Item 5. Market for Registrant's Common Equity, Related Stockholder Matters and Issuer Purchases of Equity Securities
Item 6. Selected Financial Data
Item 7. Management's Discussion and Analysis of Financial Condition and Results of Operations (MD&A)
Item 7A. Quantitative and Qualitative Disclosures About Market Risk
Item 8. Financial Statements and Supplementary Data
Item 9. Changes in and Disagreements with Accountants on Accounting and Financial Disclosure
Item 9A. Controls and Procedures
Item 9B. Other Information
Item 14. Principal Accounting Fees and Services
Item 15. Exhibits, Financial Statement Schedules
Item 16. Form 10-K Summary
American Express Earnings 2018-12-31
AXP 10K Annual Report
10-K 1 axp201810k.htm FORM 10-K OF AMERICAN EXPRESS COMPANY
UNITED STATES SECURITIES AND EXCHANGE COMMISSION Washington, D.C. 20549
ANNUAL REPORT PURSUANT TO SECTION 13 OR 15(d) OF THE SECURITIES EXCHANGE ACT OF 1934 For the fiscal year ended December 31, 2018
TRANSITION REPORT PURSUANT TO SECTION 13 OR 15(d) OF THE SECURITIES EXCHANGE ACT OF 1934 For the transition period from to
Commission File No. 1-7657
American Express Company
(Exact name of registrant as specified in its charter)
(State or other jurisdiction of incorporation or organization)
(I.R.S. Employer Identification No.)
200 Vesey Street
New York, New York
(Address of principal executive offices)
Registrant’s telephone number, including area code: (212) 640-2000
Securities registered pursuant to Section 12(b) of the Act:
Title of each class
Name of each exchange on which registered
Common Shares (par value $0.20 per Share)
New York Stock Exchange
Securities registered pursuant to Section 12(g) of the Act: None
Indicate by check mark if the registrant is a well-known seasoned issuer, as defined in Rule 405 of the Securities Act. Yes No
Indicate by check mark if the registrant is not required to file reports pursuant to Section 13 or Section 15(d) of the Act. Yes No
Indicate by check mark whether the registrant (1) has filed all reports required to be filed by Section 13 or 15(d) of the Securities Exchange Act of 1934 during the preceding 12 months (or for such shorter period that the registrant was required to file such reports) and (2) has been subject to such filing requirements for the past 90 days. Yes No
Indicate by check mark whether the registrant has submitted electronically every Interactive Data File required to be submitted pursuant to Rule 405 of Regulation S-T (§ 232.405 of this chapter) during the preceding 12 months (or for such shorter period that the registrant was required to submit such files). Yes No
Indicate by check mark if disclosure of delinquent filers pursuant to Item 405 of Regulation S-K (§229.405 of this chapter) is not contained herein, and will not be contained, to the best of registrant’s knowledge, in definitive proxy or information statements incorporated by reference in Part III of this Form 10-K or any amendment to this Form 10-K.
Indicate by check mark whether the registrant is a large accelerated filer, an accelerated filer, a non-accelerated filer, a smaller reporting company, or an emerging growth company. See the definitions of “large accelerated filer,” “accelerated filer,” “smaller reporting company” and “emerging growth company” in Rule 12b-2 of the Exchange Act.
Large accelerated filer
Smaller reporting company
Emerging growth company
(Do not check if a smaller reporting company)
If an emerging growth company, indicate by check mark if the registrant has elected not to use the extended transition period for complying with any new or revised financial accounting standards provided pursuant to Section 13(a) of the Exchange Act.
Indicate by check mark whether the registrant is a shell company (as defined in Rule 12b-2 of the Act). Yes No
As of June 30, 2018, the aggregate market value of the registrant’s voting shares held by non-affiliates of the registrant was approximately $84.3 billion based on the closing sale price as reported on the New York Stock Exchange.
As of February 4, 2019, there were 843,368,671 common shares of the registrant outstanding.
DOCUMENTS INCORPORATED BY REFERENCE
Part III: Portions of Registrant’s Proxy Statement to be filed with the Securities and Exchange Commission in connection with the Annual Meeting of Shareholders to be held on May 7, 2019.
This Annual Report on Form 10-K, including the “Management’s Discussion and Analysis of Financial Condition and Results of Operations,” contains forward-looking statements within the meaning of the Private Securities Litigation Reform Act of 1995 that are subject to risks and uncertainties. You can identify forward-looking statements by words such as “believe,” “expect,” “anticipate,” “intend,” “plan,” “aim,” “will,” “may,” “should,” “could,” “would,” “likely,” “estimate,” “predict,” “potential,” “continue” or other similar expressions. We discuss certain factors that affect our business and operations and that may cause our actual results to differ materially from these forward-looking statements under “Risk Factors” and “Cautionary Note Regarding Forward-Looking Statements.” You are cautioned not to place undue reliance on these forward-looking statements, which speak only as of the date on which they are made. We undertake no obligation to update publicly or revise any forward-looking statements.
This report includes trademarks, such as American Express®, which are protected under applicable intellectual property laws and are the property of American Express Company or its subsidiaries. This report also contains trademarks, service marks, copyrights and trade names of other companies, which are the property of their respective owners. Solely for convenience, our trademarks and trade names referred to in this report may appear without the ® or TM symbols, but such references are not intended to indicate, in any way, that we will not assert, to the fullest extent under applicable law, our rights or the right of the applicable licensor to these trademarks and trade names.
Throughout this report the terms “American Express,” “we,” “our” or “us,” refer to American Express Company and its subsidiaries on a consolidated basis, unless stated or the context implies otherwise. Refer to the “MD&A ― Glossary of Selected Terminology” for the definitions of other key terms used in this report.
American Express is a globally integrated payments company that provides customers with access to products, insights and experiences that enrich lives and build business success. Our principal products and services are charge and credit card products and travel-related services offered to consumers and businesses around the world.
We were founded in 1850 as a joint stock association and were incorporated in 1965 as a New York corporation. American Express Company and its principal operating subsidiary, American Express Travel Related Services Company, Inc. (TRS), are bank holding companies under the Bank Holding Company Act of 1956, as amended (the BHC Act), subject to supervision and examination by the Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System (the Federal Reserve).
Our headquarters are located in lower Manhattan, New York, New York. We also have offices in other locations throughout the world.
We principally engage in businesses comprising three reportable operating segments: Global Consumer Services Group (GCSG), Global Commercial Services (GCS) and Global Merchant & Network Services (GMNS). Corporate functions and certain other businesses are included in Corporate & Other.
Products and Services
Our range of products and services includes:
Charge card, credit card and other payment and financing products
Merchant acquisition and processing, servicing and settlement, and point-of-sale marketing and information products and services for merchants
Other fee services, including fraud prevention services and the design and operation of customer loyalty programs
Expense management products and services
Our various products and services are sold globally to diverse customer groups through various channels, including mobile and online applications, third-party vendors and business partners, direct mail, telephone, in-house sales teams and direct response advertising.* Business travel-related services are offered through our non-consolidated joint venture, American Express Global Business Travel (the GBT JV).
Our general-purpose card network, card-issuing and merchant-acquiring and processing businesses are global in scope. We are a world leader in providing charge and credit cards to consumers, small businesses, mid-sized companies and large corporations. These cards include cards issued by American Express as well as cards issued by third-party banks and other institutions that are accepted by merchants on the American Express network. American Express® cards permit Card Members to charge purchases of goods and services at the millions of merchants around the world that accept cards bearing our logo.
Our business as a whole has not experienced significant seasonal fluctuations, although card billed business tends to be moderately higher in the fourth quarter than in other quarters. As a result, the amount of Card Member loans and receivables outstanding tend to be moderately higher during that quarter. The average discount rate also tends to be slightly lower during the fourth quarter due to a higher level of retail-related billed business volumes.
* The use of the term “partner” or “partnering” does not mean or imply a formal legal partnership, and is not meant in any way to alter the terms of American Express’ relationship with any third parties.
Our brand and its attributes—trust, security and service—are key assets. We invest heavily in managing, marketing, promoting and protecting our brand, including through the delivery of our products and services in a manner consistent with our brand promise. Our brand has consistently been rated one of the most valuable brands in the world. In 2018, we launched a new worldwide brand platform with one common message across consumer and business segments. Additionally, we place significant importance on trademarks, service marks and patents, and seek to secure our intellectual property rights around the world.
Our Integrated Network and Spend-Centric Model
Wherever we manage both the card-issuing activities of the business and the acquiring relationship with merchants, there is a “closed loop” in that we have direct access to information at both ends of the card transaction, which distinguishes our integrated network from the bankcard networks. We maintain direct relationships with both our Card Members (as a card issuer) and merchants (as an acquirer), and we handle all key aspects of those relationships. Through contractual relationships, we also obtain data from third-party card issuers, merchant acquirers and processors with whom we do business. Our integrated network allows us to analyze information on Card Member spending and build algorithms and other analytical tools that we use to underwrite risk, reduce fraud and provide targeted marketing and other information services for merchants and special offers and services to Card Members, all while respecting Card Member preferences and protecting Card Member and merchant data in compliance with applicable policies and legal requirements.
Our “spend-centric” business model focuses on generating revenues primarily by driving spending on our cards and secondarily by finance charges and fees. Spending on our cards, which is higher on average on a per-card basis versus our competitors, offers superior value to merchants in the form of loyal customers and larger transactions. Because of the revenues generated from having high-spending Card Members, we are able to invest in attractive rewards and other benefits for Card Members, as well as targeted marketing and other programs and investments for merchants. This creates incentives for Card Members to spend more on their cards and positively differentiates American Express cards.
We believe our integrated network and spend-centric model give us the ability to provide differentiated value to Card Members, merchants and business partners.
Global Consumer Services Group
We offer a wide range of charge cards and revolving credit cards to consumers around the world. GCSG also offers services that complement our core business, including Card Member features and benefits, deposit products, travel services and non-card financing products such as installment lending.
Our global proprietary card business offers a broad set of card products, rewards and services to acquire and retain high-spending, engaged and creditworthy Card Members. Core elements of our strategy are:
Designing innovative products and features that appeal to our target customer base and meet their spending and borrowing needs
Using incentives to drive spending on our various card products and engender loyal Card Members, including our Membership Rewards® program, cash-back reward features and participation in loyalty programs sponsored by our cobrand and other partners
Providing exceptional customer care, digital and mobile services and an array of benefits and experiences across card products to address travel and other needs and increase Card Member engagement
Developing a wide range of partner relationships, including with other corporations and institutions that sponsor certain of our cards under cobrand arrangements and provide benefits and services to our Card Members
Our charge cards are designed primarily as a method of payment with Card Members generally paying the full amount billed each month. Charges are approved based on a variety of factors, including a Card Member’s current spending patterns, payment history, credit record and financial resources. Some charge card accounts have features that allow Card Members to revolve certain charges. Revolving credit card products provide Card Members with the flexibility to pay their bill in full each month or carry a monthly balance on their cards to finance the purchase of goods or services. Some revolving credit cards also allow eligible Card Members to set up monthly payments for certain purchases or purchase amounts over a fixed period of time. Certain of our cards are issued under cobrand arrangements with business partners, such as Delta Air Lines, our largest cobrand partner, as well as many others globally. We also partner with Delta to offer benefits to Card Member participants in our Membership Rewards program and provide travel-related benefits and services, including airport lounge access for certain American Express Card Members.
We offer a wide range of card and payment programs, expense management tools, consulting services, business financing and cross-border payments solutions to small businesses, mid-size companies and large corporations around the world. We have a suite of business-to-business payment solutions to help companies manage their spending and realize other potential benefits, including cost savings, process control and efficiency, and improved cash flow management. We offer local currency corporate cards and other expense management products in approximately 95 countries and territories, and have global U.S. dollar and euro corporate cards available in approximately 110 countries and territories. We also provide products and services, including charge cards, revolving credit cards and non-card payment and financing solutions, to small and mid-sized businesses in the United States and internationally.
Core elements of our strategy to become the leading payments and working capital provider to small and mid-sized business customers and a leader in business-to-business payments for large and global enterprises include:
Expanding our leadership in our core card business by evolving our card value propositions, launching cobrand products and further differentiating our corporate card and accounts payable expense management solutions
Designing innovative products and features, including financing and supplier payment solutions for our business customers
Global Merchant & Network Services
We operate a global payments network that processes and settles card transactions, acquires merchants and provides fraud-prevention tools, marketing solutions, data analytics and other programs and services to merchants that leverage the capabilities of our integrated network. GMNS builds and manages relationships with millions of merchants around the world that choose to accept American Express cards and signs new merchants to accept our cards, agreeing on the discount rate (a fee charged to the merchant for accepting our cards) and handling servicing for these merchants. We also build and maintain relationships with merchant acquirers, aggregators and processors to manage aspects of our merchant services business. For example, through our OptBlue® merchant-acquiring program, third-party processors contract directly with small merchants for card acceptance and determine merchant pricing.
We continue to grow merchant acceptance of American Express cards around the world. We made progress towards our goal of having American Express cards accepted at virtually all merchant locations that accept both Visa and Mastercard in the United States, adding more than a million new merchant locations in the United States in 2018. We are also focused on increasing merchant coverage strategically in countries outside the United States, with double-digit growth in merchant locations internationally in 2018. We estimate that our international merchant network as a whole could accommodate more than 80 percent of general-purpose card spending, based on comparing spending on all networks' general-purpose credit and charge cards at merchants outside the United States that accept American Express cards with total general-purpose credit and charge card spending at all merchants outside the United States.
GMNS also establishes and maintains relationships with third-party banks and other institutions in approximately 130 countries and territories, licensing the American Express brand and extending the reach of our global network. Under independent operator arrangements, partners are licensed to issue local currency cards in their countries and serve as the merchant acquirer and processor for local merchants. Under network card license arrangements, partners are licensed to issue American Express-branded cards primarily in countries where we have a proprietary card-issuing and/or merchant-acquiring business.
GMNS also manages loyalty coalition programs, such as the Payback® program in Germany, India, Mexico, Italy, Poland and Austria. Our loyalty coalition programs enable consumers to earn rewards points and use them to save on purchases from a variety of participating merchants through multi-category rewards platforms. Merchants in these programs generally fund the consumer offers and are responsible to us for the cost of rewards points; we earn revenue from operating the loyalty platform and by providing marketing support.
We compete in the global payments industry with charge, credit and debit card networks, issuers and acquirers, paper-based transactions (e.g., cash and checks), bank transfer models (e.g., wire transfers and Automated Clearing House, or ACH), as well as evolving and growing alternative payment and financing providers. As the payments industry continues to evolve, we face increasing competition from non-traditional players that leverage new technologies, business models and customer relationships to create payment or financing solutions.
As a card issuer, we compete with financial institutions that issue general-purpose charge and revolving credit cards and debit cards. We also encounter competition from businesses that issue their own private label cards, operate their own mobile wallets or extend credit to their customers. We face intense competition for cobrand relationships, as both card issuer and network competitors have targeted key business partners with attractive value propositions.
Our global card network competes in the global payments industry with other card networks, including, among others, China UnionPay, Visa, Mastercard, JCB, Discover and Diners Club International (which is owned by Discover). We are the fourth largest general-purpose card network globally based on purchase volume, behind China UnionPay, Visa and Mastercard. In addition to such networks, a range of companies globally, including merchant acquirers, processors and web- and mobile-based payment platforms (e.g., Alipay, PayPal and Venmo), as well as regional payment networks (such as the National Payments Corporation of India), carry out some activities similar to those performed by our GMNS business.
The principal competitive factors that affect the card-issuing, merchant and network businesses include:
The features, value and quality of the products and services, including customer care, rewards programs, partnerships, benefits and digital and mobile services, and the costs associated with providing such features and services
Reputation and brand recognition
The number, spending characteristics and credit performance of customers
The quantity, diversity and quality of the establishments where the cards can be used
The attractiveness of the value proposition to card issuers, merchant acquirers, cardholders, corporate clients and merchants (including the relative cost of using or accepting the products and services, and capabilities such as fraud prevention and data analytics)
The number and quality of other payment cards and other forms of payment available to customers
The success of marketing and promotional campaigns
The speed of innovation and investment in systems, technologies, and product and service offerings
The nature and quality of expense management tools, electronic payment methods and data capture and reporting capabilities, particularly for business customers
The security of cardholder and merchant information
Another aspect of competition is the dynamic and rapid growth of alternative payment mechanisms, systems and products, which include aggregators (e.g., PayPal, Square and Amazon), marketplace lenders, wireless payment technologies (including using mobile telephone networks to carry out transactions), financial technology companies, electronic wallet and push payment providers (including handset manufacturers, telecommunication providers, retailers, banks and technology companies), prepaid systems, digital currencies, gift cards, blockchain and similar distributed ledger technologies, and systems linked to payment cards or that provide payment solutions. Partnerships have been formed by various competitors to integrate more financial services into their product offerings and competitors are attempting to replicate our closed-loop functionality, such as the merchant-processing platform ChaseNet. New payments competitors continue to emerge in response to evolving technologies, consumer habits and merchant needs.
In addition to the discussion in this section, see “Our operating results may suffer because of substantial and increasingly intense competition worldwide in the payments industry” in “Risk Factors” for further discussion of the potential impact of competition on our business, and “Our business is subject to comprehensive government regulation and supervision, which could adversely affect our results of operations and financial condition” and “Ongoing legal proceedings regarding provisions in our merchant contracts could have a material adverse effect on our business and result in additional litigation and/or arbitrations, substantial monetary damages and damage to our reputation and brand” in “Risk Factors” for a discussion of the potential impact on our ability to compete effectively due to government regulations or if ongoing legal proceedings limit our ability to prevent merchants from engaging in various actions to discriminate against our card products.
