American Express is Switzerland in mobile payment war

The company is content to improve its own mobile app experience, while it waits to see how the evolution of the mobile wallet shakes out.

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Roger Cheng
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American Express has a role in Isis mobile payments, but it's not a big one. Isis

American Express, unlike seemingly everyone else with a stake in the financial world, isn't interested in creating its own digital wallet for mobile payments.

Instead, it is dipping its foot into different facets of the mobile payment world, going for a more neutral stance.

"We want our card members to use their cards in whatever form or technology they choose," said David Yoo, senior vice president of mobile products and services for American Express.

Rather than get involved in the brewing mobile payment wars, which includes rivals such as Visa and MasterCard, but also Google, the wireless carriers, and digital payments pioneer PayPal, American Express is content to improve the services it can offer through its own mobile app.

On Monday, the company updated its mobile app to let its customers pay for their purchases with membership rewards points rather than cash. A customer just has to look up the transaction on the mobile app, and choose to use their points. Membership points are typically reserved for large items from dedicated stores -- it's the first time American Express is letting any purchase be made through points.

That's a boon to any American Express customer who has built up a war chest of points with little plans to spend it. More importantly, it's another way the company is getting its customers to grow more comfortable with its mobile suite of services.

"One of the ways to get (to a mobile wallet) is to help the user augment what already exists," he said.

Yoo said there were too many technologies and deployments to really tell where mobile payment is headed, so American Express dabbles in all of the areas. It's a key member of Isis, the joint venture from Verizon Wireless, AT&T, and T-Mobile. Yet it isn't trying to be the end-all mobile wallet platform like a Visa or Google Wallet.

"There are many different types of mobile wallets, so it's hard to pin down which technology will win," Yoo said.

Beyond the different companies, there's multiple technologies attempting to solve the mobile payments dilemma, from Near Field Communication, or NFC, to Bluetooth LE (Low Energy).

American Express continues to be more focused on the services available to its app. The next iteration will bring push notifications after a transaction, alerting them that they can use points right away. Down the line, features such as restaurant or hotel bookings, and customer and card protection services will be delivered straight from the app.

"We're working to get more everyday use out of the mobile app," he said.