Case Study: The AI Revolution at American Express

Background

American Express (AmEx) has been an esteemed player in the financial services sector for many years. Recognizing the transformative potential of artificial intelligence (AI), AmEx has started to weave AI technologies into its operations, particularly in customer service and financial product offerings. As part of its technology-forward approach, AmEx has collaborated with global tech giants like Microsoft, aiming to optimize and innovate various business aspects.

Key Takeaways

  • American Express recognizes the crucial role of customer service in customer retention, and has integrated machine learning into several customer-facing functions.
  • Through their proprietary NLP-based customer service solution, NOVA, they have automated many customer service applications such as transcribing voice to text, processing travel bookings, and automating customer service chats.
  • While AI automates a significant portion of customer queries, American Express understands the importance of human touch and seamlessly transitions complex queries to live customer care professionals.
  • American Express’s partnership with Microsoft aims to harness the power of AI to transform the tedious process of filing and auditing corporate expense reports, promising more accuracy and efficiency.
  • The company, in alignment with industry trends, is exploring generative AI capabilities, particularly in analyzing customer sentiments and predicting consumer finances, but remains cautious about jumping on every tech trend, choosing strategic partnerships over in-house large language model developments.

Deep Dive: The AI Revolution at American Express

Approach

AmEx’s approach to AI is multi-faceted. From utilizing natural language processing (NLP) for customer service applications like voice transcription, chat automation, and email classification, to embracing machine learning for transaction approvals and sentiment analysis. They emphasize both internal development, as seen with their proprietary system NOVA, and external partnerships, evident in their collaboration with Microsoft.

Implementation

One of the standout implementations is NOVA, which supports a multitude of AmEx’s customer service functions. For instance, when processing travel bookings, AmEx uses a BERT model for intent recognition and another for extracting desired itineraries. Another significant advancement is their AI-powered solution for expense management in collaboration with Microsoft. Employees can snap photos of receipts, and the system, leveraging machine learning, assigns a risk score based on various parameters, optimizing the expense approval process.

Results

While exact internal metrics are proprietary, there are indications of AmEx’s AI success. They were ranked No. 1 in the J.D. Power Customer Satisfaction Study among credit card issuers in the U.S, a commendation they’ve received ten times in the past fourteen years. The blend of AI with their existing customer service mechanisms possibly plays a role in maintaining this leading market position.

Challenges and Barriers

AmEx has faced challenges in the AI arena, particularly in data annotation. Training NLP models requires massive amounts of data, and to address this, AmEx established a dedicated 12-person team for labeling and annotating. There’s also skepticism around AI solutions, with concerns like new technologies introducing different types of work, or AI systems like ChatGPT occasionally providing incorrect answers, leading to extra work.

Future Outlook

AmEx seems poised to further integrate AI, especially generative AI, into broader financial services. Rather than developing their own large language model, they’re looking towards forming strategic partnerships. The collaboration with Microsoft, with a focus on cloud and AI technologies, provides a hint of the direction AmEx is taking, showing adaptability in an evolving AI landscape.

Conclusion

American Express’s journey with AI is emblematic of a modern financial institution seeking to harmonize technology with its established business practices. Through strategic partnerships, proprietary solutions, and a balanced approach, AmEx demonstrates both the challenges and potentials of AI in the financial sector. As AI continues to evolve, AmEx’s endeavors serve as an illustrative case of navigating change while maintaining market leadership.

Sources:
Amex and Microsoft turn to AI to make expense reports less horrible
Amex planning to use AI to speed up transaction approval
Artificial Intelligence at American Express – Two Current Use Cases
3 Ways American Express is Using AI to Stay Ahead of Disruption
AmEx is experimenting cautiously with generative AI for fintech


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