We are subject to extensive government regulation and supervision in jurisdictions around the world, and the costs of compliance are substantial. In recent years, the financial services industry has been subject to rigorous scrutiny, high regulatory expectations, and a stringent and unpredictable enforcement environment. Governmental authorities have focused, and we believe will continue to focus, considerable attention on reviewing compliance by financial services firms with laws and regulations. Reviews to assess compliance with laws and regulations by governmental authorities, as well as our own internal reviews, have resulted in, and are likely to continue to result in, changes to our practices, products and procedures, restitution to our customers and increased costs related to regulatory oversight, supervision and examination. We have also been subject to regulatory actions and may continue to be the subject of such actions, including governmental inquiries, investigations, enforcement proceedings and the imposition of fines or civil money penalties, in the event of noncompliance or alleged noncompliance with laws or regulations. In addition, legislators and regulators in various countries in which we operate have focused on the operation of card networks, including through antitrust actions, legislation and regulations to change certain practices or pricing of card issuers, merchant acquirers and payment networks, and, in some cases, to establish broad and ongoing regulatory oversight regimes for payment systems.
See “Risk Factors—Legal, Regulatory and Compliance Risks” for a discussion of the potential impact legislative and regulatory changes may have on our results of operations and financial condition.
Federal and state banking laws, regulations and policies extensively regulate the Company (which, for purposes of this section, refers to American Express Company as a bank holding company), TRS and our U.S. bank subsidiary, American Express National Bank (AENB). Both the Company and TRS are subject to comprehensive consolidated supervision, regulation and examination by the Federal Reserve and AENB is likewise supervised, regulated and examined by the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency (OCC). The Company and its subsidiaries are also subject to the rulemaking, enforcement and examination authority of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB). Banking regulators have broad examination and enforcement power, including the power to impose substantial fines, limit dividends and other capital distributions, restrict operations and acquisitions and require divestitures. Many aspects of our business also are subject to rigorous regulation by other U.S. federal and state regulatory agencies and by non-U.S. government agencies and regulatory bodies.
In November 2018, the Federal Reserve adopted a new rating system for large financial institutions, such as the Company, which is intended to align with the Federal Reserve’s existing supervisory program for large financial institutions and which includes component ratings for capital planning, liquidity risk management, and governance and controls. In August 2017 and January 2018, the Federal Reserve proposed related guidance for the governance and controls component.
The BHC Act generally limits bank holding companies to activities that are considered to be banking activities and certain closely related activities. As noted above, each of the Company and TRS is a bank holding company and each has elected to become a financial holding company, which is authorized to engage in a broader range of financial and related activities. In order to remain eligible for financial holding company status, we must meet certain eligibility requirements. Those requirements include that each of the Company and AENB must be “well capitalized” and “well managed,” and AENB must have received at least a “satisfactory” rating on its most recent assessment under the Community Reinvestment Act of 1977 (the CRA). The Company and TRS engage in various activities permissible only for financial holding companies, including, in particular, providing travel agency services, acting as a finder and engaging in certain insurance underwriting and agency services. If the Company fails to meet eligibility requirements for financial holding company status, it is likely to be barred from engaging in new types of financial activities or making certain types of acquisitions or investments in reliance on its status as a financial holding company, and ultimately could be required to either discontinue the broader range of activities permitted to financial holding companies or divest AENB. In addition, the Company and its subsidiaries are prohibited by law from engaging in practices that the relevant regulatory authority deems unsafe or unsound (which such authorities generally interpret broadly).
Acquisitions and Investments
Applicable federal and state laws place limitations on the ability of persons to invest in or acquire control of us without providing notice to or obtaining the approval of one or more of our regulators. In addition, we are subject to banking laws and regulations that limit our investments and acquisitions and, in some cases, subject them to the prior review and approval of our regulators, including the Federal Reserve and the OCC. Federal banking regulators have broad discretion in evaluating proposed acquisitions and investments that are subject to their prior review or approval.
The Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act (Dodd-Frank) and the Federal Reserve’s implementing regulations impose heightened prudential requirements on bank holding companies with at least $50 billion in total consolidated assets, such as the Company, that are more stringent than those applicable to smaller bank holding companies. The Economic Growth, Regulatory Relief, and Consumer Protection Act (EGRRCPA), enacted in May 2018, preserves the fundamental elements of the post-Dodd-Frank regulatory framework, but, among other things, revises certain aspects of the U.S. financial regulatory regime for bank holding companies with less than $250 billion in total consolidated assets, such as the Company.
Under Dodd-Frank, federal banking regulators were required to apply enhanced prudential standards to bank holding companies, such as the Company, with total consolidated assets of $50 billion or more. Following the enactment of EGRRCPA, effective November 2019, federal banking regulators will no longer be required to apply most Dodd-Frank enhanced prudential standards to bank holding companies, such as the Company, with total consolidated assets of $100 billion but less than $250 billion. For example, holding company resolution planning and company-run stress testing would no longer be mandatory and supervisory stress testing (which is currently conducted annually) would be conducted on a “periodic” basis. Depository institutions, such as AENB, with total consolidated assets between $100 billion and $250 billion will also not be required to conduct annual company-run stress tests effective November 2019. Much of the Dodd-Frank enhanced prudential standards were implemented by the federal banking regulators through regulations. EGRRCPA, however, does not itself amend those regulations, which will require action by the federal banking regulators. Additionally, EGRRCPA permits the Federal Reserve, by order or rule, to apply enhanced prudential standards to bank holding companies, such as the Company, with total consolidated assets of $100 billion or more. Lastly, there are several regulations not directly affected by EGRRCPA but that federal banking regulators may modify to conform to the new higher asset thresholds, such as the Comprehensive Capital Analysis and Review (CCAR) process.
In October 2018, the Federal Reserve released two proposals, one jointly with the OCC and the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC) and one on its own, that would tailor the applicable capital and liquidity requirements and prudential standards for large U.S. banking organizations, such as the Company, based on their size and other risk-based indicators, consistent with EGRRCPA (the Tailoring Proposals). The Tailoring Proposals are not yet final and may be modified prior to their final adoption by the Federal Reserve, the OCC and the FDIC.
The Tailoring Proposals would assign each U.S. bank holding company with $100 billion or more in total consolidated assets, as well as its bank subsidiaries, to one of four categories based on its size and five risk-based indicators: (i) cross-jurisdictional activity, (ii) weighted short-term wholesale funding, (iii) non-bank assets, (iv) off-balance sheet exposure, and (v) status as a U.S. global systemically important banking organization. The Federal Reserve indicated which firms would fall into each of the four categories based on data for the second quarter of 2018, with the Company in “Category IV.” Firms subject to Category IV standards would generally be subject to the same capital and liquidity requirements as firms with under $100 billion in total consolidated assets, but would also be required to monitor and report certain risk-based indicators. As a result, under the Tailoring Proposals, Category IV firms such as the Company would (i) no longer be subject to the advanced approaches capital requirements, (ii) no longer be subject to the supplementary leverage ratio, (iii) no longer be subject to the countercyclical capital buffer, (iv) no longer be subject to company-run stress testing requirements, (v) become subject to supervisory stress testing on an every-other-year basis rather than an annual basis; and (vi) no longer be subject to the liquidity coverage ratio or the proposed net stable funding ratio minimum requirements.
The ultimate impact from EGRRCPA and the related regulatory changes is subject to the final implementing regulations adopted by federal banking regulators, which may differ from the proposals described herein.
Stress Testing and Capital Planning
Under the Federal Reserve’s regulations, the Company is currently subject to annual supervisory and semiannual company-run stress testing requirements that are designed to evaluate whether a bank holding company has sufficient capital on a total consolidated basis to absorb losses and support operations under adverse economic conditions. Under the Tailoring Proposals, Category IV firms, such as the Company, would no longer be subject to company-run stress testing requirements, but would remain subject to the quantitative review of their capital plans under CCAR, which the Federal Reserve has indicated it plans to conduct on an every-other-year, instead of annual, basis for Category IV firms. In connection with the release of the Tailoring Proposals, the Federal Reserve also indicated that it expects to revise its guidance on capital planning to align with the proposed categories of standards set forth in the Tailoring Proposals. We continue to evaluate the impact of the Tailoring Proposals and forthcoming related proposals on the Company and its capital planning process.
The results of the Company’s stress testing are incorporated into our annual capital plan, which must cover a “planning horizon” of at least nine quarters and which we are required to submit to the Federal Reserve for review under its CCAR process. As part of CCAR, the Federal Reserve evaluates whether the Company has sufficient capital to continue operations under various scenarios of economic and financial market stress (developed by both the Company and the Federal Reserve), including after taking into account planned capital distributions, such as dividend payments and common stock repurchases. Sufficient capital for these purposes is likely to require us to maintain capital ratios appreciably above applicable minimum requirements and buffers. The scenarios are designed to stress our risks and vulnerabilities and assess our pro-forma capital position and ratios under hypothetical stress environments.
We are required to submit our capital plans and stress testing results to the Federal Reserve on or before April 5 of each year in which they are required. The Federal Reserve is expected to publish the decisions for all the bank holding companies participating in CCAR, including the reasons for any objection to capital plans, by June 30th of each year. In addition, the Federal Reserve will publish separately the results of its supervisory stress test under the supervisory severely adverse scenarios. The information to be released will include, among other things, the Federal Reserve’s projection of company-specific information, including post-stress capital ratio information over the planning horizon.
We may be required to revise and resubmit our capital plan as required by the Federal Reserve following certain events, such as a significant acquisition. In addition to other limitations, our ability to make any capital distributions (including dividends and share repurchases) is contingent on the Federal Reserve’s non-objection to our capital plan.
On February 5, 2019, the Federal Reserve announced that certain firms with total consolidated assets between $100 billion and $250 billion, such as the Company, would not be subject to supervisory stress testing, company-run stress testing or CCAR for the 2019 cycle. The Federal Reserve stated that permitted capital distributions for the 2019 cycle for such firms would be largely based on the results of the 2018 supervisory stress tests. We remain subject to the requirement to develop and maintain an annual capital plan.
The Company and TRS, as well as AENB and the Company’s insurance and other regulated subsidiaries, are limited in their ability to pay dividends by statutes, regulations and supervisory policy.
Dividend payments by the Company to shareholders are subject to the oversight of the Federal Reserve. See “Stress Testing and Capital Planning.” Even if the Federal Reserve has not objected to a distribution, the Company may still not make a distribution without Federal Reserve approval if, among other things, the Company would not meet a minimum regulatory capital ratio after giving effect to the capital distribution, changes in facts would require resubmission of our capital plan or the Company’s earnings are materially underperforming its projections in the capital plan.
In general, federal laws and regulations prohibit, without first obtaining the OCC’s approval, AENB from making dividend distributions to TRS, if such distributions are not paid out of available recent earnings or would cause AENB to fail to meet capital adequacy standards. In addition to specific limitations on the dividends AENB can pay to TRS, federal banking regulators have authority to prohibit or limit the payment of a dividend if, in the banking regulator’s opinion, payment of a dividend would constitute an unsafe or unsound practice in light of the financial condition of the institution.
Capital, Leverage and Liquidity Regulation
The Company and AENB are required to comply with the applicable capital adequacy rules established by federal banking regulators. These rules are intended to ensure that bank holding companies and depository institutions (collectively, banking organizations) have adequate capital given their level of assets and off-balance sheet obligations. The federal banking regulators’ current capital rules, which, subject to phase-in provisions, generally became applicable to the Company and AENB’s predecessor institutions in 2014 (the Capital Rules), largely implement the Basel Committee on Banking Supervision’s (the Basel Committee) framework for strengthening international capital regulation, known as Basel III. The minimum capital and buffer requirements under the Capital Rules have been fully phased in as of January 1, 2019. For additional information regarding our capital ratios, see “Consolidated Capital Resources and Liquidity” under “MD&A.”
Under the Capital Rules, banking organizations are required to maintain minimum ratios for Common Equity Tier 1 (CET1), Tier 1 capital (that is, CET1 plus additional Tier 1 capital) and Total capital (that is, Tier 1 capital plus Tier 2 capital) to risk-weighted assets. Since 2014, we have reported our capital adequacy ratios on a parallel basis to federal banking regulators using both risk-weighted assets calculated under the Basel III standardized approach, as adjusted for certain items, and the requirements for an advanced approaches institution. During this parallel period, federal banking regulators assess our compliance with the advanced approaches requirements. The parallel period will continue until we receive regulatory notification to exit parallel reporting, at which point we will begin publicly reporting regulatory risk-based capital ratios calculated under both the advanced approaches and the standardized approach under the Capital Rules, and will be required to use the lower of these ratios in order to determine whether we are in compliance with minimum capital and buffer requirements for the Company and AENB. Depending on how the advanced approaches are ultimately implemented for our asset types, our capital ratios calculated under the advanced approaches may be lower than under the standardized approach. The standardized approach is currently the applicable measurement used in CCAR.
In December 2017, the Basel Committee published standards that, among other things, revise the standardized approach for credit risk (including by recalibrating risk weights and introducing additional capital requirements for certain “unconditionally cancellable commitments” such as unused credit card lines of credit) and provide a new standardized calculation for operational risk capital requirements. If adopted in the United States as issued by the Basel Committee and applicable to us, the new standards could result in higher capital requirements for us.
The Company and AENB must each maintain CET1, Tier 1 capital and Total capital ratios of at least 4.5 percent, 6.0 percent and 8.0 percent, respectively. The Capital Rules also implement a 2.5 percent capital conservation buffer composed entirely of CET1, on top of these minimum risk-weighted asset ratios. As a result, the minimum ratios are effectively 7.0 percent, 8.5 percent and 10.5 percent for the CET1, Tier 1 capital and Total capital ratios, respectively, as of January 1, 2019. The required minimum capital ratios for the Company may be further increased by a countercyclical capital buffer composed entirely of CET1 up to 2.5 percent, which may be assessed when federal banking regulators determine that such a buffer is necessary to protect the banking system from disorderly downturns associated with excessively expansionary periods. Subject to adjustment by the Federal Reserve, the current countercyclical capital buffer is zero percent. Assuming the maximum countercyclical capital buffer was in place, the Company’s effective minimum CET1, Tier 1 capital and Total capital ratios could be 9.5 percent, 11.0 percent and 13.0 percent, respectively.
Banking institutions whose ratio of CET1, Tier 1 Capital or Total capital to risk-weighted assets is above the minimum but below the capital conservation buffer (or below the combined capital conservation buffer and countercyclical capital buffer, when the latter is applied) will face constraints on discretionary distributions such as dividends, repurchases and redemptions of capital securities, and executive compensation based on the amount of the shortfall and the institution's "eligible retained income" (that is, four quarter trailing net income, net of distributions and tax effects not reflected in net income).
As noted above, Category IV firms, such as the Company, would no longer be subject to the countercyclical capital buffer requirements under the Tailoring Proposals.
The Federal Reserve proposed a rule in April 2018 that would, among other things, replace the static 2.5 percent capital conservation buffer with a stress capital buffer requirement for bank holding companies subject to the CCAR process. The stress capital buffer would reflect stressed losses in the supervisory severely adverse scenario of the Federal Reserve’s CCAR stress tests and would also include four quarters of planned common stock dividends. The proposal also included a stress leverage buffer requirement, similar to the stress capital buffer, which would apply to the Tier 1 leverage ratio. The proposal would require bank holding companies to reduce their planned capital distributions if those distributions would not be consistent with the applicable capital buffer constraints based on the bank holding companies’ own baseline scenario projections. The Federal Reserve has indicated that it intends to propose revisions to the stress buffer requirements that would be applicable to Category IV firms, such as the Company, to align with the proposed two-year supervisory stress-testing cycle for Category IV bank holding companies.
We are also required to comply with minimum leverage ratio requirements. The leverage ratio is the ratio of a banking organization’s Tier 1 capital to its average total consolidated assets (as defined for regulatory purposes). All banking organizations are required to maintain a leverage ratio of at least 4.0 percent.
The Capital Rules also establish a supplementary leverage ratio (SLR) requirement for advanced approaches banking organizations such as the Company. The SLR is the ratio of Tier 1 capital to an expanded concept of leverage exposure that includes both on-balance sheet and certain off-balance sheet exposures. The Capital Rules require a minimum SLR of 3.0 percent.
As noted above, Category IV firms, such as the Company, would no longer be subject to the SLR requirement under the Tailoring Proposals.
The Federal Reserve’s enhanced prudential standards rule includes heightened liquidity and overall risk management requirements. The rule requires the maintenance of a liquidity buffer, consisting of highly liquid assets, that is sufficient to meet projected net outflows for 30 days over a range of liquidity stress scenarios.
In addition, the Company and AENB are currently subject to a liquidity coverage ratio (LCR) requirement, which is provided for in the Basel III liquidity framework and is designed to ensure that a banking entity maintains an adequate level of unencumbered high-quality liquid assets that can be converted into cash to meet its liquidity needs for a 30-day time horizon under an acute liquidity stress scenario specified by supervisors. The LCR measures the ratio of a firm’s high-quality liquid assets to its projected net outflows. The Company and AENB are required to calculate the LCR each business day, maintain a minimum ratio of 100 percent and disclose certain LCR calculation data and other information on a quarterly basis.
A second standard provided for in the Basel III liquidity framework, referred to as the net stable funding ratio (NSFR), requires a minimum amount of longer-term funding based on the assets and activities of banking entities. The LCR and NSFR requirements may cause banking entities generally to increase their holdings of cash, U.S. Treasury securities and other sovereign debt as a proportion of total assets and/or increase the proportion of longer-term debt. Federal banking regulators issued a proposed rule in May 2016 that would implement the NSFR for advanced approaches banking organizations, such as the Company. A final rule has not yet been issued and timing for implementation of the NSFR requirements is uncertain. If implemented as proposed, the rule would require that “available stable funding” be no less than “required stable funding” for the Company and AENB, as each such measure is calculated under the rule.
As noted above, Category IV firms, such as the Company and AENB, would no longer be subject to the LCR requirement or the proposed NSFR requirements under the Tailoring Proposals.
