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Friday, Feb. 5, 1999
AmEx exec sees silver lining to recession
By TOMOKO OTAKE
While the nation's economy is reeling from years of recession, eroding the confidence of many players in the financial industry, Ian Marsh, president of American Express International Inc., Japan, says now is the time to invest in the Japanese market.
"Why now? I could push back the question and ask, 'Why not now?'" Marsh said in an interview in Tokyo. "I would strongly endorse investing today in a marketplace when many other companies might be wondering, 'Is it the right time to go?'
"If you wait until economic signs are truly positive, everybody starts jumping into the swimming pool at the same time."
Marsh, 45, became president of American Express International Japan in July after spending 11 years overseeing the firm's East Asia operations in Hong Kong. Six months into his tenure in Japan, he says he will wage an aggressive marketing campaign this year to tap into Japanese people's personal assets, estimated at 1.2 quadrillion yen.
In contrast to competitors such as VISA and MasterCard, American Express is known for its affluent client base. To get its members to charge more on their cards amid the lingering recession is the company's biggest challenge, Marsh said.
To meet the challenge, the firm will offer a broader range of services this year, Marsh said. One will be provided through American Express Financial Advisors, a financial planning company under the American Express group.
AEFA Japan will market mutual funds through direct mail to its more than 1 million card holders in Japan, and although it plans to expand its financial services to the general public as well, it has made clear it will give card holders more privileges.
American Express will be focusing on two segments of its target market, Marsh said.
The first group is those who think American Express cards are only for overseas travel, which the firm is best known for, and not necessarily for everyday use. The second group consists of the "aspiring affluent," or those in a 25- to 35-year-old age range who are expected to move into the "affluent" level in 10 years, he said.
American Express officials added that the company would rather increase the amount of money each holder puts on his or her credit card rather than boost membership.