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Published on Friday, 23 Aug 2013
Susanna Lee
Photo: Laurence Leung

Susanna Lee says Amex is hiring staff to offer tailored services to high-net-worth Asian customers

Earlier this summer, American Express (Amex) launched several new benefits for holders of its Centurion Card. One of the most exciting was the introduction of relationship managers, which has expanded the existing concierge services to provide cardholders with a particular person they can contact for tailor-made services.

“[Customers] can contact their relationship manager and get them to help with travel and lifestyle arrangements,” says Susanna Lee, vice-president and general manager of proprietary card services for Hong Kong at American Express International. “We provide round-the-clock, end-to-end service.”

This is just one of many innovations Amex is making to its services to cater to the evolving needs of its high-net-worth customers. An increasing number of these wealthy individuals live in Asia and Amex is keen to offer them attractive services.

Some sources put the number of high-net-worth individuals in Asia – defined as having US$1 million, excluding stocks and properties – at more than three million, a figure 9.4 per cent than 2012. This makes it the continent with the second-highest number of high-net-worth individuals, after North America.

“Overall business in Asia has been growing very nicely,” Lee says. “The rising numbers of high-net-worth individuals, the strong economic growth [and] people’s changing needs are offering a lot of opportunities for us if we can innovate and provide the services they want.”

The company is adjusting its services in order to meet the specific needs of these new customers and attract them to its products.

One characteristic of Asia’s rich is a strong desire for luxury travel. They are especially interested in staying in top luxury hotels around the world and Amex has sought to offer benefits to cardholders that cater to this need. “We work with a number of luxury hotels to provide privileges to our customers,” Lee says.

For example, Amex is now giving Centurion cardholders a range of extra benefits at The Peninsula Hotels Group. These include a special suite – the Centurion Suite – at The Peninsula Hong Kong, and complimentary stays at other participating regional hotels.

In February, Amex introduced new travel and lifestyle benefits for holders of its Platinum card, which saw it working with Shangri-La Hotels and Resorts to offer special privileges at its hotels. It also offered cardholders the opportunity to enjoy different “experiential events”, which builds on its findings that rather than simply booking into a luxury hotel, today’s high-net-worth individuals are increasingly seeking tailor-made trips and travel experiences.

“They want to personalise the service as well, so the travel consultant role is very important. There are now more requests for customised itineraries and travel services,” Lee says.

Amex is using its travel arm to offer personal travel services. “We can provide a travel consultant to provide a lot of good advice to customers about how they might come up with an itinerary.”

Another characteristic of high-net-worth individuals that Amex has identified is their growing use of digital technology. “Globally, our online spend grew by 15 per cent in 2012 to over US$152 billion – bigger than that of PayPal,” Lee says. “We see that this is changing the pattern of how our customers communicate and how they want us to engage with them.”

Amex is responding by employing digital platforms to communicate with existing and potential customers. It has launched an iPhone app that allows customers to check card information and uses Facebook to engage with its cardholders. It has also introduced online platforms for potential customers to apply for a range of cards.

All these innovations mean Amex needs to recruit new talent. Lee says the company is hiring for roles in travel and lifestyle, as well as sales and marketing.

She adds that Amex runs a variety of HR initiatives, such as programmes to recognise outstanding performance and encourage flexible work, that make it a great place at which to be an employee. These initiatives were also instrumental in helping the company pick up its fourth “Aon Hewitt Best Employer in Hong Kong” award this year.

Lee feels the current expansion drive means now is an especially good time to be with the company.

“This is a very exciting time to work for Amex because the company is really behind this strong growth and innovation mindset,” she says. “The region is growing … and the company is putting a lot of focus on customers and innovation, so that will offer us a lot of opportunities.”


Lee lists the things Amex does that make it a great place at which to work

Places high value on staff satisfaction  “While we put a lot of focus on our customers, we also put a lot of focus on employees. One of our key philosophies at American Express is that we believe that by having happy staff, we are able to serve happy customers, and with happy customers we have happy shareholders. Instead of starting from a business side, we start from employees.”

Gives encouragement and recognition  “We organised a platform for our frontline people to share some of the success stories that they have had serving customers. At the same time, we also recognise that frontline employees provide very good customer service. We have a monthly best employee award and an annual one at the end of the year as well.”

Supports flexible work  “Now that it’s summer time, we have flexible working hours to encourage people to take time off during the week to spend with their families. In Hong Kong, exams are important, so we also provide some flexibility to allow parents to take time off to spend with their kids during exams.”

Lets employees voice their views  “We also take care of employees in terms of giving them a platform to engage and communicate. Every year we have an employee survey where staff can anonymously send in their comments to the management team on how they feel about the company.”

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