The Federal Deposit Insurance Act (FDIA) requires, among other things, that federal banking regulators take prompt corrective action in respect of depository institutions insured by the FDIC (such as AENB) that do not meet minimum capital requirements. The FDIA establishes five capital categories for FDIC-insured banks: well capitalized, adequately capitalized, undercapitalized, significantly undercapitalized and critically undercapitalized. The FDIA imposes progressively more restrictive constraints on operations, management and capital distributions, depending on the capital category in which an institution is classified. In order to be considered “well capitalized,” AENB must maintain CET1, Tier 1 capital, Total capital and Tier 1 leverage ratios of 6.5 percent, 8.0 percent, 10.0 percent and 5.0 percent, respectively.
Under the FDIA, AENB could be prohibited from accepting brokered deposits (i.e., deposits raised through third-party brokerage networks) or offering interest rates on any deposits significantly higher than the prevailing rate in its normal market area or nationally (depending upon where the deposits are solicited), unless (1) it is well capitalized or (2) it is adequately capitalized and receives a waiver from the FDIC. A significant amount of our outstanding U.S. retail deposits are considered brokered deposits for bank regulatory purposes. If a federal regulator determines that we are in an unsafe or unsound condition or that we are engaging in unsafe or unsound banking practices, the regulator may reclassify our capital category or otherwise place restrictions on our ability to accept or solicit brokered deposits.
The Company is required to prepare and provide to regulators a plan for its rapid and orderly resolution under the U.S. Bankruptcy Code in the event of material distress or failure. This resolution planning requirement may, as a practical matter, present additional constraints on our structure, operations and business strategy, and on transactions and business arrangements between our bank and non-bank subsidiaries, because we must consider the impact of these matters on our ability to prepare and submit a resolution plan that demonstrates that we may be resolved under the Bankruptcy Code in a rapid and orderly manner. If the Federal Reserve and the FDIC determine that the Company’s plan is not credible and we fail to cure the deficiencies, we may be subject to more stringent capital, leverage or liquidity requirements; may be subject to more restrictions on our growth, activities or operations; or may ultimately be required to divest certain assets or operations to facilitate an orderly resolution. The Federal Reserve has indicated it expects to release a proposal to amend, with the FDIC, their joint resolution plan rule to address the applicability of resolution plan requirements for U.S. bank holding companies with between $100 billion and $250 billion in total consolidated assets, such as the Company.
Separately, AENB is required to prepare and provide a separate resolution plan to the FDIC that would enable the FDIC, as receiver, to effectively resolve AENB under the FDIA in the event of failure. The resolution planning requirement applicable to AENB is not affected by EGRRCPA.
Orderly Liquidation Authority
The Company could become subject to the Orderly Liquidation Authority (OLA), a resolution regime under which the Treasury Secretary may appoint the FDIC as receiver to liquidate a systemically important financial company, if the Company is in danger of default and is determined to present a systemic risk to U.S. financial stability. As under the FDIC resolution model, under the OLA, the FDIC has broad power as receiver. Substantial differences exist, however, between the OLA and the FDIC resolution model for depository institutions, including the right of the FDIC under the OLA to disregard the strict priority of creditor claims in limited circumstances, the use of an administrative claims procedure to determine creditor claims (as opposed to the judicial procedure used in bankruptcy proceedings), and the right of the FDIC to transfer claims to a “bridge” entity. The OLA is separate from the Company’s resolution plan discussed in “Resolution Planning.”
The FDIC has developed a strategy under OLA, referred to as the “single point of entry” or “SPOE” strategy, under which the FDIC would resolve a failed financial holding company by transferring its assets (including shares of its operating subsidiaries) and, potentially, very limited liabilities to a “bridge” holding company; utilize the resources of the failed financial holding company to recapitalize the operating subsidiaries; and satisfy the claims of unsecured creditors of the failed financial holding company and other claimants in the receivership by delivering securities of one or more new financial companies that would emerge from the bridge holding company. Under this strategy, management of the failed financial holding company would be replaced and its shareholders and creditors would bear the losses resulting from the failure.
If the FDIC is appointed the conservator or receiver of AENB, the FDIC has the power: (1) to transfer any of AENB’s assets and liabilities to a new obligor without the approval of AENB’s creditors; (2) to enforce the terms of AENB’s contracts pursuant to their terms; or (3) to repudiate or disaffirm any contract or lease to which AENB is a party, the performance of which is determined by the FDIC to be burdensome and the disaffirmation or repudiation of which is determined by the FDIC to promote the orderly administration of AENB. In addition, the claims of holders of U.S. deposit liabilities and certain claims for administrative expenses of the FDIC against AENB would be afforded priority over other general unsecured claims against AENB, including claims of debt holders and depositors in non-U.S. offices, in the liquidation or other resolution of AENB. As a result, whether or not the FDIC ever sought to repudiate any debt obligations of AENB, the debt holders and depositors in non-U.S. offices would be treated differently from, and could receive substantially less, if anything, than the depositors in the U.S. offices of AENB.
Other Banking Regulations
Source of Strength
The Company is required to act as a source of financial and managerial strength to its U.S. bank subsidiary, AENB, and may be required to commit capital and financial resources to support AENB. Such support may be required at times when, absent this requirement, the Company otherwise might determine not to provide it. Capital loans by the Company to AENB are subordinate in right of payment to deposits and to certain other indebtedness of AENB. In the event of the Company’s bankruptcy, any commitment by the Company to a federal banking regulator to maintain the capital of AENB will be assumed by the bankruptcy trustee and entitled to a priority of payment.
Transactions Between AENB and its Affiliates
Certain transactions (including loans and credit extensions from AENB) between AENB and its affiliates (including the Company, TRS and their other subsidiaries) are subject to quantitative and qualitative limitations, collateral requirements and other restrictions imposed by statute and regulation. Transactions subject to these restrictions are generally required to be made on an arm’s-length basis.
FDIC Deposit Insurance and Insurance Assessments
AENB accepts deposits that are insured by the FDIC up to the applicable limits. Under the FDIA, the FDIC may terminate the insurance of an institution’s deposits upon a finding that the institution has engaged in unsafe or unsound practices; is in an unsafe or unsound condition to continue operations; or has violated any applicable law, regulation, rule, order or condition imposed by the FDIC. We do not know of any practice, condition or violation that might lead to termination of deposit insurance at AENB. The FDIC’s deposit insurance fund is funded by assessments on insured depository institutions, including AENB, which are subject to adjustment by the FDIC.
Community Reinvestment Act
AENB is subject to the CRA, which imposes affirmative, ongoing obligations on depository institutions to meet the credit needs of their local communities, including low- and moderate-income neighborhoods, consistent with the safe and sound operation of the institution.
Other Enhanced Prudential Standards
The Federal Reserve has not yet finalized prudential requirements, mandated by Dodd-Frank, regarding early remediation requirements for large bank holding companies experiencing financial distress.
Consumer Financial Products Regulation
In the United States, our marketing, sale and servicing of consumer financial products and our compliance with certain federal consumer financial laws are supervised and examined by the CFPB, which has broad rulemaking and enforcement authority over providers of credit, savings and payment services and products, and authority to prevent “unfair, deceptive or abusive” acts or practices. In addition, a number of U.S. states have significant consumer credit protection, disclosure and other laws (in certain cases more stringent than U.S. federal laws). U.S. federal law also regulates abusive debt collection practices, which, along with bankruptcy and debtor relief laws, can affect our ability to collect amounts owed to us or subject us to regulatory scrutiny.
We are also regulated in the United States under the “money transmitter” or “sale of check” laws in effect in most states. In addition, we are required by the laws of many states to comply with unclaimed and abandoned property laws, under which we must pay to states the face amount of any Travelers Cheque or prepaid card that is uncashed or unredeemed after a period of time depending on the type of product.
In countries outside the United States, we have seen an increase in regulatory focus in relation to a number of key areas impacting our card-issuing businesses, particularly consumer protection (such as in the European Union (EU), the United Kingdom and Canada) and responsible lending (such as in Australia, Mexico, New Zealand and Singapore). Regulators in a number of countries are shifting their focus from just ensuring compliance with local rules and regulations toward paying greater attention to the product design and operation with a focus on customers and outcomes. Regulators’ expectations of firms in relation to their compliance, risk and control frameworks continue to increase and regulators are placing significant emphasis on a firm’s systems and controls relating to the identification and resolution of issues.
Legislators and regulators in various countries in which we operate have focused on the operation of card networks, including through antitrust actions, legislation and regulations to change certain practices or pricing of card issuers, merchant acquirers and payment networks, and, in some cases, to establish broad and ongoing regulatory oversight regimes for payment systems.
The EU, Australia and other jurisdictions have focused on the fees merchants pay to accept cards, including the way bankcard network members collectively set the “interchange” (that is, the fee paid by the bankcard merchant acquirer to the card issuer in “four party” networks like Visa and Mastercard), as well as the rules, contract terms and practices governing merchant card acceptance. For example, in December 2018, the European Commission announced that it is taking comments on separate proposals by Visa and Mastercard to cap inter-regional multilateral interchange fees.
Regulation and other governmental actions relating to merchant pricing or terms of merchant rules and contracts could affect all networks directly or indirectly, as well as adversely impact consumers and merchants. Among other things, regulation of bankcard fees has negatively impacted and may continue to negatively impact the discount revenue we earn, including as a result of downward pressure on our discount rate from decreases in competitor pricing in connection with caps on interchange fees. In some cases, regulations also extend to certain aspects of our business and we have largely exited our network businesses in the EU and Australia as a result of regulation in those jurisdictions, for example.
In various countries, such as certain Member States in the EU and Australia, merchants are permitted by law to surcharge card purchases. In addition, the laws of a number of states in the United States that prohibit surcharging have been challenged in litigation brought by merchant groups and some such laws have been overturned. Surcharging is an adverse customer experience and could have a material adverse effect on us if it becomes widespread, particularly where it only or disproportionately impacts our business. In addition, other steering practices that are permitted by regulation in some countries could also have a material adverse effect on us if they become widespread.
In Canada, regulators have prompted the major international card networks to make voluntary commitments on pricing, specifically interchange fee levels; as American Express does not operate with interchange fees in Canada, our commitments extend to maintaining current pricing practices and complying with certain other practices.
In some countries governments have established regulatory regimes that require international card networks to be locally licensed and/or to localize aspects of their operations. For example, card network operators in India must obtain authorization from the Reserve Bank of India, which has broad power under the Payment and Settlement Systems Act, 2007 to regulate the membership and operations of card networks. In Russia, card network operators must be authorized by the central bank, and regulation requires networks to place security deposits with the central bank, process all local transactions using government-owned infrastructure and ensure that local transaction data remains within the country. The development and enforcement of these and other similar laws, regulations and policies may adversely affect our ability to compete effectively in those countries and maintain and extend our global network.
Governments in some countries also provide resources or protection to select domestic payment card networks. In November 2018, we received preparatory approval from the People’s Bank of China to begin building a network to process domestic currency transactions through a joint venture in mainland China. Once the network has been established, we can apply for a business operating license. There can be no assurance that we will receive such a license, or, if we do, that we will be able to successfully compete in China with domestic payment card networks and alternative payment providers.
Privacy, Data Protection, Information and Cyber Security
Regulatory and legislative activity in the areas of privacy, data protection and information and cyber security continues to increase worldwide. We have established and continue to maintain policies that provide a framework for compliance with applicable privacy, data protection and information and cyber security laws, meet evolving customer expectations and support and enable business innovation and growth.
Our regulators are increasingly focused on ensuring that our privacy, data protection and information and cyber security-related policies and practices are adequate to inform customers of our data collection, use, sharing and/or security practices, to provide them with choices, if required, about how we use and share their information, and to appropriately safeguard their personal information and account access.
In the United States, certain of our businesses are subject to the privacy, disclosure and safeguarding provisions of the Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act (GLBA) and its implementing regulations and guidance. Among other things, the GLBA imposes certain limitations on our ability to share consumers’ nonpublic personal information with nonaffiliated third parties and requires us to develop, implement and maintain a written comprehensive information security program containing safeguards that are appropriate to the size and complexity of our business, the nature and scope of our activities and the sensitivity of customer information that we process. Effective January 2020, the California Consumer Privacy Act will require us to offer expanded privacy rights to California residents who are not covered by GLBA. Various regulators, U.S. states and territories are considering similar requirements or have adopted laws, rules and regulations pertaining to privacy and/or information and cyber security that may be more stringent and/or expansive than federal requirements.
We are also subject to certain privacy, data protection and information and cyber security laws in other countries in which we operate (including countries in the EU, Australia, Canada, Japan, Hong Kong, India, Mexico and Singapore), some of which are more stringent and/or expansive than those in the United States. Some countries have also instituted laws requiring in-country data processing and/or in-country storage of the personal data of its citizens. Compliance with such laws could result in higher technology, administrative and other costs for us and could limit our ability to optimize the use of our closed-loop data. Data breach notification laws or regulatory activities to encourage breach notification are also becoming more prevalent in jurisdictions outside the United States in which we operate.
In Europe, the EU General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) went into effect in May 2018 with significant fines for non-compliance (up to 4 percent of total annual worldwide revenue). It created additional legal and compliance obligations on companies that process personal data of individuals in the EU, irrespective of the geographical location of the company. We have made changes to our privacy practices to comply with these requirements, and continue to rely on our binding corporate rules as the primary method for lawfully transferring data from our European affiliates to our affiliates in the United States and elsewhere globally. The GDPR includes, among other things, a requirement for prompt notice of data breaches, in certain circumstances, to affected individuals and supervisory authorities.
In addition, the European Directive 2002/58/EC (the ePrivacy Directive) will continue to set out requirements for the processing of personal data and the protection of privacy in the electronic communications sector until the approval of the forthcoming ePrivacy Regulation. The ePrivacy Directive places restrictions on, among other things, the sending of unsolicited marketing communications, as well as on the collection and use of data about internet users.
In 2015, the European Central Bank and the European Banking Authority enacted secondary legislation focused on security breaches, strong customer authentication and information security-related policies. Likewise, a network and information security directive has been implemented into national laws by Member States in the European Union. The Revised Payment Services Directive (PSD2) also contains regulatory requirements on strong customer authentication, open access to customer data and payment capabilities, and measures to prevent security incidents.
Anti-Money Laundering, Sanctions and Anti-Corruption Compliance
We are subject to significant supervision and regulation, and an increasingly stringent enforcement environment, with respect to compliance with anti-money laundering (AML), sanctions and anti-corruption laws and regulations in the United States and in other jurisdictions in which we operate. Failure to maintain and implement adequate programs and policies and procedures for AML, sanctions and anti-corruption compliance could have serious financial, legal and reputational consequences.
American Express is subject to a significant number of AML laws and regulations as a result of being a financial company headquartered in the United States, as well as having a global presence. In the United States, the majority of AML requirements are derived from the Currency and Foreign Transactions Reporting Act and the accompanying regulations issued by the U.S. Department of the Treasury (collectively referred to as the Bank Secrecy Act), as amended by the USA PATRIOT Act of 2001 (the Patriot Act). In Europe, AML requirements are largely the result of countries transposing the 4th EU Anti-Money Laundering Directive (and preceding EU Anti-Money Laundering Directives) into local laws and regulations. Numerous other countries, such as Argentina, Australia, Canada, India, Mexico, New Zealand and Russia, have also enacted or proposed new or enhanced AML legislation and regulations applicable to American Express.
Among other things, these laws and regulations require us to establish AML programs that meet certain standards, including, in some instances, expanded reporting, particularly in the area of suspicious transactions, and enhanced information gathering and recordkeeping requirements. Any errors, failures or delays in complying with federal, state or foreign AML and counter-terrorist financing laws could result in significant criminal and civil lawsuits, penalties and forfeiture of significant assets or other enforcement actions.
The United States has imposed economic sanctions that affect transactions with designated foreign countries, nationals and others. The United States prohibits U.S. persons from engaging with individuals and entities identified as “Specially Designated Nationals,” such as terrorists and narcotics traffickers. These prohibitions are administered by the U.S. Department of the Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) and are typically known as the OFAC rules. The OFAC rules prohibit U.S. persons from engaging in financial transactions with or relating to the prohibited individual, entity or country, require the blocking of assets in which the individual, entity or country has an interest, and prohibit transfers of property subject to U.S. jurisdiction (including property in the possession or control of U.S. persons) to such individual, entity or country. Blocked assets (e.g., property or bank deposits) cannot be paid out, withdrawn, set off or transferred in any manner without a license from OFAC. We maintain a global sanctions program designed to ensure compliance with OFAC requirements. Failure to comply with such requirements could subject us to serious legal and reputational consequences, including criminal penalties.
Pursuant to Section 219 of the Iran Threat Reduction and Syria Human Rights Act of 2012, which added Section 13(r) to the Securities Exchange Act of 1934, as amended (the Exchange Act), an issuer is required to disclose in its annual or quarterly reports, as applicable, whether it or any of its affiliates knowingly engaged in certain activities, transactions or dealings relating to Iran or with individuals or entities designated pursuant to certain Executive Orders. Disclosure is generally required even where the activities, transactions or dealings were conducted outside the United States by non-U.S. affiliates in compliance with applicable law, and whether or not the activities are sanctionable under U.S. law.
American Express Global Business Travel (GBT) and certain entities that may be considered affiliates of GBT have informed us that during the year ended December 31, 2018, approximately 123 visas were obtained from Iranian embassies and consulates around the world in connection with certain travel arrangements on behalf of clients and reservations were booked at two hotels that may be owned, directly or indirectly, or may otherwise be affiliated with, the Government of Iran. GBT had negligible gross revenues and net profits attributable to these transactions and intends to continue to engage in these activities on a limited basis so long as such activities are permitted under U.S. law.
