Mr. Shangkong
PUBLISHED : Monday, 22 April, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 22 April, 2013, 6:50am

Amex can make a difference if it takes complaints seriously

Card issuer's image takes a beating after decision to cancel exclusive service creates ruffles among privileged few accustomed to such perks


George Chen is Managing Editor for International Edition and Mr. Shangkong Columnist. George has covered China's political and economic changes since 2002. George is the author of two books: This is Hong Kong I Know (2014) and Foreign Banks in China (2011). George has been named a 2014 Yale World Fellow. Follow George on Twitter: @george_chen.

It's no secret that many well-paid bankers are fans of American Express credit cards, which to some have an aura of exclusivity - Visa or MasterCard being considered too common.

But Amex's image has taken a beating in Hong Kong after the firm apparently misguided some clients on insurance products it was selling and after it gave a month's notice that it would stop its signature "Concierge" service for some of its clients.

Earlier this month, Amex Platinum credit-card holders in Hong Kong received a letter from the firm about its surprise decision to cancel the service, which is one of the reasons many of the card's holders are willing to pay the HK$1,600 annual fee.

In the letter, Amex said its "concierge service from restaurant referrals and reservations to flower delivery will be ceased with effect from May 1, 2013".

The letter quickly created a buzz online.

Some friends, including the chief financial officer at a major firm, were curious about why Amex cancelled the service, which the card firm had long been proud of as setting it apart from the rest of the industry.

I called Amex's spokeswoman in Hong Kong for comment, but she failed to give a specific reason for the cancellation.

As a card holder, I then called Amex's customer service hotline. This time I got some clues, which, however, failed to convince me they were the real reasons behind the decision.

A customer service officer said one reason the service was cancelled was that Amex found "very few card holders used this particular service". In other words, providing the service wasted the firm's time and money since it was not important to most of its card users.

Some industry watchers think Amex's move was a cost-saving measure since it is certainly expensive to run a 24-hour call centre for this kind of customer service.

I asked if Amex could provide specific numbers to show how many card holders called its concierge service for restaurant or movie ticket reservations, but the customer service officer declined to do so.

I asked about my annual fee, which I had paid at the beginning of the year. She said Amex would not reduce the annual fee but would provide other new benefits when the time was right. When I asked what kind of new services Amex might offer, she said she could not say for now but I would find out in the future.

Stephen Vines, who writes The Week Explained column for our newspaper, reported last year that Amex was misguiding card holders when selling some insurance products.

"Recently, I realised that two insurance policies purchased via a promotion run by American Express, with payment linked to its cards, were more expensive than comparable products," Vines said in the article in October. Vines finally managed to cancel his insurance policies after a week of phone calls to Amex's hotline.

Many Hongkongers are growing dissatisfied, often for good reason, with the business practices of big firms. How these firms choose to respond can make a significant difference.


George Chen is the Post's financial services editor. Mr. Shangkong appears every Monday in the print version of the SCMP. Like it? Visit


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