The Strategy Interview

Pam ArwayVice-president and general manager, travel management servicesAmerican Express CanadaPam Arway was appointed vice-president and general manager, travel management services, American Express Canada in Markham, Ont. in June.Before her current position, Arway was vice-president and general manager, leisure travel. She joined...

Pam Arway

Vice-president and general manager, travel management services

American Express Canada

Pam Arway was appointed vice-president and general manager, travel management services, American Express Canada in Markham, Ont. in June.

Before her current position, Arway was vice-president and general manager, leisure travel. She joined American Express Canada in 1987 as director, corporate card/business travel marketing.

Q. Why isn’t travel management still fully understood by companies? Is it a question of not being properly promoted?

A. I think it’s a question of companies haven’t paid a great deal of attention to it. They understand all sorts of purchasing decisions, particularly in the data processing areas, and so on, but traditionally companies haven’t paid a whole lot of attention to their employees travelling and entertaining. It’s just been that way.

So what we’ve been trying to do is heighten the awareness. And I think that this economy has certainly heightened the awareness. The market has become very competitive because other companies are understanding there is a fair degree of opportunity in this market.

Q. What plans, if any, do you have for the promotion of your business?

A. I would say a continuation of the kinds of levels of support [in place now.] We do a lot of direct marketing. We will be doing some surveys of our clients, some mass surveys that will be published on travel and entertainment trends. And, of course, we have a fairly large direct sales force and we’re investing in that side of the business as well. We’re putting a lot of our emphasis on product development.

We’re always doing things on the product development side. It’s not like a consumer card where you need mass advertising. It’s very much more of a targetted market, so it’s difficult to say, `Major relaunch in nine months’ time.’

Q. There must be strategies to achieve growth. Will American Express do anything different from what it has been doing in the past?

A. Well, we are investing huge amounts of money and time in the travel management services business. For us, it is a key opportunity area for the company both in Canada and worldwide, so we’re really putting a lot of emphasis on travel management services.

Investing in technology, because it is a technically-oriented business. We find that our customers are becoming much more automated, and they look to us to make process improvements in their business, and so on.

One of the latest things we’re starting to do which clients love is we’re helping them to ‘benchmark’ off other companies.

So we will say to them, ‘Let’s take a look at another company in your market or in a totally different market and look at how they’re doing business. And how we can help you change how you’re doing business and become more efficient.’

Q. What about the competition?

A. We feel we are the only company that can do everything for a client. In other words, we’re the only company that has both a travel service and the card, and, therefore, we can kind of tie it all together for clients.

Q. So you don’t see a share battle?

A. I think that the market is large, and everybody is growing, and we are growing. The market is very competitive, don’t get me wrong. The banks are eyeing this market as well.

Q. Amex must have given some serious thought to the entry of banks into the business. How might Amex contain the banks if they do decide to come in?

A. We pay a tremendous amount of attention to our customer needs and expectations. That’s really our entire focus. We [feel] where the big opportunities are in the future is helping companies go through process improvement, helping them do business better. And if we can do that, then competition is welcome.

Q. Are you suggesting the banks, if they do enter the business, might be a little too large, too impersonal?

A. I don’t know, really. It depends if they are willing to invest the kind of money in this business that is needed to be invested. The corporate card is a very technologically-driven business in the sense that you must be able to provide clients with very sophisticated reporting in a manner that they want, whether that be electronic, whether it be on diskette, whether it be paper-driven.

Q. Can you give some specifics of how you have saved companies money?

A. What we do is provide a very consultative approach to companies.

The first thing we do is go into a company to take a look how they’ve been managing their travel and entertainment expenses.

Then we work with them to develop a policy that suits their needs and their business and helps them understand where they save money.

The next thing that we do [is] provide the travel agency service to them. And within that context we make sure that the travellers are adhering to the policy that’s been developed.

We will negotiate on their behalf with suppliers that they use, and we will supply them with reporting to help them monitor adherence to their policy.

The third major thing that we will do, because we have the corporate card side of the business, is provide the travel agency to actually move the travellers [and] provide the payment vehicle.

That all comes with a whole set of reporting and an audit trail that helps them understand in totality what’s happening to the travel and entertainment expense budget. And then we have them reconcile the whole thing.

Q. How about coping with the blurring between the corporate business and the individual card business? An American Express card is an American Express card.

A. That’s where the personalized approach has to come in because [the corporate card] is not an inherently simple product. It has to be well understood.

The personal card and the corporate card are very different. The personal card comes with a monthly statement, and you pay your bill and off you go.

The corporate card is a management system. And once we’re able to make companies understand that, they realize they’re very different.