We are subject to complex international and U.S. anti-corruption laws and regulations, including the U.S. Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (the FCPA), the UK Bribery Act and other laws that prohibit the making or offering of improper payments. The FCPA makes it illegal to corruptly offer or provide anything of value to foreign government officials, political parties or political party officials for the purpose of obtaining or retaining business or an improper advantage. The FCPA also requires us to strictly comply with certain accounting and internal controls standards. In recent years, enforcement of the FCPA has become more intense. The UK Bribery Act also prohibits commercial bribery and the receipt of a bribe, and makes it a corporate offense to fail to prevent bribery by an associated person, in addition to prohibiting improper payments to foreign government officials. Failure of the Company, our subsidiaries, employees, contractors or agents to comply with the FCPA, the UK Bribery Act and other laws can expose us and/or individual employees to investigation, prosecution and potentially severe criminal and civil penalties.
Our compensation practices are subject to oversight by the Federal Reserve. The federal banking regulators’ guidance on sound incentive compensation practices sets forth three key principles for incentive compensation arrangements that are designed to help ensure that incentive compensation plans do not encourage imprudent risk-taking and are consistent with the safety and soundness of banking organizations. The three principles provide that a banking organization’s incentive compensation arrangements should (1) provide incentives that appropriately balance risk and financial results in a manner that does not encourage employees to expose their organizations to imprudent risks, (2) be compatible with effective internal controls and risk management, and (3) be supported by strong corporate governance, including active and effective oversight by the organization’s board of directors. Any deficiencies in our compensation practices that are identified by the Federal Reserve or other banking regulators in connection with its review of our compensation practices may be incorporated into our supervisory ratings, which can affect our ability to make acquisitions or perform other actions. Enforcement actions may be taken against us if our incentive compensation arrangements or related risk-management control or governance processes are determined to pose a risk to our safety and soundness and we have not taken prompt and effective measures to correct the deficiencies.
In May 2016, the federal banking regulators, the SEC, the Federal Housing Finance Agency and the National Credit Union Administration re-proposed a rule, originally proposed in 2011, on incentive-based compensation practices. The re-proposed rule would apply deferral, downward adjustment and forfeiture, and clawback requirements to incentive-based compensation arrangements granted to senior executive officers and significant risk-takers of covered institutions, with specific requirements varying based on the asset size of the covered institution and the category of employee. If these or other regulations are adopted in a form similar to what has been proposed, they will impose limitations on the manner in which we may structure compensation for our employees, which could adversely affect our ability to hire, retain and motivate key employees.
Set forth below, in alphabetical order, is a list of our executive officers as of February 13, 2019, including each executive officer’s principal occupation and employment during the past five years and reflecting recent organizational changes. None of our executive officers has any family relationship with any other executive officer, and none of our executive officers became an officer pursuant to any arrangement or understanding with any other person. Each executive officer has been elected to serve until the next annual election of officers or until his or her successor is elected and qualified. Each officer’s age is indicated by the number in parentheses next to his or her name.
DOUGLAS E. BUCKMINSTER —
Group President, Global Consumer Services Group
Mr. Buckminster (58) has been Group President, Global Consumer Services Group since February 2018. Prior thereto, he had been President, Global Consumer Services Group since October 2015 and President, Global Network and International Card Services since February 2012.
JEFFREY C. CAMPBELL —
Chief Financial Officer
Mr. Campbell (58) has been Chief Financial Officer since August 2013.
PAUL D. FABARA —
President, Global Services Group
Mr. Fabara (53) has been President, Global Services Group since February 2018. Prior thereto, he had been Chief Risk Officer and President, Global Risk, Banking & Compliance since February 2016 and President, Global Banking Group since February 2013. He also served as President, Global Network Business from September 2014 to October 2015.
MARC D. GORDON —
Chief Information Officer
Mr. Gordon (58) has been Chief Information Officer since September 2012.
ANNA MARRS —
President, Global Commercial Services
Ms. Marrs (45) has been President, Global Commercial Services since September 2018. Ms. Marrs joined American Express from Standard Chartered Bank, where she served as Regional CEO, ASEAN and South Asia since November 2016 and CEO, Commercial and Private Banking since October 2015. She joined Standard Chartered Bank as Group Head, Strategy and Corporate Development in January 2012.
MICHAEL J. O’NEILL —
Chief Corporate Affairs Officer
Mr. O’Neill (65) has been Chief Corporate Affairs Officer since September 2014. Prior thereto, he had been Senior Vice President, Corporate Affairs and Communications since March 1991.
DENISE PICKETT —
Chief Risk Officer and President, Global Risk, Banking & Compliance
Ms. Pickett (53) has been Chief Risk Officer and President, Global Risk, Banking & Compliance since February 2018. Prior thereto, she had been President, U.S. Consumer Services since October 2015. She also served as President, American Express OPEN from February 2014 to October 2015 and Executive Vice President and Chief Executive Officer, U.S. Loyalty from January 2013 to February 2014.
ELIZABETH RUTLEDGE —
Chief Marketing Officer
Ms. Rutledge (57) has been Chief Marketing Officer since February 2018. Prior thereto, she had been Executive Vice President, Global Advertising & Media since February 2016 and Executive Vice President, Card Products & Benefits since May 2013.
LAUREEN E. SEEGER —
Chief Legal Officer
Ms. Seeger (57) has been Chief Legal Officer since July 2014. Ms. Seeger joined American Express from McKesson Corporation, where she served as Executive Vice President, General Counsel and Chief Compliance Officer from March 2006 until June 2014.
STEPHEN J. SQUERI —
Chairman and Chief Executive Officer
Mr. Squeri (59) has been Chairman and Chief Executive Officer since February 2018. Prior thereto, he had been Vice Chairman since July 2015. Prior thereto, he had been Group President, Global Corporate Services since November 2011.
ANRÉ WILLIAMS —
Group President, Global Merchant and Network Services
Mr. Williams (53) has been Group President, Global Merchant and Network Services since February 2018. Prior thereto, he had been President of Global Merchant Services and Loyalty since October 2015 and President, Global Merchant Services since November 2011.
We had approximately 59,000 employees as of December 31, 2018.
We maintain an Investor Relations website at http://ir.americanexpress.com. We make available free of charge, on or through this website, our annual, quarterly and current reports and any amendments to those reports as soon as reasonably practicable following the time they are electronically filed with or furnished to the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC). To access these materials, click on the “SEC Filings” link under the caption “Financial Information” on our Investor Relations homepage.
You can also access our Investor Relations website through our main website at www.americanexpress.com by clicking on the “Investor Relations” link, which is located at the bottom of our homepage. Information contained on our Investor Relations website, our main website and other websites referred to in this report is not incorporated by reference into this report or any other report filed with or furnished to the SEC. We have included such website addresses only as inactive textual references and do not intend them to be active links.
You can find certain statistical disclosures required of bank holding companies starting on page A-1, which are incorporated herein by reference.
This section highlights specific risks that could affect us and our businesses. You should carefully consider each of the following risks and all of the other information set forth in this Annual Report on Form 10-K. Based on the information currently known to us, we believe the following information identifies the most significant risk factors affecting us. However, the risks and uncertainties we face are not limited to those described below. Additional risks and uncertainties not presently known to us or that we currently believe to be immaterial may also adversely affect our business.
If any of the following risks and uncertainties develop into actual events or if the circumstances described in the risks and uncertainties occur or continue to occur, these events or circumstances could have a material adverse effect on our business, financial condition or results of operations. These events could also have a negative effect on the trading price of our securities.
Strategic, Business and Competitive Risks
Difficult conditions in the business and economic environment, as well as political conditions in the United States and elsewhere, may materially adversely affect our business and results of operations.
Our results of operations are materially affected by economic, market, political and social conditions in the United States and abroad. We offer a broad array of products and services to consumers, small businesses and commercial clients and thus are very dependent upon the level of consumer and business activity and the demand for payment and financing products. Slow economic growth, volatile or deteriorating economic conditions or shifts in broader consumer and business trends could change customer behaviors, including spending on our cards, the ability and willingness of Card Members to borrow and pay amounts owed to us, and demand for fee-based products and services. Political conditions, prolonged or recurring government shutdowns, regional hostilities, social upheaval, fiscal and monetary policies, trade concerns and tariffs could also negatively affect consumer and business spending, including travel patterns and business investment, and demand for credit.
Factors such as consumer spending and confidence, unemployment rates, business investment, government spending, trade relationships with other countries, interest rates, taxes, energy costs, the volatility and strength of the capital markets, inflation and deflation all affect the economic environment and, ultimately, our profitability. Such factors may also cause our earnings, billings, loan balances, credit metrics and margins to fluctuate and diverge from expectations of analysts and investors, who may have differing assumptions regarding their impact on our business, adversely affecting, and/or increasing the volatility of, the trading price of our common shares.
Travel and entertainment expenditures, which comprised approximately 25 percent of our U.S. billed business during 2018, for example, are sensitive to business and personal discretionary spending levels and tend to decline during general economic downturns. Likewise, spending by small businesses and corporate clients, which comprised approximately 41 percent of our worldwide billed business during 2018, depends in part on the economic environment and a favorable climate for continued business investment and new business formation. Increases in delinquencies and write-off rates as a result of increases in bankruptcies, unemployment rates, changes in customer behaviors or otherwise could also have a material adverse effect on our results of operations. The consequences of negative circumstances impacting us or the environment generally can be sudden and severe.
The exit of the United Kingdom from the European Union could adversely impact our business, results of operations and financial condition.
Our business in the United Kingdom and elsewhere may be negatively impacted by the uncertainty regarding the exit of the United Kingdom from the European Union (commonly referred to as Brexit), including from a deterioration of consumer and business activity in the United Kingdom and other countries and general uncertainty in the overall business environment in which we operate. The exit itself could negatively impact the United Kingdom and other economies, which could adversely affect spending on our cards and the ability and willingness of Card Members to pay amounts owed to us. We may also experience increased volatility in the value of the pound sterling, the euro and other European currencies, which could further strengthen the U.S. dollar, adversely impacting the results of operations from our international activities. In addition, Brexit could lead to legal uncertainty and potentially divergent national laws and regulations in the United Kingdom and the European Union, and we may incur additional costs or need to make operational changes that reduce revenue as we adapt to potentially divergent regulatory frameworks. Any of these effects of Brexit, among others, could adversely affect our business and financial results. As of December 31, 2018, the United Kingdom constituted approximately 4 percent of our worldwide billed business and the EMEA region as a whole constituted approximately 11 percent. We have made changes to the structure of our business operations in Europe in anticipation of Brexit, although the financial, trade and legal implications of Brexit are still uncertain and may be more severe than expected given that the final terms upon which the United Kingdom will exit the EU are still not known and the lack of comparable precedent.
Our operating results may suffer because of substantial and increasingly intense competition worldwide in the payments industry.
The payments industry is highly competitive, and we compete with charge, credit and debit card networks, issuers and acquirers, paper-based transactions (e.g., cash and checks), bank transfer models (e.g., wire transfers and ACH), as well as evolving and growing alternative, non-traditional payment and financing providers. If we are not able to differentiate ourselves from our competitors, develop compelling value propositions for our customers and/or effectively grow in areas such as mobile and online payments and emerging technologies, we may not be able to compete effectively.
We believe Visa and Mastercard are larger than we are in most countries. As a result, card issuers and acquirers on the Visa and Mastercard networks may be able to benefit from the dominant position, scale, resources, marketing and pricing of those networks. Our business may also be increasingly negatively affected if we are unable to increase merchant acceptance and our cards are not accepted at merchants that accept cards on the Visa and Mastercard networks.
Some of our competitors have developed, or may develop, substantially greater financial and other resources than we have and may offer richer value propositions or a wider range of programs and services than we offer or may use more effective advertising, marketing or cross-selling strategies to acquire and retain more customers, capture a greater share of spending and borrowings, establish and develop more attractive cobrand card and other partner programs and maintain greater merchant acceptance than we have. We may not be able to compete effectively against these threats or respond or adapt to changes in consumer spending habits as effectively as our competitors. We expect expenses such as Card Member rewards and Card Member services expenses to continue to increase as we improve our value propositions for Card Members, including in response to increased competition.
Spending on our cards could continue to be impacted by increasing consumer usage of charge, credit and debit cards issued on other networks, as well as adoption of alternative payment systems. To the extent other payment mechanisms, systems and products continue to successfully expand, our discount revenues and our ability to access transaction data through our integrated network could be negatively impacted. For example, companies that control access to consumer and merchant payment method choices at the point of sale or through digital wallets, commerce-related experiences, mobile applications or other technologies could choose not to accept, suppress use of, or degrade the experience of using our products or could restrict our access to our customers and transaction data. Such companies could also require payments from us to participate in such digital wallets, experiences or applications, impacting our profitability on transactions.
The competitive value of our closed-loop data may also be diminished as traditional and non-traditional competitors use other, new data sources and technologies to derive similar insights. Certain regulations, such as PSD2 in Europe and open banking initiatives in various jurisdictions around the world, could also diminish the value of our closed-loop data or the demand for our products and services by disintermediating existing financial services providers.
To the extent we expand into new business areas and new geographic regions, we may face competitors with more experience and more established relationships with relevant customers, regulators and industry participants, which could adversely affect our ability to compete. Laws and business practices that favor local competitors, require card transactions to be routed over domestic networks or prohibit or limit foreign ownership of certain businesses could limit our growth in international regions. We may face additional compliance and regulatory risks to the extent that we expand into new business areas, and we may need to dedicate more expense, time and resources to comply with regulatory requirements than our competitors, particularly those that are not regulated financial institutions.
Many of our competitors are subject to different, and in some cases, less stringent, legislative and regulatory regimes, and some may have lower cost structures and more agile business models and systems. More restrictive laws and regulations that do not apply to all of our competitors can put us at a disadvantage, including prohibiting us from engaging in certain transactions, regulating our business practices or adversely affecting our cost structure.
We face intense competition for partner relationships, which could result in a loss or renegotiation of these arrangements that could have a material adverse impact on our business and results of operations.
In the ordinary course of our business we enter into different types of contractual arrangements with business partners in a variety of industries. For example, we have partnered with Delta Air Lines, as well as many others globally, to offer cobranded cards for consumers and small businesses, and through our Membership Rewards program we have partnered with businesses in many industries, including the airline industry, to offer benefits to Card Member participants. Competition for relationships with key business partners is very intense and there can be no assurance we will be able to grow or maintain these partner relationships or that they will remain as profitable. Establishing and retaining attractive cobrand card partnerships is particularly competitive among card issuers and networks as these partnerships typically appeal to high-spending loyal customers. All of our cobrand portfolios in the aggregate accounted for approximately 17 percent of our worldwide billed business for the year ended December 31, 2018. Card Member loans related to our cobrand portfolios accounted for approximately 36 percent of our worldwide Card Member loans as of December 31, 2018.
We have partnered with Delta Air Lines across many aspects of our business. We issue cards under cobrand arrangements with Delta and the Delta cobrand portfolio, our largest cobrand portfolio, accounted for approximately 8 percent of our worldwide billed business for the year ended December 31, 2018 and approximately 21 percent of worldwide Card Member loans as of December 31, 2018. The Delta cobrand portfolio generates fee revenue and interest income from Card Members and discount revenue from Delta and other merchants for spending on Delta cobrand cards. Our relationships with, and revenues related to, Delta are significant and extend beyond cobrand accounts. Delta is a key participant in our Membership Rewards program, provides travel-related benefits and services, including airport lounge access for certain American Express Card Members, accepts American Express cards as a merchant and is a corporate payments customer.
Cobrand arrangements are entered into for a fixed period, generally ranging from five to eight years, and will terminate in accordance with their terms, including at the end of the fixed period unless extended or renewed at the option of the parties, or upon early termination as a result of an event of default or otherwise. We work with our cobrand partners on an ongoing basis to demonstrate the value we deliver and evolve our relationships for the benefit of both parties. We face the risk that we could lose partner relationships, even after we have invested significant resources in the relationships. We may also choose to not renew certain cobrand relationships. The volume of billed business could decline and Card Member attrition could increase, in each case, significantly as a result of the termination of one or more cobrand partnership relationships. In addition, some of our cobrand arrangements provide that, upon expiration or termination, the cobrand partner may purchase or designate a third party to purchase the loans generated with respect to its program, which could result in the loss of the card accounts and a significant decline in our Card Member loans outstanding.
We regularly seek to extend or renew cobrand arrangements in advance of the end of the contract term and face the risk that existing relationships will be renegotiated with less favorable terms for us or that we may be unable to renegotiate on terms that are acceptable to us, as competition for such relationships continues to increase. We make payments to our cobrand partners, which can be significant, based primarily on the amount of Card Member spending and corresponding rewards earned on such spending and, under certain arrangements, on the number of accounts acquired and retained. The amount we pay to our cobrand partners has increased, particularly in the United States, and may continue to increase as arrangements are renegotiated due to increasingly intense competition for cobrand partners among card issuers and networks. See "Off-Balance Sheet Arrangements and Contractual Obligations" under "MD&A" for additional information regarding commitments for payments to certain cobrand partners.
The loss of exclusivity arrangements with business partners, the loss of the partner relationship altogether (whether by non-renewal at the end of the contract period, such as the end of our relationship with Costco in the United States in 2016, or as the result of a merger, legal or regulatory action or otherwise, such as the withdrawal of American Airlines in 2014 from our Airport Club Access program for Centurion® and Platinum Card® Members) or the renegotiation of existing partnerships with terms that are significantly worse for us could have a material adverse impact on our business and results of operations. See "Our business is subject to comprehensive government regulation and supervision, which could adversely affect our results of operations and financial condition" for information on the uncertainty regarding our cobrand and agent relationships in the EU. In addition, any publicity associated with the loss of any of our key business partners could harm our reputation, making it more difficult to attract and retain Card Members and merchants, and could weaken our negotiating position with our remaining and prospective business partners.
We face continued intense competitive pressure that may impact the prices we charge merchants that accept our cards for payment for goods and services.
