express is a historical player in the lodged card market and customers are still very fond of this solution. But obviously, its use has been greatly reduced in 2020 and 2021. So we have counterbalanced this by addressing other types of expenses, and this by playing on the added value that we can bring to companies in terms of cash flow and service. Over the last three to four years, we have started to transfer this value to other spending commodities such as temporary staffing, digital spending, etc.

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Our objective is to create a second pillar that complements the travel segment. We are seeing significant growth in this segment.

Over the last three to four years, we have begun to transfer this value to other spending commodities such as temporary staffing, digital spending, strategic suppliers, etc.

How does this evolution materialize in practice?

A. B. – Let’s take an example, that of temporary work. This budget can be quite heavy, with a large volume of spending on a small number of suppliers. Between the company and the temporary employment agency, we position our dematerialized payment solutions that allow our clients to benefit from payment terms of up to 58 days, which is a real benefit for their cash flow. But this can also apply to all overheads, office supplies or IT equipment that can be easily managed from a digital portal.

Is this one of the reasons for your recent partnership with Amazon Business for a co-branded card?

A. B. – If you look at large accounts, the historical question is how to accommodate a card in the travel agency to be able to finance travel. As far as small and medium-sized businesses are concerned, using Amex payment methods to finance travel is only part of our value proposition. These types of companies mainly use our solutions for their strategic purchases, to support and develop their business. For example, a dentist will use his card to pay the supplier for the materials he needs for his business. This card, co-branded with Amazon Business France, offers company managers payment terms of 60 to 90 days for their professional purchases, including computer equipment, office supplies and professional tools. There is a real desire to diversify, while maintaining our historical base in business travel.

The card co-branded with Amazon Business France offers payment terms of 60 to 90 days for their business purchases.

In terms of partnerships, you must have seen a decline in the use of your co-branded card with Air France.

A. B. – It is clear that in 2020 and 2021, we have seen a decline. Especially since, if you don’t have a trip to make, you don’t have to pay for a cab or restaurant either. But we are confident. This individual corporate card is still essential for travelers, especially with the principle of earning miles for every euro spent or the additional 30 days of payment time. This gives companies time to process expense reports and reimburse them before their employees are charged. Our partnership with Air France, which will celebrate its 25th anniversary, is extremely strong. We also have specific co-branded solutions with Air France KLM for very small businesses, which also offer extended payment terms.

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For all that, since the partnership of <a href=”” target=”_blank” rel=”noopener”>Mooncard with this company, you are no longer in a monopoly situation in this relationship. Do you take umbrage with this?

A. B. – We are in a different business. The value pillar of Amex for its customers is the possibility to pay a supplier in a flexible and agile way within 48 hours while benefiting from a deferred payment period of up to 58 days, thus enabling companies to optimize their cash flow. The added value of our solutions for companies is not the same.

Today, we see a number of solutions moving towards greater integration of the payment and expense report parts. Is this an evolution in which you are interested?

A. B. – Our objective is to remain the best and to innovate in what we know how to do, i.e. payment. We have not chosen to develop a solution or software for expense reports. Instead, we have chosen to partner and collaborate with all the players, be it KDS, Concur, Traveldoo or others. Amex is interoperable with them, all our flows are integrated. For certain types of expenses, we are developing partnerships with business experts, for example, those of the expense report tools, but also with GDS and HBAs.

How do your solutions respond to the increasing digitalization of payments?

A. B. – We are working with our merchants to ensure that our individual cards are increasingly accepted for contactless payments. As a reminder, the maximum spending limit for our contactless cards was 50 euros, long before the health crisis began. Obviously, we also offer mobile payment with Apple Pay where you can integrate an American Express card, whether it is for businesses or individuals. Finally, for all online purchases, we have developed an innovation in our SafeKey strong authentication system, which meets the requirements of PSD2 regulations. And what’s true for the user is also true for merchants, with a certain number of transactions not going through.

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So what is this innovation proposed by American Express to improve this tedious process?

A. B. – American Express has created something unique, the Express List, which allows cardholders to select a list of trusted merchants, for example Air France KLM, Amazon, Carrefour or Transavia. So when they make purchases from these merchants, they are exempt from strong authentication, unless of course our systems detect a fraud risk. This is particularly useful when you are traveling abroad.

We also support the travel and tourism industry’s transition to a sustainable, low-carbon future.

CSR is another one of the big trends today. How is American Express approaching this topic?

A. B. – We are committed to supporting the transition to a more sustainable and low-carbon economy. Since 2018, American Express, through our reduction and offset actions, has been contributing to the carbon neutrality of our operations globally. In late 2021, we announced an acceleration of our commitments. By 2035, our ambition is to achieve “net zero” carbon emissions globally, fifteen years ahead of the 2050 timeframe established by the Paris Agreement. To achieve this ambition, we will work with our suppliers to reduce their impact on the company’s value chain by monitoring, reducing and ultimately neutralizing their own greenhouse gas emissions. We also support the travel and tourism industry’s transition to a sustainable, low-carbon future. We recently joined the World Economic Forum’s Clean Skies for Tomorrow coalition, which aims to transition to sustainable aviation fuels and achieve carbon neutral air travel. Similarly, we joined the World Economic Forum’s Sustainable Tourism Council, which brings together government, business and academic leaders to advance innovation in inclusive and sustainable tourism.