Stephanie Schultz loves learning about new innovative technologies. It’s a large part of the reason she’s stayed so long at American Express, where she is VP and Head of Partnerships. In her position, she gets to work with her team to uncover how new tech can bring better value to their customers and partners. She and host Dave Yovanno discuss getting their start in product, enriching experiences for customers after they’ve been acquired, and strategic partnerships to create differentiated experiences. Stephanie also gives insight into how Amex tests, builds and launches new products.
Canned Intro [00:00:02] Welcome to The Partnership Economy. This podcast explores the power of partnerships through candid conversations with industry leaders. Join our host, Dave Yovanno, CEO and Todd Crawford, co-founder of Impact.com as they unpack the future partnership as a lever for scale and an opportunity to put the consumer first.
Dave Yovanno [00:00:23] Welcome back to The Partnership Economy podcast. This is your host Dave Yovanno, and I’m excited to introduce this week’s guest, Stephanie Schultz, VP and head of partnerships at American Express. Stephanie is a 14 year veteran at American Express, now working on their digital labs team and has spearheaded countless new products and partnerships with Fortune 500 companies throughout her career. She’s passionate about scaling new products, staying up to date with the latest technologies and remaining innovative in her field. And today’s episode, we discuss the importance of going past the transactional moments and building deeper relationships with your customers and partners. Steph also walks us through what managing partnerships at Amex entails and the unique structure of partnerships in the financial services industry. She shares some great examples of how to improve customer experience, incentivize loyalty and keep pushing your company forward. I highly recommend tuning in for this episode. Welcome back to the Partnership Academy podcast. Excited to introduce this week’s guest, Stephanie Schultz, VP and head of partnerships at American Express. Welcome to the show, Steph. How are you doing today?
Stephanie Schultz [00:01:37] I’m doing great, Dave. Thanks so much for having me.
Dave Yovanno [00:01:41] All right. To get things started, could you tell us a little bit about your role and what being VP and head of partnerships at American Express looks like?
Stephanie Schultz [00:01:48] Sure. Well, I lead our strategy and partnership team for Amex Digital Labs, and the Digital Labs team is the team at American Express who’s really focused on accelerating our growth and innovation at the company. So I manage a collection of different partnerships across a pretty broad portfolio. There are three core areas of focus for the team. So the first is really all around digital and emerging payments. So I manage some of our payment partnerships and we also have a variety of our own sort of homegrown payment products. The other area of focus for the team is around the future of membership. So we’re constantly innovating, thinking about new value that we can bring to our customers. And the last area of focus is really looking at new emerging technologies and thinking about how we can do things better, faster, cheaper in the future.
Dave Yovanno [00:02:45] How does someone even get into a role like that? Could you maybe just start with a little bit about just your own personal professional career journey and how you got to this point?
Stephanie Schultz [00:02:54] Sure. Well, I’ve been at American Express for 14 years, which is way longer than I ever expected. But I actually started out in product development and I started building digital products in our merchant business. So I was focused on trying to reimagine some of the marketing capabilities that we offered to our merchant partners to enable them to reach out to our high value customer base. And I was thinking about how we could re-envision some of our old direct mail campaigns actually, and bring those into the world of digital online advertising. And so it was at a time when there was a ton of innovation happening. All of the digital advertising exchanges were booming. There were a lot of new opportunities to market and to be able to leverage new technology to create a bigger impact for our merchants. And so I really got to learn everything from how to build and launch a product, how to get other customers who are merchants to use it, and how to create real, lasting value. And being able to see that through the lifecycle in an area where new technology was emerging was really fascinating. But I saw that there was so much innovation happening and I really wanted to continue to just sort of like follow where I saw growth happening. And so I sort of stayed in that track. I pivoted a little bit in going from product development to working on partnerships, but I’ve always sort of followed this track of I like to go where the pack is going. I like to constantly be in the space that’s changing. I like to be in a place where I’m trying to solve these difficult problems. There’s a lot of whitespace that I’m able to nail the opportunity and then be able to see it through that lifecycle of it’s a concept, then it’s a real business proposition, then it’s a working product and that it’s something that you can grow and scale.