Unlike our competitors in the payments industry that rely on revolving credit balances to drive profits, our business model is more focused on Card Member spending. Discount revenue, which represents fees generally charged to merchants when Card Members use their cards to purchase goods and services on our network, is primarily driven by billed business volumes and is our largest single revenue source. In recent years, we experienced some reduction in our average merchant discount rate, including as a result of rate pressure resulting from regulatory changes affecting competitor pricing in certain international countries. We also face pressure from competitors that have other sources of income or lower costs that can make their pricing more attractive to business partners and merchants. Merchants are also able to negotiate incentives and pricing concessions from us as a condition to accepting our cards or being cobrand partners. As merchants consolidate and become even larger, we may have to increase the amount of incentives and/or concessions we provide to such merchants, which could materially and adversely affect our results of operations. Competitive and regulatory pressures on pricing could make it difficult to offset the costs of these incentives. We have also experienced erosion of our average merchant discount rate as we increase merchant acceptance. We may not be successful in significantly expanding merchant acceptance or offsetting rate erosion with volumes at new merchants.
In addition, the regulatory environment and differentiated payment models and technologies from non-traditional players in the alternative payments space could pose challenges to our traditional payment model and adversely impact our average merchant discount rate. Some merchants continue to invest in their own payment solutions, such as proprietary-branded mobile wallets, using both traditional and new technology platforms. If merchants are able to drive broad consumer adoption and usage, it could adversely impact our average merchant discount rate and billed business volumes.
A continuing priority of ours is to drive greater and differentiated value to our merchants which, if not successful, could negatively impact our discount revenue and financial results. We may not succeed in maintaining merchant discount rates or offsetting the impact of declining merchant discount rates, which could materially and adversely affect our revenues and profitability, and therefore our ability to invest in innovation and in value-added services for merchants and Card Members.
Surcharging or steering by merchants could materially adversely affect our business and results of operations.
In certain countries, such as Australia and certain Member States in the EU, merchants are expressly permitted by law to surcharge certain card purchases. In jurisdictions allowing surcharging, we have seen merchant surcharging on American Express cards in certain merchant categories, and in some cases, either the surcharge is greater than that applied to Visa and Mastercard cards or Visa and Mastercard cards are not surcharged at all (practices that are known as differential surcharging), even though there are many cards issued on competing networks that have an equal or greater cost of acceptance for the merchant. In addition, the laws of a number of states in the United States that prohibit surcharging have been overturned in litigation brought by merchant groups.
We also encounter merchants that accept our cards, but tell their customers that they prefer to accept another type of payment or otherwise seek to suppress use of our cards. Our Card Members value the ability to use their cards where and when they want to, and we, therefore, take steps to meet our Card Members’ expectations and to protect the American Express brand by prohibiting this form of discrimination, subject to local legal requirements.
If surcharging, steering or other forms of discrimination become widespread, American Express cards and credit and charge cards generally could become less desirable to consumers, which could result in a decrease in cards-in-force and transaction volumes. The impact could vary depending on such factors as the industry or manner in which a surcharge is levied, how Card Members are steered to other card products or payment forms at the point of sale, the size and recurrence of the underlying charges, and whether and to what extent these actions are applied to other forms of payment, including whether it varies depending on the type of card, product, network, acquirer or issuer. Discrimination against American Express cards could have a material adverse effect on our business, financial condition and results of operations, particularly to the extent it disproportionately impacts our Card Members or our business.
We may not be successful in our efforts to promote card usage through marketing and promotion, merchant acceptance and Card Member rewards and services, or to effectively control the costs of such investments, both of which may impact our profitability.
Revenue growth is dependent on increasing consumer and business spending on our cards, growing loan balances and increasing fee revenue. We have been investing in a number of growth initiatives, including to attract new Card Members, reduce Card Member attrition and capture a greater share of customers’ total spending and borrowings. There can be no assurance that our investments to acquire Card Members, provide differentiated features and services and increase usage of our cards will continue to be effective. In addition, if we develop new products or offers that attract customers looking for short-term incentives rather than incentivize long-term loyalty, Card Member attrition and costs could increase. Increasing spending on our cards also depends on our continued expansion of merchant acceptance of our cards. If the rate of merchant acceptance growth slows or reverses itself, our business could suffer. Further, expanding our service offerings, adding customer acquisition channels and forming new partnerships or renewing current partnerships could have higher costs than our current arrangements, and could adversely impact our average discount rate or dilute our brand.
Another way we invest in customer value is through our Membership Rewards program, as well as other Card Member benefits. Any significant change in, or failure by management to reasonably estimate, actual redemptions of Membership Rewards points and associated redemption costs could adversely affect our profitability. We rely on third parties, such as Amazon and Delta, for certain redemption options and may not be able to continue to offer such redemption options in the future, which could diminish the value of the program for our Card Members. In addition, many credit card issuers have instituted rewards and cobrand programs and may introduce programs and services that are similar to or more attractive than ours. Our inability to continue to differentiate our products and services generally could materially adversely affect us.
We may not be able to cost-effectively manage and expand Card Member benefits, including containing the growth of marketing, promotion, rewards and Card Member services expenses in the future. If such expenses continue to increase beyond our expectations, we will need to find ways to offset the financial impact by increasing payments volume, increasing other areas of revenues such as fee-based revenues, or both. We may not succeed in doing so, particularly in the current competitive and regulatory environment.
Our brand and reputation are key assets of our Company, and our business may be affected by how we are perceived in the marketplace.
Our brand and its attributes are key assets, and we believe our continued success depends on our ability to preserve, grow and leverage the value of our brand. Our ability to attract and retain consumer and small business Card Members and corporate clients is highly dependent upon the external perceptions of our level of service, trustworthiness, business practices, data use and protection, management, workplace culture, merchant acceptance, financial condition, our response to unexpected events and other subjective qualities. Negative perceptions or publicity regarding these matters — even if related to seemingly isolated incidents and whether or not factually correct—could erode trust and confidence and damage our reputation among existing and potential Card Members and corporate clients, which could make it difficult for us to attract new Card Members and customers and maintain existing ones. Negative public opinion could result from actual or alleged conduct in any number of activities or circumstances, including card practices, regulatory compliance, the use and protection of customer information and conduct by our employees, and from actions taken by regulators or others in response thereto. Social media channels can also cause rapid, widespread reputational harm to our brand.
Our brand and reputation may also be harmed by actions taken by third parties that are outside our control. For example, any shortcoming of or controversy related to a third-party vendor, business partner, merchant acquirer or network partner may be attributed by Card Members and merchants to us, thus damaging our reputation and brand value. The lack of acceptance, suppression of card usage or surcharging by merchants can also negatively impact perceptions of our brand and our products, lower overall transaction volume and increase the attractiveness of other payment products or systems. Adverse developments with respect to our industry may also, by association, negatively impact our reputation, or result in greater regulatory or legislative scrutiny or litigation against us. Furthermore, as a corporation with headquarters and operations located in the United States, a negative perception of the United States arising from its political or other positions could harm the perception of our company and our brand. Although we monitor developments for areas of potential risk to our reputation and brand, negative perceptions or publicity could materially and adversely affect our revenues and profitability.
A major information or cyber security incident or an increase in fraudulent activity could lead to reputational damage to our brand and significant legal, regulatory and financial exposure, and could reduce the use and acceptance of our charge and credit cards.
We and third parties process, transmit, store and provide access to account information in connection with our charge and credit cards and other products, and in the normal course of our business, we collect, analyze and retain significant volumes of certain types of personally identifiable and other information pertaining to our customers and employees.
Our networks and systems are subject to constant attempts to identify and exploit potential vulnerabilities in our operating environment with intent to disrupt our business operations and capture, destroy, manipulate or expose various types of information relating to corporate trade secrets, customer information, including Card Member, travel and loyalty program data, employee information and other sensitive business information, including acquisition activity, financial results and intellectual property. There are a number of motivations for cyber threat actors, including criminal activities such as fraud, identity theft and ransom, corporate or nation-state espionage, political agendas, public embarrassment with the intent to cause financial or reputational harm, intent to disrupt information technology systems, and to expose and exploit potential security and privacy vulnerabilities in corporate systems and websites.
Global financial institutions like us have experienced a significant increase in information and cyber security risk in recent years and will likely continue to be the target of increasingly sophisticated cyberattacks, including computer viruses, malicious or destructive code, ransomware, social engineering attacks (including phishing, impersonation and identity takeover attempts), hacking, website defacement, denial-of-service attacks and other attacks and similar disruptions from the misconfiguration or unauthorized use of or access to computer systems. For example, we and other U.S. financial services providers have been the targets of distributed denial-of-service attacks from sophisticated third parties.
We develop and maintain systems and processes aimed at detecting and preventing information and cyber security incidents and fraudulent activity, which require significant investment, maintenance and ongoing monitoring and updating as technologies and regulatory requirements change and as efforts to overcome security measures become more sophisticated. Despite our efforts, the possibility of information and cyber security incidents, malicious social engineering, fraudulent or other malicious activities and human error or malfeasance cannot be eliminated entirely and will evolve as new technology is deployed. Risks associated with each of these include theft of funds and other monetary loss, the disruption of our operations and the unauthorized disclosure, release, gathering, monitoring, misuse, modification, loss or destruction of confidential, proprietary or other information (including account data information), the effects of which could be compounded if not detected quickly.
Information or cyber security incidents, fraudulent activity and other actual or perceived failures to maintain confidentiality, integrity, privacy and/or security may lead to regulatory investigations and intervention (such as mandatory card reissuance), increased litigation (including class action litigation), remediation, fines and response costs, negative assessments of us and our subsidiaries by banking regulators and rating agencies, reputational and financial damage to our brand, and reduced usage and acceptance of our cards, all of which could have a material adverse impact on our business. The disclosure of sensitive company information could also undermine our competitive advantage and divert management attention and resources.
Successful cyberattacks, data breaches, disruptions or other incidents related to the actual or perceived failures to maintain confidentiality, integrity, privacy and/or security at other large financial institutions, large retailers, travel and hospitality companies or other market participants, whether or not we are impacted, could lead to a general loss of customer confidence that could negatively affect us, including harming the market perception of the effectiveness of our security measures or harming the reputation of the financial system in general, which could result in reduced use of our products and services. Such events could also result in legislation and additional regulatory requirements. Although we have insurance for losses related to cyber risks and attacks and information and cyber security and privacy liability, it may not be sufficient to offset the impact of a material loss event.
The uninterrupted operation of our information systems is critical to our success and a significant disruption could have a material adverse effect on our business and results of operations.
Our information technology systems, including our transaction authorization, clearing and settlement systems, and data centers, may experience service disruptions or degradation because of technology malfunction, sudden increases in customer transaction volume, natural disasters, accidents, power outages, internet outages, telecommunications failures, fraud, denial-of-service and other cyberattacks, terrorism, computer viruses, vulnerabilities in hardware or software, physical or electronic break-ins, or similar events. Service disruptions could prevent access to our online services and account information, compromise or limit access to company or customer data, and impede transaction processing and financial reporting. Any interruption or degradation could adversely affect the perception of the reliability of our products and services and materially adversely affect our overall business, reputation and results of operations.
We rely on third-party providers for acquiring customers, technology, platforms and other services integral to the operations of our businesses. These third parties may act in ways that could harm our business.
We rely on third-party service providers, merchants, customer acquisition channels, processors, aggregators, network partners and other third parties for services that are integral to our operations and are subject to the risk that activities of such third parties may adversely affect our business. As outsourcing, specialization of functions, third-party digital services and technology innovation within the payments industry increase (including with respect to mobile technologies, tokenization, big data and cloud storage solutions), more third parties are involved in processing card transactions and handling our data. For example, we rely on third parties for the timely transmission of accurate information across our global network, card acquisition and provision of services to our customers. If a service provider or other third party ceases to provide the data quality or communications capacity we expect or services upon which we rely, as a result of natural disaster, operational disruptions or errors, terrorism, information or cyber security incidents, or any other reason, the failure could interrupt or compromise the quality of our services to customers or impact our ability to grow our business.
The confidentiality, integrity, privacy and/or security of data communicated over third-party networks or platforms or held by, or accessible to, third parties, including merchants that accept our cards, payment processors, payment intermediaries and our third-party vendors and business partners, could become compromised, which could lead to unauthorized use of our data or fraudulent transactions on our cards, as well as costs associated with responding to such an incident. For example, in March 2018, we were alerted by Expedia that certain customers who used Expedia’s Orbitz platform may have been victims of a cyberattack. The attack involved an Orbitz platform that served as the underlying booking engine for online travel websites, including Amextravel.com and travel booked through Amex Travel Representatives.
We are also exposed to the risk that a disruption or other event at a third party affecting one of our service providers or partners could impede their ability to provide to us services or data on which we rely to operate our business. Service providers or other third parties could also cease providing data to us if we are unable to negotiate for data use rights or use our data for purposes that do not benefit us, which could diminish the competitive value of our closed loop.
The management of multiple vendors increases our operational complexity and decreases our control. A failure to exercise adequate oversight over service providers, including compliance with service level agreements or regulatory or legal requirements, could result in regulatory actions, fines, sanctions or economic and reputational harm to us. In addition, we may not be able to effectively monitor or mitigate operational risks relating to our vendors’ service providers.
We have agreements with business partners in a variety of industries, including the airline industry, that represent a significant portion of our business. We are exposed to risks associated with these industries, including bankruptcies, liquidations, restructurings, consolidations and alliances of our partners, and the possible obligation to make payments to our partners.
We may be obligated to make or accelerate payments to certain business partners such as cobrand partners upon the occurrence of certain triggering events such as a shortfall in certain performance and revenue levels. If we are not able to effectively manage these triggering events, we could unexpectedly have to make payments to these partners, which could have a negative effect on our financial condition and results of operations.
Similarly, we are exposed to risk from bankruptcies, liquidations, insolvencies, financial distress, restructurings, consolidations and other similar events that may occur in any industry representing a significant portion of our billed business, which could negatively impact particular card products and services (and billed business generally) and our financial condition and results of operations. For example, we could be materially impacted if we were obligated to or elected to reimburse Card Members for products and services purchased from merchants that have ceased operations or stopped accepting our cards.
We are exposed to credit risk in the airline industry to the extent we protect Card Members against non-delivery of goods and services, such as where we have remitted payment to an airline for a Card Member purchase of tickets that have not yet been used or “flown.” If we are unable to collect the amount from the airline, we may bear the loss for the amount credited to the Card Member. Spending at airline merchants accounted for approximately 8 percent of our worldwide billed business for the year ended December 31, 2018.
For additional information relating to the general risks related to the airline industry, see “Risk Management—Institutional Credit Risk—Exposure to the Airline and Travel Industry” under “MD&A.”
If we are not able to invest successfully in, and compete at the leading edge of, technological developments across all our businesses, our revenue and profitability could be negatively affected.
Our industry is subject to rapid and significant technological changes. In order to compete in our industry, we need to continue to invest in technology across all areas of our business, including in transaction processing, data management and analytics, machine learning and artificial intelligence, customer interactions and communications, alternative payment mechanisms, authentication technologies and risk management and compliance systems. Incorporating new technologies into our products and services may require substantial expenditures and take considerable time, and ultimately may not be successful. We expect that new technologies in the payments industry will continue to emerge, and these new technologies may be superior to, or render obsolete, our existing technology.
The process of developing new products and services, enhancing existing products and services and adapting to technological changes and evolving industry standards is complex, costly and uncertain, and any failure by us to anticipate customers’ changing needs and emerging technological trends accurately could significantly impede our ability to compete effectively. Consumer and merchant adoption is a key competitive factor and our competitors may develop products, platforms or technologies that become more widely adopted than ours. In addition, we may underestimate the time and expense we must invest in new products and services before they generate material revenues, if at all.
Our ability to develop, acquire or access competitive technologies or business processes on acceptable terms may also be limited by intellectual property rights that third parties, including competitors and potential competitors, may assert. In addition, our ability to adopt new technologies may be inhibited by the emergence of industry-wide standards, a changing legislative and regulatory environment, the need for internal product and engineering expertise, resistance to change from Card Members or merchants, or the complexity of our systems.
We may not be successful in realizing the benefits associated with our acquisitions, strategic alliances, joint ventures and investment activity, and our business and reputation could be negatively impacted.
We have acquired a number of businesses and have made a number of strategic investments, and continue to evaluate potential transactions. These transactions could be material to our financial condition and results of operations. There is no assurance that we will be able to successfully identify and secure future acquisition candidates on terms and conditions that are acceptable to us, or successfully complete proposed acquisitions and investments, which could impair our growth. The process of integrating an acquired company, business or technology could create unforeseen operating difficulties and expenditures, result in unanticipated liabilities and harm our business generally. It may take us longer than expected to fully realize the anticipated benefits of these transactions, and those benefits may ultimately be smaller than anticipated or may not be realized at all, which could adversely affect our business and operating results, including as a result of write-downs of goodwill and other intangible assets.
We may also face risks with other types of strategic transactions, such as the sale to InComm of the operations relating to our prepaid reloadable and gift card business in the United States. The reloadable operations have experienced disruptions in the past, impacting the ability of our prepaid customers to load and use their cards. If such operations are interrupted, suspended or terminated in the future, it could further negatively impact our customers’ experience, result in additional costs, litigation and regulatory action, and harm our business and reputation.
Joint ventures, including our GBT JV, and minority investments inherently involve a lesser degree of control over business operations, thereby potentially increasing the financial, legal, operational and/or compliance risks associated with the joint venture or minority investment. In addition, we may be dependent on joint venture partners, controlling shareholders or management who may have business interests, strategies or goals that are inconsistent with ours. Business decisions or other actions or omissions of the joint venture partner, controlling shareholders or management may adversely affect the value of our investment, result in litigation or regulatory action against us and otherwise damage our reputation and brand.
Our business is subject to the effects of geopolitical events, weather, natural disasters and other conditions.
