The Business Year

Priyan Attygalle


Paying it Forward

CEO, American Express Saudi Arabia


Priyan Attygalle has been the CEO of American Express Saudi Arabia since 2006. He previously worked with HSBC across various markets and positions. With over 28 years in the banking and financial services industry, Attygalle holds a business degree and an MBA from the University of North Carolina in Charlotte, US.

American Express is ready to help entrepreneurs in Saudi Arabia provide solutions to make payments easier and more transparent.

How do you position American Express as a global payment operator in the financial landscape in Saudi Arabia?

Unlike other credit card issuers, American Express only issues credit cards. We are the only monoline card company in the Kingdom. We do credit cards better because our total focus is on the customer and their card. If one wants a credit card that suits their needs with extraordinary customer service, then American Express is the answer. If a company is looking at a co-brand partner for cards, American Express with its global experience is the best company to partner with. We are more focused on cards because that is our primary business. We partner with banks when we see the synergy can add value to the customer. In the commercial space, we manage the SAIB and SABB corporate card portfolio in addition to providing our own standalone corporate solutions. This enables banks to obtain a state-of-the-art turnkey corporate card and payment solution and provides American Express with a wider distribution channel.

How do you position yourself in the market, and how do you envision growing your position through partnerships with entities?

We are witnessing a shift away from cash payments which, historically, we have regarded as a major competitor. There are several new actors in the market in competition with cash. This is driven largely by the growth of fintech payment operators. Especially among young people, which form the majority of the Saudi population, there is a major shift from cash to non-cash payments. There are many countries where people leave the house and have no cash on them, where they rely on their card or mobile phone. Previously in Saudi Arabia, this practice was unheard of, though that is now changing. More people are open to going cashless, creating a great opportunity for American Express. There are more cashless slices in a larger pie. Many of the new payment solutions, including Apple Pay and STC Pay, are backed by credit cards. That is why we consider them partners and not competitors. These partnerships expand our reach making the pie bigger.

How do you plan on growing engagement of your credit cards with a younger generation?

In the past, we were working with older clients, because our product was geared toward high-net-worth individuals and corporations. Now, we pitch to youth and the mass affluent customers and cannot use the same distribution channels. We use social media, such as Instagram and Facebook. The second piece of the puzzle is tailoring the product so that it has offerings that suit the youth and mass affluent base. The distribution and communication is now done digitally. We have revamped our mobile app so that it is more interactive and provides customers with all the information they need or want about their payments and account. Young people tend to do more of their shopping online. Their first card is to support digital payments and daily transactions. People spend differently now, and so the products that we sell need to cater to that. The interaction they have with the company is different as well, which is why we are working on new communication channels.

What are your strategic priorities for American Express in Saudi Arabia?

We are optimistic for the future, and we are following the demographics of Saudi Arabia, ready to partner in the Kingdom’s Vision 2030. We are looking at growing and providing services to entrepreneurs as well as companies created in the new economy providing solutions that make payments transparent. E-commerce is seeing unprecedented growth in the Kingdom. Customers, in general, are more price conscious, and e-commerce supports this trend. Another major pick up will be contactless payment, especially for public transport. Tapping a card issued on an open platform, as in London and other places, will make the process much easier for both locals and visiting foreign guests once the metro starts.



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