American Express Co. has introduced a new kind of commercial card specifically for corporate meeting planners, whose needs to pay for big-ticket items - such as huge blocks of hotel rooms - often could not be accommodated on standard purchase or travel and entertainment cards.
The American Express Corporate Meeting Card is being issued to the person or people at a company responsible for orchestrating meetings and conferences. Unlike many Amex corporate cards, individual users are not liable for charges placed on the card.
American Express is setting higher credit limits on the meeting card than on other corporate cards, and allowing companies to narrowly authorize the card for certain purchases. As a result, a meeting planner's card could carry a credit limit as high as $2 million to pay for big-ticket items such as hotel conference room reservations, but at the same time could be blocked from making purchases at department stores or auto dealerships. "Some customers request limits or blocks, for example on retail charges," said Tareef Shawa, director of corporate card marketing for Amex. "We can tailor that to customer needs."
Amex counsels customers not to make the cards too restrictive, said Mr. Shawa, or meeting planners may find themselves out of luck if they need to pick up flowers for a guest speaker, for instance, then find the purchase blocked.
Though corporate meeting planners have carried American Express cards for years, they said there were some payment tasks the cards could not accommodate, usually because the cost was beyond the card's credit limit. For instance, usually hotels send invoices to companies that book conference rooms and other room blocks, and then the companies pay the hotel by check.
In addition to the high credit limit, the card bears a large logo that signifies the cardholder's status as the main person authorized to spend money on a company's behalf for meeting expenses. Amex hopes these features will encourage meeting planners to charge on the card the large meeting expenses that are typically paid by check.
Amex has refined the meeting card with the help of a pilot test group of several hundred meeting planners who have been using the card for several months. The test group said they enjoyed the status and utility of the card, and the fact that they receive monthly detailed statements of all charges, according to American Express.
Mr. Shawa said the company will continue to do research on further statement customization, including the possibility of allowing cardholders to designate charges for specific meetings, to ease their bookkeeping chores. Though Amex does not charge for custom reports, Mr. Shawa held out the possibility of such charges for highly customized reporting services.
Mr. Shawa said the card will be welcomed by merchants, too.
"Many of our merchant partners will aggressively seek payment for meetings on American Express," Mr. Shawa predicted. He said merchants will appreciate getting payment more quickly and not having to carry the accounts on the books, mailing monthly statements until invoices are paid.
Calling the potential market for the card "fairly finite," Mr. Shawa said Amex would shun mass marketing for the new card, and would focus instead on trade publications and shows, as well as listing the card on its Web site. One organization for meeting planners, Meeting Professionals International, based in Dallas, has 17,000 members worldwide, suggesting the pilot card base of several hundred may in fact represent a significant portion of the potential market for the card.
Regan Hutton, senior vice president of sales for corporate payment systems for U.S. Bancorp, the largest bank issuer of commercial cards, said his bank does not offer meeting cards as such, but said, "We have event planners with cards with a $1 million credit limit."
Mr. Hutton called a specialized card for meeting planners "a terrific idea." He said U.S. Bancorp routinely confers with meeting planners of its 253 Fortune 500 customers to customize their company credit cards.
In addition to high credit limits and the ability to block merchant categories or even individual merchants, Mr. Hutton said, the detailed statements give cardholders "negotiation ability."
"If you spend $1 million with a hotel chain, you are aware of that and can negotiate better prices," he said.