American Express said it has reached “virtual parity” in coverage with Visa and Mastercard in the U.S.
Visa promises it’s “everywhere you want to be.” In the U.S., at least, American Express can now say the same.
After years of trying to persuade more of America’s 30 million small businesses to accept its cards as payment, AmEx in 2019 reached “virtual parity” coverage with Visa and Mastercard in the U.S., American Express Co. Chief Executive Officer Steve Squeri said Friday.
The company added 1 million of its branded decals to U.S. storefronts last year alone, Squeri told analysts on a conference call.
Shares of the company surged 4.5%, the biggest intraday gain in more than a year, to a record $137.25 in New York trading at 9:33 a.m. The company earlier Friday gave a 2020 profit forecast that was higher than many analysts’ estimates.
“After signing millions of merchants in recent years, we’re there,” Chief Financial Officer Jeff Campbell said in a telephone interview. “Our challenge now, which will take some time to change, is perception will lag reality.”
The goal for parity with Visa Inc. and Mastercard Inc. in the U.S. was a vestige of a push started by former AmEx CEO Ken Chenault. He oversaw the creation of the OptBlue program, which seeks to increase acceptance of AmEx by enticing small businesses with lower costs.
The push has weighed on AmEx’s discount rate — a measure of the fees the company charges merchants. Last year, the discount rate was 2.37%, compared with 2.48% five years earlier.