Amex Goes Upmarket

Joins hunt for rich people—its premium credit card holders, for example.

American Express

Financial Advisors is moving on up … to the people with the deluxe portfolios.

The company is in the midst of rolling out a new initiative, Platinum Financial Services, concentrated on high-net-worth individuals. It's putting together a firm-wide plan to target and serve people with $1 million to $7 million in investable assets.

Some Amex advisors already cater to that crowd, but this program represents a more deliberate push by AEFA into wealth management.

Top advisors attended a seminar in Minneapolis during the second week of March for extensive training. One financial advisor attending the seminar says the new focus will be on “higher-net-worth individuals than typically associated with Amex.”

However, the offering isn't necessarily product-oriented. It's geared around the advice-giving capacity of the firm's best producers, using them to find more clients in need of comprehensive estate, trust and tax planning. Its efforts mirror those of other top financial services firms, including the major wirehouses, in terms of the more deliberate focus on the wealthy.

Jane Lee, vice president in AEFA's affluent planning group, projects that between 10 percent and 20 percent of the company's 11,500 financial advisors will ultimately be involved in this program. “In the past, we did basic comprehensive retirement planning, serving the middle market, and now we want to move that up into the mass affluent,” Lee says.

Lee termed the new offering one of “brand alignment,” bringing the financial services arm in line with the company's various premium credit card offerings. About one-third of the new American Express Financial Advisors customers in 2001 were cardholders, according to Salomon Smith Barney research.

Amex Financial Services had a tough year in 2001, with significant losses related to restructuring costs and heavy exposure to high-yield bonds. Last year, the company rejiggered AEFA by hiring several top-ranked portfolio managers and introducing a wider array of products.

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