September 29 2022, Kimpton Fitzroy London
Friday 30 September 2022, JW Marriott Grosvenor
21 November 2022, Hilton London Metropole
Eyebrows were raised when Paul Hargreaves added UK business travel to his existing responsibilities for foreign exchange at American Express. Did the two go together? BTE interviews him abut his dual role.
For Mr Hargreaves, Amex's vp business travel UK and global foreign exchange services, there is no doubt that the two posts are complementary."Foreign exchange is part of our global business travel service so I feel I had exposure to business travel and the initiatives taking place in it in my foreign exchange role," he said. "I still regard myself as part of the global travel team."He has been running Amex's foreign exchange services for three years when he took over the UK's business travel â€“ the largest in the country â€“ last year. "My key aims are to drive aggressively revenue growth, acquire more customers and look for ways where we can leverage foreign exchange. There are synergies in all areas. "The feedback we are getting was that our customers wanted to deal with one area so it is obvious to drive them both together. Not only do the customers want their air travel, a hotel, car rental and rail but also other rafts of services like financial services â€“ cash or traveller's cheques. To help the business travellers when they are travelling, we want to facilitate their business." The challenge facing Mr Hargreaves and his team is how to provide the traveller with this unified service."How can we integrate these services and make it easy for the business travellers to do their business? Are they buying or selling goods on their trips? Which of our services do they need? Is it the payment services? How can we provide the product and services that the travellers need to make the most of their trips?"When you look at American Express and its assets, the card payments solutions, the cross-border payment solutions, you can group this around a very efficient and tailored business traveller's service, like air hotel, rail and meetings and leverage them all to make the trip successful and give the client a return on his investment. That is what is needed.”Besides it foreign exchange bureaux at airports and its foreign exchange facilities available to clients, Amex has also set up a third arm for these services, the Foreign Exchange International Payment. This is to enable customers to pay bills and receive payments from overseas as speedily as possible. Users also do not need to be Amex cardholders.Mr Hargreaves said the essence of the service was its speed and it had enjoyed double digit growth in the four countries where it had so far been launched: The US, the UK, Singapore and Australia.The service is primarily aimed at the SME market so that smaller companies can transfer funds quickly and cost effectively. It is, Mr Hargreaves said, historically an area which the banks have neglected to provide foreign exchange â€“ a service you might not get unless you were a large corporation. There are now plans to unveil the service in Canada and Amex is also looking at a number of markets in Europe where it might be launched although no decisions have yet been taken. "It will be in areas where American Express has a large card presence, where it would be natural to add an extra service," he said. "It is working fantastically well and we see it as a real growth engine and highly linked to business travel."If Amex's foreign exchange services are looking healthy, Mr Hargreaves is guardedly optimistic about his other portfolio of business travel."We take a cautious approach as we have seen some softening of the market in the early part of this year. But we are optimistic that we will keep growing and we will keep growing our market share." One aspect he has noted â€“ and this ties in with the International Payment scheme â€“ is that more and more SMEs are travelling and trading overseas than ever. "This is the middle market as we see it," he said.It is also one that Amex is going after with a sales force which is constructed to target specific parts of the market, the global, the multi-nationals headquartered in the UK and the Middle market. "We sense that there is a lot of business to be picked up and more and more companies have a need for a TMC's services because they are spending more and more on travel. If that is the case, you need a controlled programme as soon as possible - as long as we can demonstrate that our services can be tailored to the needs of the corporate. That is what we aim to do."It's a highly dynamic and changing market where you have to expect the unexpected. It's a fast moving industry and you have to make sure that you remain relevant."