Interview with Caroline Gaye General Manager of American Express France

Carefully choosing her words, a smile on her lips and a sparkling look in her eyes, Caroline Gaye, General Manager of American Express France, presents us the new Centurion card. She has been with American Express since 2000, rising through the ranks from manager to Vice President of Marketing and General Manager in 2015. In September 2021, she relaunched the "Centurion" with the Centurion Living Program. This card, reinvented by American Express, offers a new design and new experiences. A true journey based on the 5 senses! Face-to-face with Katya Pellegrino

Can you tell us a little about your background?

Caroline Gaye - © American Express

I was born and raised in Paris, where I studied mathematics and economics at the University of Paris Dauphine, then I joined EDHEC. My father studied in the United States and this has certainly influenced me to start my career abroad, in Dublin and then in London at Sopexa in the food industry. But after these enriching experiences I chose to return to France. Among the headhunters who contacted me upon my return, one offered me a position in finance, a sector in which I had no experience. It was a position at American Express. I accepted the challenge and joined the company in 2000, where I held several positions in our Cards & Services business department for individuals. In 2008, I was appointed Vice President of this business and then, in 2012, Vice President of Cards and Services for Small Businesses.

To return to the history of American Express?

American Express has a long history! The company created in 1850, in the days of the stagecoach (Farwest), operated as a transporter of goods and later people. Important in those days were the company’s two main values: trust and security, both still at the core of our business today. The customer has always been the backbone of our company, and their satisfaction remains our primary objective. In 1891, the company created the Traveller's cheque for Americans who were travelling but were afraid of having their cash stolen. The first office outside the United States was created in Paris in 1895, on rue Scribe, next to the Opéra Garnier. At that time, clients who were not familiar with the French capital also asked questions about where to dine and what to do during their stay. This is how the notion of service and our expertise in travel, gastronomy, culture, etc. was born, and which is still at the heart of our offers today, even though we are a financial services company.

Can you tell us more about the Centurion card and its benefits?

Carte Centurion - Rem Koolhaas - © American Express

The card that was launched in 1999 in the US and in 2005 in France and can only be obtained by invitation. However, our Platinum clients are also eligible for the Centurion card . There is a lot of word of mouth, with our Centurion customers being the best ambassadors for the card. Our in-house concierge service is available to our clients 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, throughout the world. In France, 100 concierges serve customers on a daily basis. As part of our Dining Collection programme, Centurion Members are guaranteed a table at 100 of France's most popular restaurants for the same evening. For travel, Centurion Members enjoy a personalised welcome at Paris airports, Fast Track and free unlimited access to the most prestigious airport lounges worldwide. We also have our own lounges: the Centurion lounges.

Where are your own lounges?

In Delhi, Bombay, Buenos Aires, Denver, Los Angeles, London, Stockholm, Hong Kong ... In our Centurion lounges, an important place is given to Gastronomy. For example, the one located at London's Heathrow Airport offers a resolutely contemporary menu, signed by starred chef Assaf Granit (Balagan restaurant in Paris and Coal Office in London).

What are the differences between your Centurion card and similar high-end cards, such as Infinite?

Launch party - Centurion - © American Express

The Centurion Card is like no other. Firstly, its design is unique: made of metal, we called upon two of the greatest artists of our time, Rem Koolhaas and Kehinde Wiley, to imagine the new Centurion Card. Secondly, and I mentioned this earlier, the quality of service, access to superior travel experiences, personalised support from a dedicated Concierge team … these are second to none. Finally, there is the Centurion universe. The new Centurion is more than a card, it's a lifestyle. With the creation of the Centurion Living programme, we offer our members the opportunity to discover life from new perspectives and live enriching personal experiences.

In which countries can you currently find the Centurion card?

You can find it in the USA, Canada, European countries (UK, France, Switzerland, Finland, Norway, Switzerland, Germany), Hong Kong, Middle East, Australia, India ...

