Amex, Wright Express team up for GSA deal

American Express Co. and Wright Express Co. announced last week that they will team up to offer an integrated travel fleet and purchase charge card program in their bid for the government's next-generation charge card contracts. A solicitation for the program is expected from the General Services Administration late this month.

American Express GSA's travel card provider since 1994 will work with GSA's current fleet card provider Wright Express to offer a fleet card with "links" to travel and purchase cards officials from the two companies said last week. Although the companies may continue to offer separate cards for travel fleet and purchase services they will provide consolidated administrative functions such as billing to ease the burden of agency financial managers company officials said.

Dan Goren vice president and general manager of American Express Government Services said the companies will probably not offer a single card because government travel cards are issued to federal employees while fleet cards are generally assigned to federal vehicles. "The overlap of people who carry the [travel and fleet] cards isn't that high " Goren said. "But the financial community would like to consolidate management functions.

"Clearly this is an opportunity for integrated reporting " he said. "GSA recognizes that each agency is a separate customer and that some agencies will want combined reporting which we will offer."

Goren added that the companies will most likely tailor their offering to the needs of individual federal agencies after the new contract is awarded.A spokesman for Wright Express said the companies will use their cooperative work on the GSA bid as a springboard for similar offerings to commercial customers. "In the future American Express and Wright Express will broaden their joint efforts to develop a fleet card for corporations in the U.S. and internationally " the spokesman said.

Paul Walsh president and chief executive officer of Wright Express said he viewed the partnership as a "natural fit" and an opportunity for both companies to take advantage of each other's experience with federal customers. "We are confident this program will be the pre-eminent one of its kind " he asserted.

'Electronic Wallets'

Goren said the companies also will focus on integrating chip technology into the cards. He said American Express has had discussions with the government concerning the potential to use the cards for applications such as identifying users to allow them access to public buildings and classified information or to permit them to make purchases via the Internet. A spokeswoman for American Express pointed out that the company is engaged in pilot tests with the Navy to provide chip cards that act as "electronic wallets" by storing a specified amount of cash value on the cards that can be used in shipboard vending machines.

But Goren noted that smart card applications will roll out slowly long after the new contract goes into effect in November 1998.

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