American Express announced plans for 5,400 layoffs after the stock market closed Thursday, citing technological changes to existing business lines.
The company also announced a range of unexpected expenses that crimped fourth-quarter earnings, including a $342 million charge to pay future rewards points to card holders.
In a 5 p.m. conference call with investors to discuss the announcements, which came a week before the company plans to report its fourth-quarter earnings, Chief Executive Officer Kenneth Chenault explained the layoffs by stating that technology is transforming the world of commerce.
"The changes are, in many ways, a continuation of the initiatives we've taken across the company … as we've … modernized our technology platforms to improve productivity and improve service quality," Chenault said during the conference call.
"There is a lot that we've done in our card business, there's a lot that we've done in our prepaid business," he added. "If you look at … Serve and the platform that we have there, that has really allowed us to drive things forward."
Serve is Amex's digital wallet, which it ties to a prepaid debit card. Amex also offers a low-fee prepaid card and in October launched the Bluebird prepaid card with Walmart.
The company said that it expects somewhere between 1,600 and 2,900 of the jobs lost to be replaced by the end of 2013. American Express currently has 63,500 employees. Its last major round of layoffs came in 2008 and 2009, when it eliminated roughly 11,000 jobs.
The largest reductions will come in American Express' travel businesses, according to the company. But the job cuts will be spread proportionally between U.S. and international markets, and will cut across seniority levels, businesses and staff groups, the company said.
"Against the backdrop of an uneven economic recovery, these restructuring initiatives are designed to make American Express more nimble, more efficient and more effective in using our resources to drive growth," Chenault said.
Largely to pay severance to laid-off employees, the credit card issuer said it is taking a $400 million restructuring charge.
That was in addition to the $342 million expense due to changes in how American Express calculates the percentage of rewards that its card holders will ultimately redeem.
The company had previously announced that it was reviewing its methodology. As a result of that review, it bumped up its estimated redemption rate from 93% to 94%.
American Express also announced that it plans to reimburse $153 million to its customers in connection with regulatory reviews of the company. That figure includes approximately $28 million in reimbursed late fees, $24 million in reimbursements to card holders who disputed balances on their accounts, and $68 million in bonus rewards that should have been credited to customers.
The affected card holders will be notified of the reimbursements in the coming months.
The company also offered a preview of its fourth-quarter results, which are scheduled to be released in on Jan. 17. Quarterly net income was $637 million, or 56 cents per share, down from $1.2 billion, or $1.01 per share in the same period a year earlier.
The company said that if the unexpected expenses are excluded, fourth quarter adjusted net income was $1.2 billion, or $1.09 per share.
On the positive side, American Express said that credit card spending, revenue growth and credit quality all remained strong in the fourth quarter.
Daniel Wolfe contributed reporting to this story.