Plastic Surgery at AmEx: The Credit-Card Giant Rolls out a New High-Tech Face

By Bryant, Adam | Newsweek, October 4, 1999 | Go to article overview

Plastic Surgery at AmEx: The Credit-Card Giant Rolls out a New High-Tech Face


Bryant, Adam, Newsweek


For years, credit cards were like Boy Scout badges that signaled the owner's financial status. But in an age when just about anybody can get a gold or platinum card, they no longer impress. So American Express has decided to try out a new color of money with its Blue credit card, its biggest product launch since Optima in 1994.

The card's biggest attraction is an initial teaser rate of zero percent for the six months. But AmEx is also hoping to win over the tech set with an "electronic wallet'' feature that automatically fills in purchase forms at Web sites, sparing Internet shoppers from repeatedly filling in their addresses, credit-card numbers and the like. (That information is stored in AmEx's computers, and transmitted to e-commerce sites with a click of the mouse.) The Blue card also has a "smart chip'' that adds another level of security. With a card reader that plugs into a PC (AmEx is giving away the hardware for several months), consumers will have to have the actual card and PIN to place online orders, thereby minimizing whatever worries they might have about online thievery of card data. More applications are in the works. "It's really kind of a novelty, but it does project a cutting-edge image,'' said Robert B. McKinley, CEO of CardWeb, an online newsletter.

It's an image that American Express needs to cultivate as it tries to court younger customers, many of whom view AmEx as the card used to help buy their father's Oldsmobile. The company has started regaining lost market share in recent years, in part by offering a slew of cards with rewards, such as Delta frequent-flier miles. …

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