Magazine article American Banker

Phone-In Investment Unit at AMEX Makes Bankers Edgy

Magazine article American Banker

Phone-In Investment Unit at AMEX Makes Bankers Edgy

Article excerpt

Though banks have long viewed American Express Co. as their enemy, they shouldn't feel threatened by its latest venture into the investment products business, say executives at the charge card giant.

With American Express Financial Direct, Amex is targeting customers who "haven't been going to banks anyway," said William J. Heron Jr., president of the new unit. "They've been going to mutual fund managers or Charles Schwab."

American Express launched American Express Financial Direct Wednesday. The new unit offers proprietary and outside mutual funds, a money market fund, annuities, and discount brokerage services over the telephone. Customers call 800-AXP-8800 to reach a financial consultant who is licensed to sell investment products.

Despite Mr. Heron's assertion to the contrary, bankers see the Amex venture as a direct competitor of their investment products programs. "Obviously, they're very formidable," said Allen Croessmann, president of Bank of Boston Corp.'s brokerage. "They have a lot of muscle, and experience."

Still, Amex's new unit is designed for consumers who don't feel they need advice on investing their money. People who want to deal with a broker face- to-face will still visit banks, Mr. Croessmann said.

That fact is not lost on American Express, which has been trying to build alliances with bank brokerages. The company has already put brokers in 65 community banks but stopped going after large regional banks after three failed attempts. …

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