A Conversation with Abeer Bhatia, Executive Vice President and CEO of U.S. Loyalty at American Express

Navigator Edition: May 2015

abeer-bhatiaWe had the opportunity to touch base with Abeer Bhatia of American Express about several topics specific to Plenti, American Express’s new coalition loyalty program.

Abeer Bhatia is the EVP and CEO of U.S. Loyalty at American Express. He was responsible for guiding American Express into the coalition loyalty space, including leading the acquisition of Munich, Germany-based Loyalty Partner in 2011. His current responsibilities include building and managing the U.S. coalition loyalty program. His expertise focuses on consumer marketing, merchant-driven digital offers, CRM, and customer loyalty programs. He also has significant experience in the payments card industry, as well as consumer retail across multiple industries.

Prior to American Express, Abeer was at McKinsey & Company, where he advised the leadership of major global public and private institutions on issues ranging from strategy and operations to digital marketing. Before McKinsey & Company, he was at Ernst & Young and spent time in both the audit and financial advisory services groups. He has almost two decades of product development, risk management and consumer marketing experience in the U.S. and in Europe, Latin America, Asia, and Australia.

Abeer is a licensed CPA and has an MBA with honors from the University of Chicago and a BA with honors from Franklin & Marshall College.

Plenti Fob and Card

Plenti Card and Fob

1.  What is the genesis of Plenti? How does it draw on the experience of American Express in other markets or with other concepts?

When we began thinking about launching the first loyalty coalition in the U.S., we were a bit unsure about how the market would react. However, the consumer research showed us very clearly that Americans were overwhelmingly enthusiastic about the concept of earning points in one place and using them at another.

Moreover, we felt we were the right company to operate a program of this kind. American Express has a long history of managing Membership Rewards, co-brand partners, and deep relationships with merchants and consumers. This expertise, coupled with the acquisition of Loyalty Partner in 2011, which operates Payback, the leading multi-partner loyalty program in Germany, Italy, Poland, India, and Mexico, gave us the right combination to start conversations with big brand partners.

2.  How should the market think of Plenti in the context of prior attempts at coalition loyalty in the U.S. versus successful models in other countries?

The evolution of digital and more retail consolidation are two major contributing factors to the U.S.’s readiness for a large scale loyalty coalition. Furthermore, many traditional proprietary retail loyalty programs are beginning to run their course and there is a need for innovation.

In addition, we believe American Express is the right program operator — we have a rich history in servicing customers and merchant partners, deep experience with loyalty programs like Membership Rewards, and a brand that stands for trust and security. We also have great brand partners with large retail footprints, strong brand recognition, and deep commitment to the success of the program.

Finally, we have run very successful coalition loyalty programs across the globe with Payback, which currently has 60 million active members. This expertise has been critical in helping us successfully launch here in the U.S.

3.  How are American Express and its loyalty partners in Plenti uniquely positioned to be successful?

In American Express’ experience, coalition programs work best when there is a range of partners who give consumers a combination of frequency, geographical reach, category breadth, and value.

The nine brand partners we launched the program with encompass these qualities. We feel confident we’re off to a great start, and it’s just the beginning. We plan to add more brands as we continue to grow the program.

4.  Looking forward, how might Plenti evolve in terms of partners, reach, integration with other payment products, etc.?

We expect to see success similar to what we’ve had with Payback in other markets around the world.

It’s just the beginning for Plenti, but so far we’ve had tremendous inbound interest across industries, as many merchants want to be exclusive national partners with Plenti. We expect to add more merchant partners in the future, in categories like general retail, grocery, quick service restaurants, and convenience, among others.

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