Geopolitical events, terrorist attacks, natural disasters, severe weather conditions, floods, health pandemics, information or cyber security incidents (including intrusion into or degradation of systems or technology by cyberattackers) and other catastrophic events can have a negative effect on our business. Because of our proximity to the World Trade Center, our headquarters were damaged as a result of the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. Recent hurricanes and other natural disasters have impacted spending and credit performance in the areas affected. Similar events or other disasters or catastrophic events in the future, and events impacting other sectors of the economy, including the telecommunications and energy sectors, could have a negative effect on our businesses and infrastructure, including our technology and systems. Card Members in California, New York, Florida, Texas and Georgia account for a significant portion of U.S. Consumer billed business and Card Members loans, and our results of operations could be impacted by events or conditions that disproportionately or specifically affect one or more of those states.
Because we derive a portion of our revenues from travel-related spending, our business is sensitive to safety concerns related to travel and tourism, limitations on travel and mobility, and health-related risks. In addition, disruptions in air travel and other forms of travel can result in the payment of claims under travel interruption insurance policies we offer and, if such disruptions to travel are prolonged, they can materially adversely affect overall travel-related spending.
If the conditions described above (or similar ones) result in widespread or lengthy disruptions to travel, they could have a material adverse effect on our results of operations. Card Member spending may also be negatively impacted in areas affected by natural disasters or other catastrophic events. The impact of such events on the overall economy may also adversely affect our financial condition or results of operations.
Our success is dependent, in part, upon our executive officers and other key personnel, and misconduct by or loss of key personnel could materially adversely affect our business.
Our success depends, in part, on our executive officers and other key personnel. Our senior management team has significant industry experience and would be difficult to replace. We rely upon our key personnel not only for business success, but also to lead with integrity. To the extent our leaders behave in a manner that does not comport with our company’s values, the consequences to our brand and reputation could be severe and could negatively affect our financial condition and results of operations.
The market for qualified individuals is highly competitive, and we may not be able to attract and retain qualified personnel or candidates to replace or succeed members of our senior management team or other key personnel. Changes in immigration and work permit laws and regulations or the administration or enforcement of such laws or regulations can also impair our ability to attract and retain qualified personnel, or to employ such personnel in the location(s) of our choice. As further described in “Supervision and Regulation—Compensation Practices,” our compensation practices are subject to review and oversight by the Federal Reserve and the compensation practices of AENB is subject to review and oversight by the OCC. This regulatory review and oversight could further affect our ability to attract and retain our executive officers and other key personnel. The loss of key personnel could materially adversely affect our business.
Legal, Regulatory and Compliance Risks
Ongoing legal proceedings regarding provisions in our merchant contracts could have a material adverse effect on our business and result in additional litigation and/or arbitrations, substantial monetary damages and damage to our reputation and brand.
We are a defendant in a number of actions, including proposed class actions, filed by merchants that challenge the non-discrimination and honor-all-cards provisions in our card acceptance agreements and seek damages. A description of these legal proceedings is contained in “Legal Proceedings.”
It is possible that the resolution of one or any combination of these merchant claims could have a material adverse effect on our business and results of operations, require us to change our merchant agreements in a way that could expose our cards to increased merchant steering and other forms of discrimination that could impair the Card Member experience, result in additional litigation and/or arbitrations, impose substantial monetary damages and damage our reputation and brand. Even if we were not required to change our merchant agreements, changes in Visa’s and Mastercard’s policies or practices as a result of legal proceedings, lawsuit settlements or regulatory actions pending against them could result in changes to our business practices and materially and adversely impact our profitability.
Our business is subject to comprehensive government regulation and supervision, which could adversely affect our results of operations and financial condition.
We are subject to comprehensive government regulation and supervision in jurisdictions around the world, which significantly affects our business, and has the potential to restrict the scope of our existing businesses, increase our costs of doing business, limit our ability to pursue certain business opportunities, require changes to business practices, and affect our relationships with partners, merchants and Card Members. Regulatory oversight and supervision of our businesses are generally designed to protect consumers and enhance financial stability and are not designed to protect our security holders.
New laws or regulations, enhanced supervision efforts or changes in the enforcement of existing laws or regulations applicable to our businesses could impact the profitability of our business activities, limit our ability to pursue business opportunities or adopt new technologies, require us to change certain of our business practices or alter our relationships with partners, merchants and Card Members, or affect retention of our key personnel. Such changes also may require us to invest significant management attention and resources to make any necessary changes and could adversely affect our results of operations and financial condition. Legislators and regulators around the world are aware of each other’s approaches to the regulation of the payments industry. Consequently, a development in one country, state or region may influence regulatory approaches in another. To the extent that different regulatory systems impose overlapping or inconsistent requirements on the conduct of our business, we face complexity and additional costs in our compliance efforts.
If we fail to satisfy regulatory requirements or maintain our financial holding company status, our financial condition and results of operations could be adversely affected, and we may be restricted in our ability to take certain capital actions (such as declaring dividends or repurchasing outstanding shares) or engage in certain activities or acquisitions. Additionally, our banking regulators have wide discretion in the examination and the enforcement of applicable banking statutes and regulations and may restrict our ability to engage in certain activities or acquisitions or require us to maintain more capital.
In recent years, legislators and regulators have focused on the operation of card networks, including interchange fees paid to card issuers in payment networks such as Visa and Mastercard and the fees merchants are charged to accept cards. Even where we are not directly regulated, regulation of bankcard fees can significantly negatively impact the discount revenue derived from our business, including as a result of downward pressure on our discount rate from decreases in competitor pricing in connection with caps on interchange fees. In some cases, regulations also extend to certain aspects of our business, such as network and cobrand arrangements or terms of card acceptance for merchants, including terms relating to non-discrimination and honor-all-cards. For example, we have largely exited our network businesses in the EU and Australia as a result of regulation in those jurisdictions. In addition, there is uncertainty as to when or how interchange fee caps and other provisions of the EU payments legislation might apply when we work with cobrand partners and agents in the EU. In a ruling issued on February 7, 2018, the EU Court of Justice confirmed the validity of the application of the fee caps and other provisions in circumstances where three-party networks issue cards with a cobrand partner or through an agent, although the ruling provided only limited guidance as to when or how the provisions might apply in such circumstances. As a result, there can be no assurance we will be able to maintain our cobrand and agent relationships in their current form in the EU.
We are subject to certain provisions of the Bank Secrecy Act, as amended by the Patriot Act, with regard to maintaining effective AML programs. Similar AML requirements apply under the laws of most jurisdictions where we operate. Increased regulatory focus in this area could result in additional obligations or restrictions with respect to the types of products and services we may offer to consumers, the countries in which our cards may be used, and the types of customers and merchants who can obtain or accept our cards. Emerging technologies, such as digital currencies, could limit our ability to track the movement of funds. Money laundering, terrorist financing and other illicit activities involving our cards could result in enforcement action, and our reputation may suffer due to our customers’ association with certain countries, persons or entities or the existence of any such transactions.
Various regulatory agencies and legislatures are also considering regulations and legislation covering identity theft, account management guidelines, credit bureau reporting, disclosure rules, security and marketing that would impact us directly, in part due to increased scrutiny of our underwriting and account management standards. These new requirements may restrict our ability to issue charge and credit cards or partner with other financial institutions, which could adversely affect our revenue growth.
See “Supervision and Regulation” for more information about certain laws and regulations to which we are subject and their impact on us.
Litigation and regulatory actions could subject us to significant fines, penalties, judgments and/or requirements resulting in significantly increased expenses, damage to our reputation and/or a material adverse effect on our business.
Businesses in the financial services and payments industries have historically been subject to significant legal actions, including class action lawsuits. Many of these actions have included claims for substantial compensatory or punitive damages. While we have historically relied on our arbitration clause in agreements with customers to limit our exposure to class action litigation, there can be no assurance that we will continue to be successful in enforcing our arbitration clause in the future and claims of the type we previously arbitrated could be subject to the complexities, risks and costs associated with class action cases. The continued focus of merchants on issues relating to the acceptance of various forms of payment may lead to additional litigation and other legal actions. Given the inherent uncertainties involved in litigation, and the very large or indeterminate damages sought in some matters asserted against us, there is significant uncertainty as to the ultimate liability we may incur from litigation matters.
We have been subject to regulatory actions and may continue to be subject to such actions, including governmental inquiries, investigations and enforcement proceedings, in the event of noncompliance or alleged noncompliance with laws or regulations. For example, we have been cooperating with certain governmental authorities that have requested information from, or served subpoenas on, us seeking information relating to a small, specialized part of our business, known as foreign exchange international payments (FXIP), which offers cross-border payments services primarily to small and middle market business customers in five countries, including the United States. In particular, we received investigative subpoenas from both the civil and criminal divisions of the U.S. Department of Justice as well as inquiries from the Federal Reserve, the OCC, the CFPB, the FDIC and others. FXIP accounts for less than one half of one percent of our total revenue net of interest expense and is unrelated to our card businesses. Relatedly, we are conducting a review with an outside law firm of FXIP’s pricing practices. We do not believe this matter will have a material adverse impact on our operations or results.
We expect that regulators will continue taking formal enforcement actions against financial institutions in addition to addressing supervisory concerns through non-public supervisory actions or findings, which could involve restrictions on our activities, among other limitations that could adversely affect our business. In addition, a violation of law or regulation by another financial institution is likely to give rise to an investigation by regulators and other governmental agencies of the same or similar practices by us. Further, a single event may give rise to numerous and overlapping investigations and proceedings. Regulatory action could subject us to significant fines, penalties or other requirements resulting in Card Member reimbursements, increased expenses, limitations or conditions on our business activities, and damage to our reputation and our brand, which could adversely affect our results of operations and financial condition.
We are subject to capital adequacy and liquidity rules, and if we fail to meet these rules, our business would be adversely affected.
Failure to meet current or future capital or liquidity requirements could compromise our competitive position and could result in restrictions imposed by the Federal Reserve, including limiting our ability to pay dividends, repurchase our capital stock, invest in our business, expand our business or engage in acquisitions.
Some elements of the capital and liquidity regimes are not yet final and certain developments could significantly impact the requirements applicable to financial institutions. For example, the Basel Committee finalized revisions to the standardized approach for credit risk and operational risk capital requirements. If these revisions are adopted in the United States, we could be required to hold significantly more capital. As a result, the ultimate impact on our long-term capital and liquidity planning and our results of operations is not certain, although an increase in our capital and liquid asset levels could lower our return on equity. As part of our required stress testing, we must continue to comply with applicable capital standards as calculated under the standardized approach in the severely adverse economic scenario published by the Federal Reserve each year. To satisfy these requirements, it may be necessary for us to hold additional capital in excess of that required by the Capital Rules.
Compliance with capital adequacy and liquidity rules requires a material investment of resources. An inability to meet regulatory expectations regarding our compliance with applicable capital adequacy and liquidity rules may also negatively impact the assessment of us and our U.S. bank subsidiary by federal banking regulators.
We continue to progress through the parallel run phase of Basel III advanced approaches implementation. To the extent that the advanced approaches requirements apply to us, our capital ratios calculated under the advanced approaches may be lower than under the standardized approach. In such a case, we may need to hold significantly more regulatory capital in order to maintain a given capital ratio.
For more information on capital adequacy requirements, see “Stress Testing and Capital Planning” and “Capital, Leverage and Liquidity Regulation” under “Supervision and Regulation.”
We are subject to restrictions that limit our ability to pay dividends and repurchase our capital stock. Our subsidiaries are also subject to restrictions that limit their ability to pay dividends to us, which may adversely affect our liquidity.
We are limited in our ability to pay dividends and repurchase capital stock by our regulators, who have broad authority to prohibit any action that would be considered an unsafe or unsound banking practice. For example, we are subject to a requirement to submit capital plans that include, among other things, projected dividend payments and repurchases of capital stock to the Federal Reserve for review. As part of the capital planning and stress testing process, our proposed capital actions are assessed against our ability to satisfy applicable capital requirements in the event of a stressed market environment. If the Federal Reserve objects to our capital plan or if we fail to satisfy applicable capital requirements, our ability to undertake capital actions may be restricted.
In addition, the Capital Rules include buffers that can be satisfied only with CET1 capital. If our risk-based capital ratios were to fall below the applicable buffer levels, we would be subject to certain restrictions on dividends, stock repurchases and other capital distributions, as well as discretionary bonus payments to executive officers.
Our ability to declare or pay dividends on, or to purchase, redeem or otherwise acquire, shares of our common stock will be prohibited, subject to certain exceptions, in the event that we do not declare and pay in full dividends for the last preceding dividend period of our Series B and Series C preferred stock.
American Express Company relies on dividends from its subsidiaries for liquidity, and federal and state laws, regulations and supervisory policy limit the amount of dividends that our subsidiaries may pay to the parent company. For example, our U.S. bank subsidiary, AENB, is subject to various statutory and regulatory limitations on its declaration and payment of dividends. These limitations may hinder our ability to access funds we may need to make payments on our obligations, make dividend payments on outstanding American Express Company capital stock or otherwise achieve strategic objectives.
Any reduction of, or elimination of, our common stock dividend or share repurchase program would likely adversely affect the market price of our common stock and market perceptions of American Express. For more information on bank holding company and depository institution dividend restrictions, see “Dividends and Other Capital Distributions” under “Supervision and Regulation,” as well as “Consolidated Capital Resources and Liquidity—Share Repurchases and Dividends” under “MD&A” and Note 23 to our “Consolidated Financial Statements.”
Regulation in the areas of privacy, data protection, account access and information and cyber security could increase our costs and affect or limit our business opportunities and how we collect and/or use personal information.
Legislators and regulators in the United States and other countries in which we operate are increasingly adopting or revising privacy, data protection and information and cyber security laws, including data localization, authentication and account access laws. As such laws are interpreted and applied (in some cases, with significant differences or conflicting requirements across jurisdictions), compliance and technology costs will continue to increase, particularly in the context of ensuring that adequate data protection, data transfer and account access mechanisms are in place.
Compliance with current or future privacy, data protection, account access and information and cyber security laws could significantly impact our collection, use, sharing, retention and safeguarding of consumer and/or employee information and could restrict our ability to fully maximize our closed-loop capability or provide certain products and services, which could materially and adversely affect our profitability.
Our failure to comply with privacy, data protection, account access and information and cyber security laws could result in potentially significant regulatory and/or governmental investigations and/or actions, litigation, fines, sanctions, ongoing regulatory monitoring, customer attrition, decreases in the use or acceptance of our cards and damage to our reputation and our brand. In recent years, there has been increasing regulatory enforcement and litigation activity in the areas of privacy, data protection and information and cyber security in the United States and in various countries in which we operate.
For more information on regulatory and legislative activity in this area, see “Privacy, Data Protection, Information and Cyber Security” under “Supervision and Regulation.”
We may not be able to effectively manage the operational, conduct and compliance risks to which we are exposed.
We consider operational risk to be the risk of not achieving business objectives due to inadequate or failed processes or information systems, poor data quality, human error or the external environment (e.g., natural disasters). Operational risk includes, among others, the risk that error or misconduct could result in a material financial misstatement, a failure to monitor a third party’s compliance with regulatory or legal requirements, or a failure to adequately monitor and control access to, or use of, data in our systems we grant to third-parties. As processes or organizations are changed, or new products and services are introduced, we may not fully appreciate or identify new operational risks that may arise from such changes. Through human error, fraud or malfeasance, conduct risk can result in harm to customers, broader markets and the company and its employees.
Compliance risk arises from the failure to adhere to applicable laws, rules, regulations and internal policies and procedures. Operational, conduct and compliance risks can expose us to reputational and legal risks as well as fines, civil money penalties or payment of damages and can lead to diminished business opportunities and diminished ability to expand key operations.
If we are not able to protect our intellectual property, or successfully defend against any infringement or misappropriation assertions brought against us, our revenue and profitability could be negatively affected.
We rely on a variety of measures to protect our intellectual property and control access to, and distribution of, our proprietary information. These measures may not prevent infringement of our intellectual property rights or misappropriation of our proprietary information and a resulting loss of competitive advantage. In addition, competitors or other third parties may allege that our systems, processes or technologies infringe on their intellectual property rights. Given the complex, rapidly changing and competitive technological and business environments in which we operate, and the potential risks and uncertainties of intellectual property-related litigation, a future assertion of an infringement or misappropriation claim against us could cause us to lose significant revenues, incur significant defense, license, royalty or technology development expenses, and/or pay significant monetary damages.
Tax legislative initiatives or assessments by governmental authorities could adversely affect our results of operations and financial condition.
We are subject to income and other taxes in the United States and in various foreign jurisdictions. The laws and regulations related to tax matters are extremely complex and subject to varying interpretations. Although management believes our positions are reasonable, we are subject to audit by the Internal Revenue Service in the United States and by tax authorities in all the jurisdictions in which we conduct business operations. We are being challenged in a number of countries regarding our application of value-added taxes (VAT) to certain transactions. While we believe we comply with all applicable VAT and other tax laws, rules and regulations in the relevant jurisdictions, the tax authorities may determine that we owe additional taxes or apply existing laws and regulations more broadly, which could result in a significant increase in liabilities for taxes and interest in excess of accrued liabilities.
New tax legislative initiatives may be proposed from time to time, which may impact our effective tax rate and could adversely affect our tax positions or tax liabilities. New guidance or modifications to the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017 (the Tax Act) could have an adverse effect on our results of operations. In addition, unilateral or multi-jurisdictional actions by various tax authorities, including an increase in tax audit activity, could have an adverse impact on our tax liabilities.
Changes in accounting principles or standards could adversely affect our reported financial results in a particular period, even if there are no underlying changes in the economics of the business.
We are subject to changes in and interpretations of financial accounting matters, which could change certain of the assumptions or estimates we previously used in preparing our financial statements, even if we do not change the way in which we transact or conduct our business. A change in accounting guidance can have a significant effect on our reported results, may retroactively affect previously reported results and could cause fluctuations in our reported results. For more information on recently issued accounting standards, see Note 1 to our “Consolidated Financial Statements.”
Credit, Liquidity and Market Risks
Our risk management policies and procedures may not be effective.
