EXCLUSIVE: “Pushing all the buttons!” – Holly Coventry, American Express in ‘The Paytech Magazine’
American Express is leaning into consumer and merchant demand for payment choice and enabling it with a full range of options that extend way beyond the card, as Holly Coventry, VP of Open Banking Payments, explains
The world of payments is, arguably, undergoing its fastest and most far-reaching period of evolution, ever. Global credit card brand American Express (Amex) is actively responding to it by making life easier for merchants and consumers with surprising innovations such as its account-to-account offering Pay with Bank transfer, enabling customers to use their Amex cards as a conduit for in-store and online purchases. Here, the company’s VP of open banking payments, Holly Coventry, gives her take on the most noticeable current trends, and what the future could hold.
My role at American Express is, in itself, not necessarily what people expect because I’m essentially responsible for the growth of open banking payments, which are nothing to do with our cards. The payments industry is a really exciting space to be at the moment. It’s going through huge amounts of disruption and change. Technology is a catalyst for some of the things that are happening, but consumers themselves are driving a lot of it. They have exceptionally high expectations, when it comes to commerce, and how they pay is a big part of that.
Now, people often expect to transact in just one click. We’ve all got very accustomed to tapping and going, and using our devices to do everything. All of that leads to innovation and opportunities. Historically, we would talk about online and offline payments but, in reality, the distinctions between them are very much blurred these days. One of the things we’re starting to see at American Express, for example, is that consumers want to be able to make an in-store purchase but finish the transaction on their phone.
“There is a real opportunity, particularly in retail, to use POS devices to drive some of the customer loyalty that businesses are looking to deliver”
So, our Pay with Bank transfer option allows merchants to have an in-store conversation with the customer, while letting the purchaser use an open banking-powered transaction on their mobile to complete the sale. These moving lines between online and offline bring both opportunities but also challenges for merchants. Their customers are demanding and expecting new ways to pay, but, while merchants might know all about their own products, payments are not necessarily their area of expertise. It’s critical that they get it right, though – and they can, with the help of payments partners like American Express.
A confusion of choice?
There is a wealth of new payment options – you’ve only got to look at the abundant number of logos at online and in-store checkouts – and, as a payments expert, American Express is leaning into such opportunities and doing its best to help merchants come to terms with them and make the associated changes. We very much see our role as helping them view the transaction through the lens of the consumer and understand how they can make sure they have the right choices and options available for their customers, and at the right time.
We’ve conducted a huge amount of customer research recently and what it revealed is that, primarily, consumers are demanding safety at every stage of the payment journey, while expecting efficiency as well. Security and efficiency are definitely top of people’s priorities, so we need to make sure that merchants are educating consumers about new safe and effective ways to pay throughout the customer journey.
In-store payments are a particularly interesting space when it comes to open banking. When Amex first started looking at open banking payments in the UK, it was all about online, because, before COVID, the idea of paying with QR codes in a store, or sitting in a pub and ordering a pint that you paid for with a QR code, felt a lifetime away – although in Asia, of course, they’ve been doing it for years. If there’s one positive that’s come out of the COVID-19 pandemic, it’s that it really disrupted our physical payment experience.
“Historically, we would talk about online and offline payments, but, in reality, that’s very much blurred these days… that brings opportunities and also challenges for merchants”
At American Express, we will go where our customers want us to go, whether that’s the consumer paying for their goods online or instore, or a blend of both, or a merchant wanting to be able to offer the right options and choices to their customers. It’s what we refer to as ‘payment orchestration’. Payment orchestration is about making sure we are building payment experiences that are finely tuned to what the consumer is expecting at certain points in their purchase journey, and, simultaneously enabling merchants to offer them.
I think a good analogy for this is the Netflix algorithm, in terms of the ability to understand what customers are doing and offering them more of what they want. We, similarly, need to push the right payment buttons at the right time. Point-of-sale (POS) terminals are an area where we’re going to see more development in this area – as digital devices that can play their own part in enhancing the payments experience.
They are an element of legacy infrastructures that has been critical, particularly for in-store payments, but now it’s where we’re starting to really see some of that radical change come through. There is real opportunity, particularly in retail, to use POS devices to drive some of the customer loyalty that businesses are looking to deliver. One of the programmes American Express brings to the table is called Amex Offers, where we reward consumers for spending across particular merchants, and that’s all enabled through a POS functionality, whether that’s used instore or online.
So, again, there is lots of opportunity, and exciting things we’ll start to see happen around that point of purchase. Who knows where the future is going to take us? If I had all the answers to what’s going to happen in payments over the next few years, I’d be relaxing on a beach somewhere, I’m sure! What I do know is that we are at a really exciting point of time – and the payments industry was ripe for that disruption
This article was published in The Paytech Magazine Issue 13, Page 36-37
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