Four months after buying GE Money's corporate card unit, American Express Co. has expanded further in that space by acquiring a minority stake in a company whose widely used expense management service will be paired with Amex's corporate card operations.
American Express, which paid $1.1 billion for the GE card unit in March, said Tuesday that it paid $251 million in cash for a 13% stake in Concur Technologies Inc., which says it is the largest provider of travel-and-entertainment management services.
The deal includes a marketing partnership that calls for Concur to promote Amex's corporate cards exclusively to its customers and for Amex to promote Concur's services exclusively to its corporate clients.
The agreement is a reunion of sorts for Amex, which sold a "small investment" in Concur in the late 1990s, according to Amex spokeswoman Gail Wasserman.
Philip J. Philliou, a partner at the New York payments consulting firm Philliou Selwanes Partners LLC, said the investment was "a clever strategy" for Amex and "underscores how competitive the corporate card market is."
"The way you differentiate yourself going after corporate card business is in pricing, in data, and in ease of use in systems like Concur," said Mr. Philliou, a former executive at MasterCard and Amex. "If you're an existing Concur client and your card contract is up for renewal," the knowledge that "Concur is working exclusively with Amex ... will be a strong indicator" to consider switching issuers.
"I actually commend them for sticking to their guns in this changing economic environment. It underscores American Express' belief in the viability of the corporate card segment as a strong producer for them," Mr. Philliou said. The investment is "another way to capture more of the middle market, which is a growing piece of the corporate card market."
Andrew Bartolini, the group director for global supply management research at Aberdeen Group in Boston, called the deal a "big win for both companies," but said that Concur's dominance in the expense management field might mean that Amex benefits a little more. "The Concur solution is more unique," he said. "There are fewer Concurs out there than there are" corporate card issuers.
On top of the GE Money purchase, the Concur stake is a "smart investment," Mr. Bartolini said. "They're doubling down, they're focusing significant time, effort, and dollars in the corporate world."
Anre Williams, the president of Amex's global commercial card and services business, said in a video for investors posted Tuesday on Concur's Web site that Amex "will have a hand in the growth of the expense-management industry, where we see tremendous opportunity for our business." Ms. Wasserman said he was not available for interviews Tuesday.
Steve Singh, Concur's chairman and chief executive, said in an interview that the Redmond, Wash., company has more than 7,000 customers, but they account for less than 2% of his target market, companies with more than 75 employees.
"To get from 2% market penetration to 20% market penetration is our goal, and American Express obviously benefits as we increase market penetration."
On a conference call with investors Tuesday, Mr. Singh said that the benefits of jointly promoting his services and Amex's cards would include more cardholders and higher spending levels. "Usage of the corporate card tends to increase when a customer has both expense management and corporate card in place," he said.
Amex and Concur said the partnership would enable them to reach a broad base of clients who currently rely on paper or spreadsheets to track their employees' expenses, rather than integrated systems like Concur's.
Mr. Singh said Concur's services offer "far greater capacity to analyze the data around spend," a capability that "in this environment, is very, very important."
The agreement does not prevent either company from working with other providers; Amex said it will continue to provide spending data to corporations that use other expense management systems, and Concur said it would continue to serve clients that use corporate cards offered by rival card companies.
John Torrey, an executive vice president for Concur, said "we will exclusively offer, promote, and market American Express' corporate payment systems to our customers," but "ultimately the customer makes the choice" about which card to use. "We would not turn down a customer for that."
Amex also received a warrant to buy up to another 1.28 million shares, up to 15.2% of the company. Ed Gilligan, Amex's vice chairman, will be appointed to Concur's board as part of the investment, but Mr. Singh said the deal is not a prelude to an outright sale of Concur to Amex.