American Express is pursuing a new chief financial officer to help it manage the opportunities and financial stress borne by the future of digital commerce and emerging merchant acquisition strategies.
Daniel T. Henry, Amex's CFO, plans to retire later this year. When he does, his successor will inherit a company that's tasked with warding off its well-heeled traditional competitors as well as position the company to take advantage of new technology and strategies to reach merchants and consumers.
"American Express has different challenges than the other networks in the market because they are structured completely differently," says Madeline Aufseeser, a senior analyst at Aite Group. "Not only is American Express a network akin to Visa and MasterCard, but they also act as an issuer and acquirer such as the banks."
Amex doesn't change top executives very often, but it recently revised its top-level roster with the naming of Edward P. Gilligan as president, which was previously a vacant role.
Henry, 64, will help Amex find a new CFO. The search won't be easy, given the range of tech, business, legal and financial skills that payments CFOs must possess, analysts say.
"You need to have a renaissance CFO, who's well versed in a number of topics," says Richard Crone, a payments consultant. "With the regulatory pressure increasing on all card networks, the CFO role came into a more prominent role than just managing the normal financial operations of the business."
An example of such an exec is William Sheedy, Crone says. Sheedy is group president of the Americas for Visa, and he played a role in Visa's corporate restructuring in 2007 and 2008.
American Express would not make Henry or CEO Kenneth Chenault available for an interview. In a statement to American Express' staff, Chenault praised Henry for helping the company manage the economic challenges of recent years.
"He helped American Express successfully navigate through the financial crisis of 2008-09," said Chenault. "At a time of widespread instability in the markets, American Express was able to move away from a reliance on short-term debt and build a stable deposit base of more than $40 billion. While sectors of the economy were collapsing, we remained profitable. And while others retrenched, we were able to allocate resources to initiatives that kept us in position to successfully grow the business coming out of the recession."
American Express' recent moves, such as its Bluebird prepaid card partnership with Walmart, have attracted a new audience for Amex products.. Other Amex marketing moves include a Facebook application, an in-game quest for Zynga's Farmville, a "Card Sync" offer system tied to social media, and a textbook partnership with student hub Chegg.
That, plus some corporate restructuring — the company is cutting about 5,000 jobs — led to first quarter earnings that beat analysts' expectations.
"Certainly the world has changed in the last five years," says Gareth Lodge, a senior analyst at Celent. "The next five years will be equally critical … [Henry's] successor, as part of the senior team, will have a vital role to play,"
As strategic partnerships play a larger role, Amex's CFO will be required to understand digital commerce, mobile technology and social networking.
"It will be a challenge to find the talent that understands the numbers, but also the strategic impact of changes," Crone says. "The biggest impact will be mobile."