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AMEX appetite for innovation partners in Brighton

Last month we held a special taster event for the recently announced Digital DCC-Brighton-RGBCatapult Centre Brighton with Nik Sathe, the Chief Technology Officer at American Express, a key project partner for the Centre.

At the event Nik shared his thoughts on how AMEX are adopting a technology-driven shift to their business strategy and opened a discussion around how local digital businesses can get involved with them through our Catapult centre.

For those who missed the event, here’s an overview of the event, from attendee Sam Zindel, Insight Director at Propellernet, followed by a round-up of the Q&A’s that took place after the session.

Technology, Strategy & Disruption at American Express, Wednesday 22 April 2015

In the first public event hosted by the Digital Catapult Centre Brighton, it was great to see one of the centre’s main partners AMEX put forward a genuine authority on innovation. Based in San Francisco, Nik Sathe is Global CTO at American Express and has previously lead tech development and software engineering at PayPal and Google Wallet.

“It’s actually a very simple problem we are trying to solve at AMEX: How do we best connect buyers and sellers?” When you put it like that, it does seem simple, and unlike VISA and MasterCard, AMEX have both sides of the relationship in their network (merchants and card holders) which gives them a lot of data to play with.

Sathe set the scene by describing the consumer behavioural evolution (digital > mobile > social > local) which many digital practitioners will be familiar with. “As a business we have to be where our customers are and right now that means smartphones and wearables”.  He proudly showed off proto-type #2 of the newly announced fitness and payment wristband (UP4) that AMEX have partnered with Jawbone to produce.

amex bands

Image source:

The partnership with an already established wearable tech software company demonstrates another point Sathe was keen to stress. “We’re a progressive business. We want to disrupt from within because when you talk about disruption in creative technologies, it’s the big guys that often lose out”.  This is where AMEX have high hopes for the Digital Catapult Centre in Brighton.  Both Sathe and his Brighton-based colleagues were very vocal about opening up their data and collaborating with local SMEs and Universities to research and develop new tools, systems and products.

On a personal note, I’m excited about what this could mean for small businesses like the one I work at. I’m already planning a hackathon with Brighton University for which AMEX have offered API access to their data as well as some of their top developers. Opportunities like this don’t come along very often…although in Brighton it seems like maybe they do now!

By Sam Zindel, Insight Director, Propellernet


Q& A’s

  • Payments are now about connecting people that have stuff and people that want stuff. How do you connect them and allow for that exchange to still happen in a meaningful way?

-The payments landscape has fundamentally changed since the advent of mobile tech. The introduction of the iphone saw a shift in power from retailer to consumer.

-Consumers  able to do instant online price comparisons , meaning high street stores now act more as ‘showrooms’  than outlets for purchases.

-Amazon replicating this personal relationship that we used to have with our local stores.

  -Proximity/ immediacy are now more important too e.g. last year Google maps saw more searches take place for products than places. Also, the number of mobile device searches overtook those from desktop computers - 53.4%.

-This all means that retailers need to innovate to compete and remain relevant in this new payment landscape.

  •  Will you be opening up local API data and how will we tackle privacy issues?

- Yes we can open our api’s and want to hear from businesses that would find this valuable + have interesting use cases.

-We don’t need to provide data about specific customers. You only need to provide meaningful insights about types of customers.  As this allows vendors to target adverts + offers to the right customers they want to connect with.

  •  What research are Amex doing into internet of place with relation to VR and commerce?

-doing a few things but not concerned about VR as the next place ‘big’ place for commerce. 

  • What barriers of consumer trust do we face in connecting these API’s together?

-The value exchange has to be clear and worthwhile for consumer to give up their data. You also need a convenient way for them to later on ‘opt out’ should they wish.

-The whole concept of privacy is morphing across the generations. Kids have grown up with their data being public and there’s a general assumption (for better or worse) that providers will keep them safe.

-Amex has always gone well beyond what is legally required in terms of data protection, even sometimes at the expense of UX. E.g. putting T&C clear and upfront.

  •  How can we engage with Amex and the Catapult ?

-This is very much the beginning of the conversation, and Amex want to hear from those who have interesting case studies and data uses.

- In the meantime you should come along to the season of launch season of events and think about how you might engage with the project. 

  •  Do Amex do any work to look at the 'life time value' of each transaction?

Research shows that money spent with independent local businesses stays circulating in the local economy for longer - leading to more transactions. Where money spent with the likes of Starbucks and McDonalds is more likely to end up in the Cayman Islands.

-Not aware of of any work of that nature, but believes Amex has some economists somewhere looking at it.  

-Amex have a "Small Business Saturday" initiative where they provide financial incentives for cardholders to spend money on their cards with small businesses.

If you weren't able to make the event don’t worry, we are in the process of editing Nik’s talk, so you’ll be able to hear his presentation in due course.

In the coming weeks, there will be a whole season of events for our members, and others, to understand more about how the Brighton Catapult Centre can help unlock opportunities for SMEs, big business, public sector and academia to collaborate and create new value for the Coast to Capital area.

Find out more about the Digital Catapult Centre Brighton here.

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