Our risk management framework seeks to identify and mitigate risk and appropriately balance risk and return. We have established policies and procedures intended to identify, monitor and manage the types of risk to which we are subject, including credit risk, market risk, asset liability risk, liquidity risk, operational risk, compliance risk, model risk, strategic and business risk and reputational risk. See “Risk Management” under “MD&A” for a discussion of the policies and procedures we use to identify, monitor and manage the risks we assume in conducting our businesses. Although we have devoted significant resources to develop our risk management policies and procedures and expect to continue to do so in the future, these policies and procedures, as well as our risk management techniques, such as our hedging strategies, may not be fully effective. There may also be risks that exist, or develop in the future, that we have not appropriately anticipated, identified or mitigated. As regulations and markets in which we operate continue to evolve, our risk management framework may not always keep sufficient pace with those changes. If our risk management framework does not effectively identify or mitigate our risks, we could suffer unexpected losses and could be materially adversely affected.
Management of our risks in some cases depends upon the use of analytical and/or forecasting models. Although we have a governance framework for model development and independent model validation, the modeling methodology or key assumptions could be erroneous or the models could be misused. In addition, issues with the quality or effectiveness of our data aggregation and validation procedures, as well as the quality and integrity of data inputs, could result in ineffective or inaccurate model outputs and reports. For example, models based on historical data sets might not be accurate predictors of future outcomes and their ability to appropriately predict future outcomes may degrade over time. If our decisions are based on incorrect or misused models and assumptions or we fail to manage data inputs effectively and to aggregate or analyze data in an accurate and timely manner, we may face adverse consequences, such as financial loss, poor business and strategic decision-making, or damage to our reputation. In addition, some decisions our regulators make, including those related to our capital distribution plans, may be adversely impacted if they perceive the quality of our models to be insufficient.
We may not be able to effectively manage individual or institutional credit risk, or credit trends that can affect spending on card products and the ability of customers and partners to pay us, which could have a material adverse effect on our results of operations and financial condition.
We are exposed to both individual credit risk, principally from consumer and small business Card Member receivables and loans, and institutional credit risk from corporate Card Member receivables and loans, merchants, network partners, loyalty coalition partners and treasury and investment counterparties. Third parties may default on their obligations to us due to bankruptcy, lack of liquidity, operational failure or other reasons. General economic factors, such as the rate of inflation, unemployment levels and interest rates, may result in greater delinquencies that lead to greater credit losses. Country, regional and political risks can also contribute to credit risk. A customer’s ability and willingness to repay us can be negatively impacted not only by economic, market, political and social conditions but also a customer’s other payment obligations.
Our ability to assess creditworthiness may be impaired if the criteria or models we use to manage our credit risk prove inaccurate in predicting future losses, which could cause our losses to rise and have a negative impact on our results of operations. Further, our pricing strategies may not offset the negative impact on profitability caused by increases in delinquencies and losses; thus any material increases in delinquencies and losses beyond our current estimates could have a material adverse impact on us.
Rising delinquencies and rising rates of bankruptcy are often precursors of future write-offs and may require us to increase our reserve for loan losses. Higher write-off rates and the resulting increase in our reserves for loan and receivable losses adversely affect our profitability and the performance of our securitizations, and may increase our cost of funds.
Although we make estimates to provide for credit losses in our outstanding portfolio of loans and receivables, these estimates may not be accurate. In addition, the information we use in managing our credit risk may be inaccurate or incomplete. Although we regularly review our credit exposure to specific clients and counterparties and to specific industries, countries and regions that we believe may present credit concerns, default risk may arise from events or circumstances that are difficult to foresee or detect, such as fraud. In addition, our ability to manage credit risk may be adversely affected by legal or regulatory changes (such as restrictions on collections or changes in bankruptcy laws, minimum payment regulations and re-age guidance). Increased credit risk, whether resulting from underestimating the credit losses inherent in our portfolio of loans and receivables, deteriorating economic conditions (particularly in the United States where approximately 74 percent of our revenues were generated in 2018), increases in the level of loan balances, changes in our mix of business or otherwise, could require us to increase our provisions for losses and could have a material adverse effect on our results of operations and financial condition.
Continued interest rate increases and changes to reference rates could materially adversely affect our earnings.
If the rate of interest we pay on our borrowings increases more than the rate of interest we earn on our loans, our net interest yield, and consequently our net income, could fall. Our interest expense was approximately $2.9 billion for the year ended December 31, 2018. A hypothetical 100 basis point increase in market interest rates would have resulted in a decrease to our annual net interest income of approximately $177 million as of December 31, 2018. We expect the rates we pay on our deposits will increase as benchmark interest rates increase. In addition, interest rate changes may affect customer behavior, such as impacting the loan balances Card Members carry on their credit cards or their ability to make payments as higher interest rates lead to higher payment requirements, further impacting our results of operations.
As a result of recent regulatory and other legal proceedings, actions by regulators or law enforcement agencies may result in changes to the manner in which the London interbank offered rate (LIBOR) is determined, its discontinuance or the establishment of alternative reference rates. At this time, it is not possible to predict the effect that these developments, any discontinuance, modification or other reforms to LIBOR or any other reference rate, the establishment of alternative reference rates, or the impact of any such events on contractual mechanisms may have on the markets, us or our floating rate debt securities. Uncertainty as to the nature of such potential discontinuance, modification, alternative reference rates or other reforms may negatively impact market liquidity, our access to funding required to operate our business and the trading market for our floating rate debt securities. Furthermore, the use of alternative reference rates or other reforms could cause the interest payable on our outstanding floating rate debt securities to be materially different, and potentially higher, than expected.
For a further discussion of our interest rate risk, see “Risk Management ― Market Risk Management Process” under “MD&A.”
Adverse financial market conditions may significantly affect our ability to meet liquidity needs, access to capital and cost of capital.
We need liquidity to pay merchants, operating and other expenses, interest on debt and dividends on capital stock and to repay maturing liabilities. The principal sources of our liquidity are payments from Card Members, proceeds from the issuance of unsecured medium- and long-term notes and asset securitizations and direct and third-party sourced deposits, cash flows from our investment portfolio, cash and cash equivalents, securitized borrowings through our secured financing facilities, a committed bank borrowing facility and the Federal Reserve discount window.
Our ability to obtain financing in the debt capital markets for unsecured term debt and asset securitizations is dependent on market conditions. Disruptions, uncertainty or volatility across the financial markets, as well as adverse developments affecting our competitors and the financial industry generally, could negatively impact market liquidity and limit our access to funding required to operate our business. Such market conditions may also limit our ability to replace, in a timely manner, maturing liabilities, satisfy regulatory capital requirements and access the funding necessary to grow our business. In some circumstances, we may incur an unattractive cost to raise capital, which could decrease profitability and significantly reduce financial flexibility.
For a further discussion of our liquidity and funding needs, see “Consolidated Capital Resources and Liquidity ― Funding Programs and Activities” under “MD&A.”
Any reduction in our and our subsidiaries’ credit ratings could increase the cost of our funding from, and restrict our access to, the capital markets and have a material adverse effect on our results of operations and financial condition.
Rating agencies regularly evaluate us and our subsidiaries, and their ratings of our and our subsidiaries’ long-term and short-term debt and deposits are based on a number of factors, including financial strength, as well as factors not within our control, including conditions affecting the financial services industry generally, and the wider state of the economy. Our and our subsidiaries’ ratings could be downgraded at any time and without any notice by any of the rating agencies, which could, among other things, adversely limit our access to the capital markets and adversely affect the cost and other terms upon which we and our subsidiaries are able to obtain funding.
Adverse currency fluctuations and foreign exchange controls could decrease earnings we receive from our international operations and impact our capital.
During 2018, approximately 26 percent of our total revenues net of interest expense were generated from activities outside the United States. We are exposed to foreign exchange risk from our international operations, and accordingly the revenue we generate outside the United States is subject to unpredictable fluctuations if the values of other currencies change relative to the U.S. dollar (including as a result of Brexit), which could have a material adverse effect on our results of operations.
Foreign exchange regulations or capital controls might restrict or prohibit the conversion of other currencies into U.S. dollars or our ability to transfer them. Political and economic conditions in other countries could also impact the availability of foreign exchange for the payment by the local card issuer of obligations arising out of local Card Members’ spending outside such country and for the payment by Card Members who are billed in a currency other than their local currency. Substantial and sudden devaluation of local Card Members’ currency can also affect their ability to make payments to the local issuer of the card in connection with spending outside the local country. The occurrence of any of these circumstances could further impact our results of operations.
Continuing concerns regarding the euro may cause the value of the euro to continue to fluctuate and could lead to the reintroduction of individual currencies in one or more Eurozone countries, or, in more extreme circumstances, the possible dissolution of the euro currency entirely. The reintroduction of certain individual country currencies, a significant devaluation of the euro or the complete dissolution of the euro could adversely affect the value of our euro-denominated assets and liabilities.
Potential developments regarding the euro could also have an adverse impact on consumer and business behavior in Europe and globally, which could have a material adverse effect on our business, financial condition and results of operations.
An inability to accept or maintain deposits due to market demand or regulatory constraints could materially adversely affect our liquidity position and our ability to fund our business.
Our U.S. bank subsidiary, AENB, accepts deposits directly from consumers through American Express Personal Savings, as well as from individuals through third-party brokerage networks, and uses the proceeds as a source of funding. As of December 31, 2018, we had approximately $69.1 billion in total U.S. retail deposits, of which a significant amount had been raised through third-party brokerage networks. We face strong competition with regard to deposits, and pricing and product changes may adversely affect our ability to attract and retain cost-effective deposit balances. If we are required to offer higher interest rates to attract or maintain deposits, our funding costs will be adversely impacted.
Our ability to obtain deposit funding and offer competitive interest rates on deposits is also dependent on AENB’s capital levels. The FDIA’s brokered deposit provisions and related FDIC rules in certain circumstances prohibit banks from accepting or renewing brokered deposits and apply other restrictions, such as a cap on interest rates that can be paid. Additionally, our regulators can adjust applicable capital requirements at any time and have authority to place limitations on our deposit businesses. An inability to attract or maintain deposits in the future could materially adversely affect our ability to fund our business.
The value of our assets or liabilities may be adversely impacted by economic, political or market conditions.
Market risk includes the loss in value of portfolios and financial instruments due to adverse changes in market variables, which could negatively impact our financial condition. We held approximately $4.7 billion of investment securities as of December 31, 2018. In the event that actual default rates of these investment securities were to significantly change from historical patterns due to economic conditions or otherwise, it could have a material adverse impact on the value of our investment portfolio, potentially resulting in impairment charges. Defaults or economic disruptions, even in countries or territories in which we do not have material investment exposure, conduct business or have operations, could adversely affect us.
UNRESOLVED STAFF COMMENTS
Our principal executive offices are in a 2.2 million square foot building located in lower Manhattan on land leased from the Battery Park City Authority for a term expiring in 2069. We have an approximately 49 percent ownership interest in the building and an affiliate of Brookfield Financial Properties owns the remaining approximately 51 percent interest in the building. We also lease space in the building from Brookfield’s affiliate.
Other owned or leased principal locations include American Express offices in Sunrise, Florida, Phoenix, Arizona, Salt Lake City, Utah, Mexico City, Mexico, Sydney, Australia, Singapore, Gurgaon, India, Manila, Philippines, and Brighton, England; the American Express data centers in Phoenix, Arizona and Greensboro, North Carolina; the headquarters for American Express Services Europe Limited in London, England; and the Amex Bank of Canada and Amex Canada Inc. headquarters in Toronto, Ontario, Canada.
Generally, we lease the premises we occupy in other locations. We believe the facilities we own or occupy suit our needs and are well maintained.
In the ordinary course of business, we are subject to various pending and potential legal actions, arbitration proceedings, claims, investigations, examinations, information gathering requests, subpoenas, inquiries and matters relating to compliance with laws and regulations (collectively, legal proceedings).
We do not believe we are a party to, nor are any of our properties the subject of, any legal proceeding that would have a material adverse effect on our consolidated financial condition or liquidity. However, in light of the uncertainties involved in such matters, including the fact that some pending legal proceedings are at preliminary stages and seek an indeterminate amount of damages, it is possible that the outcome of legal proceedings could have a material impact on our results of operations. In addition, it is possible that significantly increased merchant steering or other actions impairing the Card Member experience as a result of an adverse resolution in one or any combination of the merchant cases described below could have a material adverse effect on our business. Certain legal proceedings involving us or our subsidiaries are described below. For additional information, see Note 13 to our “Consolidated Financial Statements.”
Individual merchant cases and a putative merchant class action, which were consolidated in 2011 and collectively captioned In re: American Express Anti-Steering Rules Antitrust Litigation (II), are pending in the Eastern District of New York against us alleging that provisions in our merchant agreements prohibiting merchants from differentially surcharging our cards or steering a customer to use another network’s card or another type of general-purpose card (“anti-steering” and “non-discrimination” contractual provisions) violate U.S. antitrust laws. The individual merchant cases seek damages in unspecified amounts and injunctive relief. Following the Supreme Court decision in Ohio v. American Express Co. in favor of American Express, plaintiffs in both the individual merchant cases and the putative merchant class action filed amended complaints. Trial has been scheduled in the individual merchant cases for June 2019.
In July 2004, we were named as a defendant in another putative class action filed in the Southern District of New York and subsequently transferred to the Eastern District of New York, captioned The Marcus Corporation v. American Express Co., et al., in which the plaintiffs allege an unlawful antitrust tying arrangement between certain of our charge cards and credit cards in violation of various state and federal laws. The plaintiffs in this action seek injunctive relief and an unspecified amount of damages.
On March 8, 2016, plaintiffs B&R Supermarket, Inc. d/b/a Milam’s Market and Grove Liquors LLC, on behalf of themselves and others, filed a suit, captioned B&R Supermarket, Inc. d/b/a Milam’s Market, et al. v. Visa Inc., et al., for violations of the Sherman Antitrust Act, the Clayton Antitrust Act, California’s Cartwright Act and unjust enrichment in the United States District Court for the Northern District of California, against American Express Company, other credit and charge card networks, other issuing banks and EMVCo, LLC. Plaintiffs allege that the defendants, through EMVCo, conspired to shift liability for fraudulent, faulty and otherwise rejected consumer credit card transactions from themselves to merchants after the implementation of EMV chip payment terminals. Plaintiffs seek damages and injunctive relief. An amended complaint was filed on July 15, 2016. On September 30, 2016, the court denied our motion to dismiss as to claims brought by merchants who do not accept American Express cards, and on May 4, 2017, the California court transferred the case to the United States District Court for the Eastern District of New York.
On July 30, 2015, plaintiff Plumbers and Steamfitters Local 137 Pension Fund, on behalf of themselves and other purchasers of American Express stock, filed a suit, captioned Plumbers and Steamfitters Local 137 Pension Fund v. American Express Co., Kenneth I. Chenault and Jeffrey C. Campbell, in the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York for violation of federal securities law, alleging that the Company deliberately issued false and misleading statements to, and omitted important information from, the public relating to the financial importance of the Costco cobrand relationship to the Company, including, but not limited to, the decision to accelerate negotiations to renew the cobrand agreement. The plaintiff sought damages and injunctive relief. On October 2, 2017, the Court granted defendants’ motion to dismiss the plaintiff’s amended complaint. The plaintiff has appealed the court’s decision.
MARKET FOR REGISTRANT’S COMMON EQUITY, RELATED STOCKHOLDER MATTERS AND ISSUER PURCHASES OF EQUITY SECURITIES
Our common stock trades principally on The New York Stock Exchange under the trading symbol AXP. As of December 31, 2018, we had 21,078 common shareholders of record. You can find price and dividend information concerning our common stock in Note 27 to our “Consolidated Financial Statements.” For information on dividend restrictions, see “Dividends and Other Capital Distributions” under “Supervision and Regulation” and Note 23 to our “Consolidated Financial Statements.” You can find information on securities authorized for issuance under our equity compensation plans under the caption “Executive Compensation — Equity Compensation Plans” to be contained in our definitive 2019 proxy statement for our Annual Meeting of Shareholders, which is scheduled to be held on May 7, 2019. The information to be found under such caption is incorporated herein by reference. Our definitive 2019 proxy statement for our Annual Meeting of Shareholders is expected to be filed with the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) in March 2019 (and, in any event, not later than 120 days after the close of our most recently completed fiscal year).
Stock Performance Graph
The information contained in this Stock Performance Graph section shall not be deemed to be “soliciting material” or “filed” or incorporated by reference in future filings with the SEC, or subject to the liabilities of Section 18 of the Exchange Act, except to the extent that we specifically incorporate it by reference into a document filed under the Securities Act or the Exchange Act.
The following graph compares the cumulative total shareholder return on our common shares with the total return on the S&P 500 Index and the S&P Financial Index for the last five years. It shows the growth of a $100 investment on December 31, 2013, including the reinvestment of all dividends.
The table below sets forth the information with respect to purchases of our common stock made by or on behalf of us during the quarter ended December 31, 2018.
Total Number of Shares Purchased
Average Price Paid Per Share
Total Number of Shares Purchased as Part of Publicly Announced Plans or Programs(c)
Maximum Number of Shares that May Yet Be Purchased Under the Plans or Programs
October 1-31, 2018
November 1-30, 2018
December 1-31, 2018
On September 26, 2016, the Board of Directors authorized the repurchase of up to 150 million shares of common stock from time to time, subject to market conditions and the Federal Reserve’s non-objection to our capital plans. This authorization replaced the prior repurchase authorization and does not have an expiration date. See “MD&A – Consolidated Capital Resources and Liquidity” for additional information regarding share repurchases.
Includes: (i) shares surrendered by holders of employee stock options who exercised options (granted under our incentive compensation plans) in satisfaction of the exercise price and/or tax withholding obligation of such holders and (ii) restricted shares withheld (under the terms of grants under our incentive compensation plans) to offset tax withholding obligations that occur upon vesting and release of restricted shares. Our incentive compensation plans provide that the value of the shares delivered or attested to, or withheld, be based on the price of our common stock on the date the relevant transaction occurs.
