American Express Co. gave its gift card customers an early holiday present. In an unprecedented move, it removed all monthly fees on all of its gift cards, whether the cards are in stores, in wallets, in the mail, or on their way to market.
"Customers told us that monthly fees undermine the value of gift cards, plain and simple," said Alpesh Chokshi, President of Global Prepaid, American Express. American Express Gift Cards no longer include activation, balance inquiry, monthly service or replacement fees. In addition, AmEx expanded its relationship with Simon Property Group, making the card brand the main provider of Simon gift cards. "The elimination of monthly fees on the American Express/Simon Giftcard will be a major differentiator in the marketplace and will drive our growth this season and beyond," said Mikael Thygesen, Chief Marketing Officer, Simon Property Group.
AmEx is also developing new customizable designs for the holiday season. Consumers will be able to inscribe messages on the cards to the cards' recipients.
On Sept. 24, 2009, the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Texas, Austin Division, sided with the Western Union Co. in a patent infringement lawsuit brought against MoneyGram International. The case related to patented technologies that enable customers to send transactions without written send forms. The court awarded $16.5 million to Western Union.
"Clearly we are disappointed with the jury's verdict," said Carolyn Eshleman, Vice President and Associate General Counsel at MoneyGram. "We are evaluating the decision, determining next steps required, and reviewing our legal options, including post-verdict motions and appeals."
The company continues to move forward in spite of this setback. MoneyGram signed a new multiyear agreement with Itaú Unibanco, Brazil's largest private sector bank. The partnership will add 1,000 MoneyGram agent locations in Brazil and provide its services to Itaú Unibano's network of nearly 5,000 locations.
MoneyGram also renewed a 35-year partnership with CUNA Strategic Services to provide 7,900 credit unions with easier access to the company's global money transfer and bill payment services.
In addition, MoneyGram came to the aid of families suffering from natural disasters in the Philipines, Samoa and Tonga. It has temporarily waived its fees for money transfers from Australia and New Zealand to Samoa and Tonga until Oct. 31, 2009, to assist in the coordinated effort to bring relief to those islands recently hit by a tsunami and an earthquake.
MoneyGram also pledged a $20,000 MoneyGram Global Giving grant to the American Red Cross for its relief efforts in the Philippines to help Typhoon Ondoy victims. It also reduced its money transfer fees from Oct. 2 to Oct. 16, 2009, from North American MoneyGram agent locations to the Philippines.
Alliance Data Systems Corp. closed $1.3 billion to fund existing and new private label credit card programs. $300 million of that is to be used for financing outstanding card assets, as well as growth and portfolio acquisitions.
Billeo Inc. launched the Offer Assistant, a patent-pending, free service that generates targeted discounts and rewards through search engine results. "Billeo's Offer Assistant is the first application that brings discounts and rewards to you when you actually need them - when you're searching for something to buy online, or when you are at the checkout page," said Murali Subbarao, Billeo's Founder and Chief Executive Officer.
Coinstar Inc.'s CEO Paul Davis and Chief Financial Officer John Harvey presented at the William Blair Emerging Growth Stock Conference in New York on Oct. 6, 2009. The presentation is archived on Coinstar's Web site.
Facecard Prepaid MasterCard, after a year of beta testing, sports enhanced features that include parental controls, fully integrated social networking features and a new design. The card also features "Prewards," free direct deposit and bill pay, and peer-to-peer gifting functionality.
Mobile payments firm Mi-Pay celebrated its fifth anniversary. The U.K.-based company said it is ranked in the top five mobile money providers in the world and is expanding its services in Africa, India, Eastern Europe and Latin America.
NetSpend Corp.'s National Spending & Savings Index revealed that low to moderate income consumers are watching their budgets but spending more this year than last on groceries, travel and entertainment, and utilities. The survey also broke down national and regional spending trends.
The Network Branded Prepaid Card Association published a document entitled Leading Practices for Consumer Disclosures of Network Branded Prepaid General Purpose Reloadable Cards to encourage businesses to communicate clearly to existing and potential prepaid cardholders. The paper addresses best practices for prepaid card packaging, Web sites, advertising and the cardholder agreement for general purpose reloadable cards.
One World Ventures Inc. set plans into motion to issue the prepaid 1World Card in the United States. One World's partner bank, the identity of which One World did not disclose, agreed to apply for the bank identification number and become One World's issuing bank. During the regulatory process, One World will formulate terms and conditions with regard to using an outside processor and submit marketing material and logo to Visa Inc. for approval.
Western Union's corporate citizenship program Western Union Foundation pledged a relief grant of $100,000 to Mercy Corps for its efforts in Indonesia and Samoa following the recent tsunami and earthquake.
Loyalty and marketing provider Alliance Data Systems Corp. signed a multiyear agreement with Pacific Dental Services. The agreement will provide patient financing and marketing services for affiliated dental offices via a private-label credit card. PDS expects to earn more than $300 million in revenue in 2009 and currently has nearly 200 member dental practices.
Green Dot Corp. and PayPal Inc. signed a deal that allows online shoppers without bank accounts or credit cards to checkout using PayPal's payment gateway. Green Dot's MoneyPak, available for purchase at several major retail stores, can be used as a financial tool in lieu of a bank account or credit card. MoneyPak is also used for making cash payments, paying bills and reloading prepaid cards or funding other accounts.
OneBridge signed a referral agreement with Seattle-based Member Access Pacific. OneBridge adds Visa prepaid cards as part of the partnership. "The Visa Prepaid Card and MAP platform complement and enhance our card solutions," said Jim Kern, OneBridge President.
PSCU Financial Services Inc. entered into a five-year agreement to lease a portion of its Phoenix data center to Ongoing Operations LLC. PSCU helped found Ongoing Operations and is now renting out its space to accommodate the increased demand in that company's disaster recovery and business continuity services.
ProfitPoint Inc. renewed its partnership with Godiva Chocolatier Inc. in a multiyear agreement. ProfitPoint will continue processing for the Godiva Gift Card Program. The two companies will continue to roll out new prepaid initiatives to serve Godiva patrons and increase revenue opportunities.
Global prepaid provider Accor Services acquired Czech Republic-based Exit Group, a meal voucher provider that made 77 million euros. Accor offers employee and constituent benefits products, and rewards and incentives products in the Czech Republic.
John Harvey, Coinstar Inc.'s Chief Financial Officer, resigned effective Nov. 9, 2009 - the last day Coinstar's third quarter financial report can be filed. Harvey had stated his intention to resign in September, citing the time his position took from his family due to his commute from Chicago area to Seattle.
Incentium, formerly VIPGift, appointed 25-year veteran Sara Sampson to Senior Vice President of Marketing and Business Development. "It's an exciting time to return to the loyalty and incentive industry," Sampson said. "I look forward to developing additional programs, applications, business models and relationships as we continue to redefine the industry."
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