Can you tell me more about the Centurion Living Programme?

Centurion Living events - © American Express

In 2021 we decided to relaunch the Centurion card and redesign it by calling on two of the greatest designers of our time, the artist Kehinde Wiley and the architect Rem Koolhaas, thus creating an "Art Card". The idea is to "reinvent it" by offering our clients an international programme of experiences based on emotions, in one word "unique", creating and redesigning a new lifestyle, an invitation to discover Art, Gastronomy, Culture, Travel and Hospitality in different ways ... A journey of the 5 senses in short! Each year, members are invited to be part of exceptional bespoke events around the world.

What are the axes on which you have created the Centurion Living Programme?

Launched in September 2021, the Centurion Living Programme is based on two pillars: experiences and encounters.The Experiences pillar invites Centurion Members to bring their tastes and passions to life through access to the greatest artists of our time. In 2022, they will be able to meet and attend exclusive performances by Yo-Yo Ma, Alicia Keys or Dianne Reeves, all over the world. The 2nd pillar, called "Introductions", is specially designed for our members who, due to lack of time, have never been able to venture into the exploration of new artistic worlds and cultural horizons. To give you a few examples, we offer an introduction to Japanese ceremonies, Chinese contemporary art or fine wines with Arvid Rosengren (world's best sommelier) and many more.

How many events do you organise per year?

At least 1 per month

You have launched the connected bracelet for payments. Doesn't it look like a gadget? Do customers use it?

We wanted to launch this bracelet, which in our eyes is an innovation combining technology thanks to contactless payment and luxury for its Saffiano leather strap, signed by Prada. Men wear it without worry and are delighted with this novelty. It is true that for women, this black leather bracelet could be declined in other colours (smile). To be seen!

What are the most unusual or unbelievable requests made by your Centurion clients?

We get a lot of incredible requests and it's our job to satisfy them. I have in mind a client who asked us to organise his birthday party in Venice for 50 people. To do this, he wanted to organise a private rehearsal of the whole event (with a concert, dinner, party etc.) two months in advance. In the end, he celebrated his birthday twice (smile)

Would you say that American Express is also reinventing itself?

Launch Party Centurion - © American Express

I would say that American Express keeps up to date with the latest technological innovations and start-ups to strengthen its offer and its quality of service. For example, we have recently acquired two start-ups (2019) in the world of gastronomy: Rezi in the United States and Pocket Concierge in Japan. Two online table reservation platforms for great well-known restaurants or restaurants of the new gastronomic scene.

Where do you want to develop further?

Carte Centurion - Kehinde Wiley - © American Express
Carte Centurion - Rem Koolhaas - © American Express

Our objective is to continue to offer the best service and the best experiences to our customers. Gastronomy, art, culture, music, theatre, etc. are strong development areas. We also want to strengthen our collaborations with artists.

How do you see the Centurion card evolving in the next 10 years?

The Centurion is and will remain our most prestigious product with an exceptional quality of service and access to unique and exclusive experiences. Our challenge is therefore to consolidate our presence in areas such as gastronomy for example, and to strengthen it in certain sectors where we are less present, such as sport. We are proud to have renewed our partnership with Paris Saint-Germain. We operate the Parc des Princes Conciergerie and our Centurion Members have access to exclusive benefits such as meeting the players.

What are your projects in the near future?

We have many projects. We are going to launch our new gastronomic programme very soon with some great new features. We will also relaunch our Blue Card, with a strong focus on generosity and cashback. We are also strengthening the value of our cards for professionals, especially small and medium-sized businesses. Finally, we will continue to support local retailers through the Shop Small campaign.

What is your definition of luxury?

Authenticity. For example, Hermès, the embodiment of culture of tradition and rarity.

What is your ultimate luxury?

Travelling around the world and taking the time to discover the traditions and culture of the countries you visit.

The luxury you can't do without?

Being able to decide at the last minute!
Janvier 2022