American Express delivers explosive Q2 results driven by rewards revamp

By the numbers: In Q2, Amex’s proprietary billed business surged 51% year over year (YoY)—a strong rebound from last quarter, when the metric slipped 9% YoY, that marks a turning point in the issuer’s pandemic recovery. Amex’s volume is nearly back to pre-pandemic levels: Billed business declined just 2% compared with Q2 2019 (Yo2Y).

Here’s a closer look at Amex’s billed business metrics:

  • Goods and services (G&S): Volume for G&S (previously non-T&E) increased 31% YoY (+16% Yo2Y), a marked improvement from Q1, when volume grew just 6% YoY. Improvements in consumer financial health metrics relative to last year—like unemployment and savings—likely translated into strong credit card spending.
  • Travel and entertainment (T&E): Volume skyrocketed 340% YoY (-42% Yo2Y), although this growth strongly correlates with the pandemic’s effects early last year: Most nonessential activities came to a near complete halt in 2020, making even modest spending a dramatic increase from the year before. But T&E volume growth in Q2 outpaced the previous quarter, when the metric dropped 50% YoY.

What helped Amex: The issuer updated card perks earlier this year, which may have induced more spending: In January, Amex launched a slew of new consumer and small-business credit card rewards—including generous statement credits and retail rewards—that ended in June and likely helped prop up Q2 volume. Amex also introduced Membership Week, which took place between June 14 and 18 and offered cardholders experiences and promotions in dining, retail, entertainment, wellness, and travel.

The issuer likely also benefited from Q2’s impressive COVID-19 vaccination rates, which let consumers spend more time outside their homes. This opened up more spending opportunities for consumers—particularly in T&E, which accounted for 18% of Amex’s billed business growth in the quarter.

What’s next? Amex can boost volume and revenues by targeting younger consumers (specifically millennials and Gen Zers), who—along with small businesses—contributed the largest portion of spending growth in Q2, according to Amex CEO Stephen Squeri.

Earlier this year, Squeri said younger consumers were spending at 125% of their pre-coronavirus levels. Amex can cater to this group by launching lifestyle rewards like those seen during Membership Week and by introducing more advanced digital solutions, like the new Amazon-focused digital receipts tool.

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