The Business Year

Priyan Attygalle

SAUDI ARABIA - Finance

Priyan Attygalle

CEO, American Express Saudi Arabia

Bio

With over 30 years’ experience in Banking and finance, Priyan Attygalle joined American Express Saudi Arabia as its CEO in 2006. Prior to joining American Express, he was with the HSBC Group for over 15 years. When heading the HSBC cards business in the Middle East, he worked closely with Visa and MasterCard as a member of their Regional Advisory Board and also served on the Board of Directors of Reward Management Middle East, the issuers of Airmiles a leading loyalty provider in the Middle East. Before moving to the Middle East, he held various Senior Management positions within HSBC in Sri Lanka. The team under his leadership has transformed American Express (Saudi Arabia) to be the leading provider of payment solutions to large Saudi Corporates and High Net Worth individuals (HNWI). He has an MBA and Bachelors degree in Business Administration and Political Science from the University of North Carolina at Charlotte. He is a recreational golfer and loves to travel. 

TBY talks to Priyan Attygalle, CEO of American Express Saudi Arabia, about the pandemic, customer experience, and goals for the coming year.

What strategy did Amex employ to navigate the pandemic, and what milestones did you achieve last year?

The pandemic required an agile and fast response from businesses across all sectors. We witnessed a profound shift in our own customer behaviour. Across the world consumers immediately started depending on digital services for everything from routine purchases, such as groceries medical needs, and clothing, to high value items such as watches and haute couture. Fortunately, at American Express Saudi Arabia, we already made investments in digital pre-pandemic, and were able to support our members’ digital needs seamlessly. Our employees were able to work from home immediately, within days of the onset of the pandemic. The safety of our colleagues is important to us and by following government guidelines we were able to contain the spread within the company. For merchant partners, American Express Saudi Arabia provided ongoing digital transformation support, to enable merchants to transact in a safe way, meeting Cardmembers where they are in this new reality. As online transactions soared, the safety of the transaction itself was of great concern, especially for those who embarked in the digital space. Amercian Express fraud protection tools gave Cardmembers the assurance and confidence to make payments and expand their digital experience into new areas. For example, demand for digital wallets and contactless transactions increased. American Express supported Cardmembers by partnering with digital wallet providers and certifying safe contactless transactions at point of sale.    

What trends have you identified in the past year in terms of customer experience?

Over the past year, the growing demand online has resulted in increased expectations around a company’s online experience. At American Express Saudi Arabia, the existing digital investments pre-pandemic enabled the company to meet the customers where they are – online. Before, during and far beyond this pandemic, we continue to increase customer touch points and interactions online, as well as forge partnerships with digital service providers and online merchants. In terms of travel, we have seen destinations change depending on how the pandemic was managed by host countries and how seamless the travel experience became. New destinations opened up and travellers were willing to experiment visiting destinations that were less crowded and off the beaten path.   

What innovation is Amex introducing to support the growth of SMEs?

First, SMEs are looking for flexibility on payment terms during uncertain times. Introducing a credit product with a revolve repayment facility to support the business card proposition helped small businesses better manage cash flow. Second, American Express is responsible for both acquiring Cardmembers and issuing cards. This unique closed loop business model enables us to have a holistic view of our customers’ expenses and spending behaviors. This enables also SMEs to deliver highly targeted customer outreach. An approach and experience which is better for the SMEs and the customers. Third, is a product suite that provides a safe and seamless payment mechanism. Partners of SMEs can depend on it to get paid in a timely manner through virtual payment products, physical plastic cards, or B2B transfers. 

Is Amex planning to introduce a new product to its portfolio in the coming years?

American Express Saudi Arabia continues to innovate and launch new products to meet the changing behaviors and needs of our customers. One area we are looking into, for example, is introducing equal monthly installments for those who make large purchases and want flexibility to pay over time.

What makes the Saudi market so important for Amex?

First, Saudi Arabia is a G20 country, one of the biggest economies in the world, with a large population, and a high standard of living. Second, Saudi Cardmembers are well travelled and use their American Express Cards globally. Third, Vision 2030 is presenting an important business opportunity for companies at home and attracting investment from abroad. American Express is the largest corporate card issuer in the world, and we aim to help all companies realize their potential.

Looking ahead into 2022, what are Amex’s goals and priorities for the year?

At American Express Saudi Arabia, we will continue backing our customers, closely following behaviours and trends to ensure we improve the experience for our Cardmembers. Whether that be bringing peace of mind when traveling, delivering safety and ease at point of purchase, online or offline, or rewarding customer for loyalty. Our goal always has and will continue to be backing our Cardmembers. We will also continue to support our colleagues grow within the organisaton and create a diverse workforce. Our ambition is to have a gender mix that reflects the demographic of the Kingdom. We want American Express to be an employer of choice in the Kingdom appreciating the values we uphold such as a meritocracy, pay for performance, gender equality, governance, sustainability, integrity and ethics.

What has been your legacy at Amex in Saudi Arabia?

I believe American Express Saudi Arabia is a business at the forefront of Vision 2030, reflecting tomorrow’s Saudi Arabia and embracing the country’s new values. There have, of course, been challenges, such as the pandemic, but our continued relentless focus on backing customers and colleagues has ensured a bright and successful future for American Express Saudi Arabia. 

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