WASHINGTON — American Express Co. and its travel arm will become the latest converts to the bank holding company charter, the Federal Reserve Board said late Monday.

In approving the applications of Amex and American Express Travel Related Services Co. Inc. to become bank holding companies, the companies will enjoy access to a range of liquidity facilities in exchange for tougher oversight from the Fed. The approval should also ease access for Amex to funds from the Treasury Department's Troubled Asset Relief Program.

The Fed said its approval is dependent on the conversion of Amex's industrial loan company, American Express Centurion Bank, to a traditional bank.

The conversion comes less than two months after Wall Street giants Goldman Sachs and Morgan Stanley successfully petitioned the Fed to become bank holding companies.

In addition to the $25.3 billion-asset ILC, Amex also controls a $25 billion-asset thrift that mostly engages in credit card lending, according to the Fed. Both are based in Salt Lake City, Utah.

The conversion comes roughly two weeks after Amex executives expressed reservations about acquiring a retail bank to help with liquidity concerns. "As we look at becoming, if you will, a retail bank, we think there are other things that go with that, that concern us," Amex chairman and chief executive Kenneth Chenault said on a Oct. 20 investor call.

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