Share purchases under publicly announced programs are made pursuant to open market purchases or privately negotiated transactions (including employee benefit plans) as market conditions warrant and at prices we deem appropriate.
Travelers Cheques outstanding and other prepaid products
Average shareholders' equity to average total assets ratio
Common Share Statistics(e)
Earnings per share:
Net income attributable to common shareholders:(f)
Cash dividends declared per common share
Dividend payout ratio(g)
Book value per common share
Average common shares outstanding (millions):
Shares outstanding at period end (millions)
Number of employees at period end (thousands):
Outside the United States
Number of shareholders of record
Previously disclosed amounts have been restated in conjunction with the adoption of the new revenue recognition standard. Refer to Note 1 to the “Consolidated Financial Statements” for additional information.
Beginning December 1, 2015 through to the sale completion dates, did not reflect provisions for Card Member loans and receivables related to our cobrand partnerships with JetBlue Airways Corporation (JetBlue) and Costco Wholesale Corporation (Costco) in the United States (the HFS portfolios).
Beginning December 1, 2015 through to the sale completion dates, included the valuation allowance adjustment associated with the HFS portfolios.
Return on average equity and return on average assets are calculated by dividing one-year period of net income by one-year average of total shareholders’ equity or total assets, respectively.
Our common stock trades principally on The New York Stock Exchange under the trading symbol AXP.
Represents net income, less earnings allocated to participating share awards and dividends on preferred shares.
Calculated on year’s dividends declared per common share as a percentage of the year’s net income available per common share.
ITEM 7. MANAGEMENT’S DISCUSSION AND ANALYSIS OF FINANCIAL CONDITION AND RESULTS OF OPERATIONS (MD&A)
We are a global services company with three reportable operating segments: Global Consumer Services Group (GCSG), Global Commercial Services (GCS) and Global Merchant and Network Services (GMNS). Corporate functions and certain other businesses and operations are included in Corporate & Other.
The following types of revenue are generated from our various products and services:
Discount revenue, our largest revenue source, primarily represents the amount we earn on transactions occurring at merchants that have entered into a card acceptance agreement with us, or a Global Network Services (GNS) partner or other third-party merchant acquirer, for facilitating transactions between the merchants and Card Members. The amount of fees charged for accepting our cards as payment for goods or services, or merchant discount, varies with, among other factors, the industry in which the merchant does business, the merchant’s overall American Express-related transaction volume, the method of payment, the settlement terms with the merchant, the method of submission of transactions and, in certain instances, the geographic scope for the related card acceptance agreement between the merchant and us (e.g., domestic or global) and the transaction amount. In some instances, an additional flat transaction fee is assessed as part of the merchant discount, and additional fees may be charged such as a variable fee for “non-swiped” card transactions or for transactions using cards issued outside the United States at merchants located in the United States;
Interest on loans, principally represents interest income earned on outstanding balances;
Net card fees, represent revenue earned from annual card membership fees, which vary based on the type of card and the number of cards for each account;
Other fees and commissions, primarily represent Card Member delinquency fees, foreign currency conversion fees charged to Card Members, Membership Rewards program fees, loyalty coalition-related fees, travel commissions and fees, and service fees earned from merchants; and
Other revenue, primarily represents revenues arising from contracts with partners of our Global Network Services (GNS) business (including commissions and signing fees less issuer rate payments), cross-border Card Member spending, ancillary merchant-related fees, insurance premiums earned from Card Members, prepaid card and Travelers Cheque-related revenue and earnings from equity method investments (including the American Express Global Business Travel Joint Venture (the GBT JV)).
For 2018, we reported net income of $6.9 billion and diluted earnings per share of $7.91. This compared to $2.7 billion of net income and $2.99 diluted earnings per share for 2017, and $5.4 billion of net income and $5.61 diluted earnings per share for 2016.
2018 results included:
$496 million of certain discrete tax benefits in the fourth quarter.
2017 results included:
A $2.6 billion tax charge related to the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (the Tax Act) in the fourth quarter.
2016 results included:
A $1.1 billion ($677 million after tax) gain on the sale of Card Member loans and receivables related to our cobrand partnership with Costco in the second quarter;
$410 million ($266 million after tax) of net restructuring charges; and
A $127 million ($79 million after tax) gain on the sale of Card Member loans and receivables related to our cobrand partnership with JetBlue in the first quarter.
We prepare our Consolidated Financial Statements in accordance with accounting principles generally accepted in the United States of America (GAAP). However, certain information included within this report constitutes non-GAAP financial measures. Our calculations of non-GAAP financial measures may differ from the calculations of similarly titled measures by other companies.
On December 22, 2017, the U.S. government enacted comprehensive tax legislation commonly referred to as the Tax Act, which made broad and complex changes to the U.S. federal corporate income tax rules. Most notably, effective January 1, 2018, the Tax Act reduced the U.S. federal statutory corporate income tax rate from 35 percent to 21 percent, introduced a territorial tax system in which future dividends paid from earnings outside the United States to a U.S. corporation are not subject to U.S. federal taxation and imposed new U.S. federal corporate income taxes on certain foreign operations. For 2019, we estimate that our tax rate will be approximately 22 percent, before discrete tax items.
Our results for 2018 reflect strong performance and our focus on, and investment in, our four strategic imperatives – expand our leadership in the premium consumer space, build on our strong position in commercial payments, strengthen our global, integrated network and make American Express an essential part of our customers’ digital lives. Billings and revenue growth reflected momentum across our businesses. We continued to invest in new services and Card Member benefits, new card acquisitions and expanding our merchant network. During the year, we returned a significant amount of capital to our shareholders through our share buyback program and an increase in our dividend, while increasing our capital ratios. Our results also included the benefit of a lower tax provision due to a reduction in the U.S. corporate income tax rate resulting from the Tax Act, along with several discrete tax benefits.
Our worldwide billed business increased 9 percent over the prior year, reflecting strong proprietary billings growth both in the U.S. and internationally, and across customer segments. Proprietary billings growth was driven by increased spending within our premium consumer base, as well as consistent double digit growth throughout the year from our small and medium enterprise business customers. GNS billed business declined due to the ongoing and expected impact of changes in the regulatory environment in the EU and Australia; excluding the billings from those geographies, GNS billed business grew 8 percent year-over-year.
Revenues net of interest expense increased 9 percent, reflecting growth in Card Member spending, net interest income and card fees, partially offset by a year-over-year decline in the average discount rate. We continue to be focused on driving discount revenue growth, not the average discount rate. Card fee revenue saw double digit year-over-year growth and reflected increased engagement from both new and existing customers as a result of the benefits that we have added to our card products around the world.
Card Member loans grew year-over-year, as we continued to expand our lending relationships with existing customers and acquired new Card Members, including the acquisition of the portion of the Hilton cobrand portfolio that we did not previously own (the acquired Hilton portfolio). Provisions for losses increased, reflecting growth in the loan portfolio and a higher lending write-off rate. Write-off rates continue to modestly increase due to ongoing seasoning of our loan portfolio.
Spending on customer engagement (the aggregate of rewards, Card Member services and marketing and business development expenses) increased year-over-year across all categories. Increases in rewards and Card Member services reflected the growth in billings and continued higher levels of investment across many of our premium travel services. Marketing and business development expense increased due to higher spending on growth initiatives, including new card acquisition, our global brand campaign, continued investments in our cobrand partnerships and higher corporate client incentives. While impacted by several discrete items, operating expenses were flat year-over-year and remained well controlled, which allowed for additional investment in customer engagement.
We plan to continue making investments in our business to generate and sustain a strong level of revenue growth, which we believe is the foundation for steady and consistent double-digit EPS growth. While we continue to see some headwinds from an uncertain economic environment, regulation in countries around the world and intense competition, we remain focused on delivering differentiated value to our merchants, Card Members and business partners and delivering appropriate returns to our shareholders.
See “Supervision and Regulation” in “Business” for information on legislative and regulatory changes that could have a material adverse effect on our results of operations and financial condition and “Risk Factors” for information on the potential impacts of economic, political and competitive conditions and certain litigation and regulatory matters on our business.
Effective January 1, 2018, we adopted new revenue recognition guidance using the full retrospective method, which applies the new standard to each prior reporting period presented, starting January 1, 2016. The adoption changed the recognition timing and classification of certain revenues and expenses, including changes to the presentation of certain credit and charge card related costs that were previously netted against discount revenue. The adoption did not have a significant impact on our consolidated financial position, net income, equity or cash flows. Refer to Note 1 to the “Consolidated Financial Statements” for additional information. In addition, we reclassified certain business development expenses, from Other expenses to Marketing and business development expenses, which was not directly attributable to the adoption of the new revenue recognition guidance.
During 2018, we changed the methodology used to allocate certain corporate overhead costs and interest income and expense to the operating segments, and made minor changes to the intercompany settlement process. Prior period amounts have been revised to conform to the current period presentation.
TABLE 1: SUMMARY OF FINANCIAL PERFORMANCE
Years Ended December 31,
(Millions, except percentages and per share amounts)
2018 vs. 2017
2017 vs. 2016
Total revenues net of interest expense
Provisions for losses
Income tax provision
Earnings per common share — diluted(a)
Return on average equity(b)
Effective tax rate (ETR)
Adjustments to ETR(c)
# Denotes a variance greater than 100 percent
Earnings per common share — diluted was reduced by the impact of (i) earnings allocated to participating share awards and other items of $54 million, $21 million and $43 million for the years ended December 31, 2018, 2017 and 2016, respectively, and (ii) dividends on preferred shares of $80 million, $81 million and $80 million for the years ended December 31, 2018, 2017 and 2016, respectively.
Return on average equity (ROE) is computed by dividing (i) one-year period net income ($6.9 billion, $2.7 billion and $5.4 billion for 2018, 2017 and 2016, respectively) by (ii) one-year average total shareholders’ equity ($20.7 billion for 2018 and $20.9 billion for both 2017 and 2016).
(c) The adjusted ETRs for 2018 and 2017 are non-GAAP measures. The 2018 adjusted ETR excludes a benefit of $496 million relating to changes in the tax method of accounting for certain expenses, the resolution of certain prior years’ tax audits, and a final adjustment to our 2017 provisional tax charge related to the Tax Act. The 2017 adjusted ETR excludes the $2.6 billion charge related to the Tax Act. Management believes the adjusted ETRs are useful in evaluating our tax rates in comparison with the other presented periods. Refer to Note 21 of the “Consolidated Financial Statements” for additional information.
TABLE 2: TOTAL REVENUES NET OF INTEREST EXPENSE SUMMARY
Discount revenue increased in both periods, primarily due to growth in billed business, partially offset by decreases in the average discount rate. U.S. billed business increased 10 percent in 2018 compared to 2017 and 1 percent in 2017 compared to 2016. Non-U.S. billed business increased 8 percent in 2018 compared to 2017 and 12 percent in 2017 compared to 2016. See Tables 5 and 6 for more details on billed business performance.
The average discount rate was 2.37 percent, 2.40 percent and 2.43 percent for 2018, 2017 and 2016, respectively. Several factors continued to drive the average discount rate decline, including impacts from decisions we made with respect to certain strategic partners, the impact of regulatory changes in Europe and Australia, and the continued roll out of the OptBlue program, though the impacts began to moderate in the latter half of the year.
Net card fees increased in both periods, primarily driven by growth in the Platinum and Delta portfolios, as well as growth in certain key international countries.
Other fees and commissions increased in both periods, primarily driven by growth in foreign exchange conversion revenue and increases in delinquency fees.
Other revenues decreased in both periods. The decrease in 2018 was partly driven by a modification of one of our GNS arrangements, lower breakage related to our prepaid cards and a decline in revenues related to the GBT JV. The decrease in 2017 was primarily driven by prior-year revenues related to the Loyalty Edge business, which was sold in the fourth quarter of 2016, and a contractual payment from a GNS partner also in the prior year.
Interest income increased in both periods, primarily reflecting higher average Card Member loans and higher yields. The growth in average Card Member loans in 2018 was primarily driven by expanding relationships with existing customers, as well as the inclusion of the acquired Hilton portfolio. The growth in average Card Member loans in 2017 was primarily driven by a mix shift towards non-cobrand lending products, where Card Members tend to revolve more of their loan balances. The increase in yields in both periods was primarily driven by a greater percentage of loans at higher rate buckets, specific pricing actions and increases in benchmark interest rates.
Interest expense increased in both periods, primarily driven by higher interest rates and higher average long-term debt and, additionally in 2018, by higher average deposits.
TABLE 3: PROVISIONS FOR LOSSES SUMMARY
Years Ended December 31,
(Millions, except percentages)
2018 vs. 2017
2017 vs. 2016
Card Member loans
Total provisions for losses
PROVISIONS FOR LOSSES
Charge card provision for losses increased in both periods, primarily driven by growth in receivables due to increased billed business and higher net write-offs, largely in the corporate and small business portfolios.
Card Member loans provision for losses increased in both periods, driven by strong loan growth, higher net write-offs and a modest increase in delinquencies. The increases in write-offs and delinquencies were due in part to the seasoning of recent loan vintages.
Other provision for losses increased in 2018 compared to 2017 and was relatively flat in 2017 compared to 2016. The increase in 2018 was primarily due to growth in the non-card lending and commercial financing portfolios. 2017 compared to 2016 also reflected growth in the non-card lending portfolio, which was offset by improving credit performance in the commercial financing portfolio.
Total marketing, business development, rewards and Card Member services
Salaries and employee benefits
Effective January 1, 2018, includes reclassification of certain business development expenses from Other expenses to Marketing and business development that are not directly attributable to the adoption of the new revenue recognition guidance. Prior periods have been conformed to the current period presentation.
Marketing and business development expense increased in 2018 compared to 2017 and decreased in 2017 compared to 2016. The variances for both periods were primarily driven by lower levels of spending on growth initiatives in 2017 compared to the preceding and subsequent years. The higher spending on growth initiatives in 2018 included our new global brand campaign, continued investments in partnerships, and increased corporate client incentives driven by higher volumes.
Card Member rewards expense increased in both periods. The increase in 2018 was driven by increases in Membership Rewards and cash-back reward expenses of $558 million and cobrand rewards expense of $451 million, both of which were primarily driven by higher spending volumes. The increase in 2017 was primarily driven by higher spending volumes and enhancements to U.S. Consumer and Small Business Platinum rewards during 2017.
The Membership Rewards Ultimate Redemption Rate (URR) for current program participants increased to 96 percent (rounded up) at December 31, 2018, compared to 95 percent (rounded down) at December 31, 2017 and 2016.
Card Member services expense increased in both periods, primarily driven by higher usage of travel-related benefits and enhanced Platinum card benefits.
Salaries and employee benefits expense was flat for both periods, reflecting increases in incentive compensation, offset by lower restructuring charges compared to the respective prior year.
Other expense increased in both periods. The increase in 2018 was primarily driven by higher technology expenses, a loss in the current year on a transaction involving the operations of our prepaid reloadable and gift card business, and a foreign exchange loss related to the devaluation of the Argentine peso, which was deemed a highly inflationary currency as of July 1, 2018, all partially offset by current-year unrealized gains on certain equity investments and charges in the prior year related to our U.S. loyalty coalition and prepaid businesses. The increase in 2017 was primarily driven by gains in 2016 on the sales of the HFS portfolios, which were recognized as an expense reduction, partially offset by lower technology-related costs in 2017 and higher Loyalty Edge-related costs in 2016.
The effective tax rate for 2018 was 14.8 percent and reflects a benefit of $496 million relating to changes in the tax method of accounting for certain expenses, the resolution of certain prior years’ tax audits and an adjustment to the 2017 provisional tax charge related to the Tax Act. The tax rate for 2018 also reflects the reduction in the U.S. federal statutory rate from 35 percent to 21 percent as a result of the Tax Act.
The effective tax rate for 2017 was 63.0 percent and reflects the charge of $2.6 billion related to the Tax Act that was accounted for as a provisional estimate under Staff Accounting Bulletin No. 118. Refer to Note 21 to the “Consolidated Financial Statements” for additional information.
The tax rates in all periods reflect the level of pretax income in relation to recurring permanent tax benefits and the geographic mix of business.
TABLE 5: SELECTED CARD-RELATED STATISTICAL INFORMATION
Years Ended December 31,
2018 vs. 2017
2017 vs. 2016
Billed business: (billions)
Outside the U.S.
Outside the U.S.
Basic cards-in-force: (millions)
Outside the U.S.
Average proprietary basic Card Member spending: (dollars)
Outside the U.S.
Card Member loans: (billions)
Outside the U.S.
Average discount rate(a)
Average fee per card (dollars)(b)
Effective January 1, 2018, we began including billed business related to certain business-to-business products in the calculation of the average discount rate to reflect our expanding business-to-business product offerings. Prior periods have been conformed to the current period presentation.
Average fee per card is computed based on proprietary basic net card fees divided by average proprietary basic cards-in-force.
Percentage Increase (Decrease) Assuming No Changes in FX Rates(a)
Percentage Increase (Decrease)
Percentage Increase (Decrease) Assuming No Changes in FX Rates(a)
Airline-related volume (8% of Worldwide Total for both 2018 and 2017)
T&E-related volume (25% of U.S. Total for both 2018 and 2017)
Non-T&E-related volume (75% of U.S. Total for both 2018 and 2017)
Airline-related volume (7% of U.S. Total for both 2018 and 2017)
Outside the U.S.
Outside the U.S. Total
Japan, Asia Pacific & Australia
Latin America & Canada
Europe, the Middle East & Africa
The foreign currency adjusted information assumes a constant exchange rate between the periods being compared for purposes of currency translation into U.S. dollars (i.e., assumes the foreign exchange rates used to determine results for the current year apply to the corresponding prior year period against which such results are being compared).