TORONTO – The Canadian arm of the American Express Co. is going mobile-first in more than one sense with its newest credit card offering.

Executives with the company told ITBusiness.ca that when developing Cobalt, the company’s new – and, for the time being, Canadian-exclusive – credit card aimed at millennial users, accommodating their habits, including the new generation’s reliance on mobile devices, was top-of-mind for them.

Announced Tuesday, alongside an Instagram-worthy pop-up restaurant curated by celebrity chefs Gordon Ramsay and Antonio Park, the new card features a loyalty point system that provides users with five times the usual number of points on food and drink, including grocery shopping; and twice the points on travel, including mass transit tickets, Uber fares, and taxis.

“We’re trying to usher in the next generation of AmEx card members, and we see a lot of differences in the coming generation,” AmEx vice president of new product development Megan McKee told ITBusiness.ca. “They’re much more tech-savvy, much more social in nature, they prioritize food and travel and entertainment – experiences – over consumer goods, and so we wanted to design a card that spoke to that, basically rewarding people for what they’re already doing instead of trying to alter their behaviour to fit a value proposition that we’ve created.”

American Express vice-president of new product development Megan McKee with Gordon Ramsay at the opening of Ramsay’s AmEx-sponsored pop-up restaurant, Cobalt Social, on Sept. 26, 2017.

To that end, the Cobalt’s accompanying restaurant isn’t the only aspect of AmEx’s new offering that was designed with mobile devices in mind: according to AmEx director of new product development Laura Cocksedge, the card was designed start to finish as a mobile-first experience, with users able to use the Cobalt’s accompanying app to register for the card, verify their identities, track their spending, and use it with mobile payment platforms including Apple Pay, Android Pay, and American Express’s own AmEx Pay.

By millennials, for millennials

Lest you think (as this millennial writer did) that Cobalt was developed by older American Express employees pandering to a younger customer base, Cocksedge is happy to emphasize that isn’t the case.

American Express director of new product development Laura Cocksedge

“I personally am a millennial… and a lot of the people who worked on the project are millennials, so we really designed this card for ourselves,” she said. “We really want it to be a card that we’d be proud to share with our friends.”

The card’s focus on travel and dining out, for example, was influenced by American Express-commissioned research that found more than half of Canadian millennials go out to eat at least four times a month and are willing to spend up to 24 per cent of their monthly income on dining out, and that 70 per cent of millennials travel overnight or longer at least twice a year. More than a third prioritize these activities, according to the research, and report being unwilling to give them up regardless of their budget.

More importantly, Cocksedge said, the generation AmEx was targeting ensured that mobile was a priority right from the beginning, with even the acquisition landing page designed to be mobile-first.

“We have a very specific template that we usually use for creating new landing pages, but for this offering we kind of flipped that process on its head,” she said. “We really wanted mobile to be first, so we worked very collaboratively with all of our digital agencies to design a mobile-capable landing page that functions like no other, and that looks just as nice on mobile as on desktop.”

In addition to being able to apply for and activate the card using their mobile devices, users can redeem loyalty points through Cobalt’s mobile app, and Cocksedge said mobile wallet support was a priority as well.

“I actually already have the Cobalt card in my mobile wallet, and it’s great,” she said.

Asked if Cobalt is a response to other millennial-courting digital transformation efforts, Cocksedge is more coy.

“We wouldn’t necessarily speak to competitors,” she says, “but for us at AmEx, it was a really important segment for us to go after, and something that we internally felt very passionately about.”

The Instagram-worthy awareness campaign, it turns out, was just the cherry on top of a much larger effort (or, in terms better illustrated by the appetizers served by Ramsay’s kitchen, the garnish on the wagyu beef).

Cocksedge next to Cobalt Social’s sideways table. The line to shoot photos at this installation was nearly as long as the one for Ramsay.
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