Dave Yovanno [00:04:52] You know, you just took me into the Wayback Machine back to the nineties when the Internet first started and in kind of the early days of online marketing. So I appreciate that. A lot of our listeners are looking for inspiration in their own career path. You had some good advice, you know, kind of wrapped into what you just said, but it’ll boil it down, you know? Is there any advice in particular, especially for those that are looking to advance their career, but also looking to make more transformative changes within their organization?
Stephanie Schultz [00:05:20] I think the first thing is you have to have fun in what you do. And so I do this job because it’s actually a lot of fun for me. I’m doing it because I’m really interested in learning about new technology. And so you had to have a little bit of passion in what you do. I think that’s what makes helps to to motivate you, right Dave? Day in and day out when you’re working through hard problems. I think the second thing, especially more in the, you know, a digital innovation type of job in terms of trying to look to make a big impact. We are never really trialing new technologies just for the sake of the technology itself. We’re always trying to ensure that the technology is actually solving a real customer need. And so that’s so critical. And how do you do it in a way that meaningfully scales right, especially in an industry like payments. And there are other industries too, but you’ve got lots of different players in order for a product to scale and be successful and make a meaningful impact. Usually you have sort of two sides or more to the coin, it’s customers and merchants. It’s who else in the payment ecosystem has to adapt it. Being realistic about what your ideas need in order to scale is another suggestion that I would have so passion, have fun in what you do and then be practical around what you need in order to really achieve meaningful scale and create some enduring value with your customers.
Dave Yovanno [00:06:52] Yeah, I think that’s great. And if I could pile on, you know, something that you started with, right where your career started in product marketing, I think that’s an advantage. I had a similar start in my own professional career. I actually started in product. I just think that gives you unique access to market feedback. A lot of inspiration for strategy for your team or for the company. Another thing that that kind of came out is you’re talking about a desire to go deeper than transactional relationships with your customers. You know, now at Amex, where you’re at. You tell us a little bit more about that and your marketing ethos as well, because I think it’s applicable to all industries right now as well as just the larger partnership economy.
Stephanie Schultz [00:07:32] Certainly as we’re thinking about relationships with customers and deepening relationships with customers, of course we are a payments company at our core, but it’s certainly not only about that transaction moment, right? The transaction itself is becoming more seamless, more invisible, frictionless, especially with the percentage of commerce that’s happening digitally and online post-pandemic. And so it really is how do we continue to deepen our relationships with our customers throughout that commerce journey? And so how are we helping to drive to that transaction moment and add value along the way, help you find the best restaurant? How do we think about enriching the experiences that our customers have? Whether you’re headed to the US Open or you’re going to go see a show? How do we think about the value that we can inject in those experiences for our cardmembers? And then after, how do we continue to enrich those experiences? So one example is we have a product called Amex send in split, and after you make transactions in the Amex mobile app, you know let’s just say you went out to dinner with a bunch of friends. You can tally up all the transactions that you have and split them easily across Venmo and PayPal. And so it’s thinking about how do we continue to add value before, during and after that transaction in terms of continuing to enrich the experience throughout the lifecycle for our customers?
Dave Yovanno [00:08:59] I love that focus that you just ended with there, you know, a focus on enriching the customer experience. I think, you know, for too long in this commercial world that we’ve been in, it’s a it’s been it has been more transactional. It’s been it’s all about acquiring a customer, you know, kind of an advertising mindset. I love the concept of how else can we enhance that customer experience to kind of keep them more engaged And seems like you’re attacking that at many levels. But, you know, I think the bottom line to underscore here is that we’re just moving past transactional relationships, looking to build longer term partnerships to create value for the end consumer. And what I’m picking up on, though, is that there’s two primary ways in which you’re doing it. It’s how Amex is creating kind of a business to consumer experience. But then Amex, it sounds like, is also looking for partnerships with other businesses to kind of assist with that, enhancing that experience. Could you unpack that a little bit more? Like, for example, I remember you talking in the past about some things you’re doing with Ticketmaster or some other partnerships that you’ve got. How are you bringing partnerships into that fold?
Stephanie Schultz [00:10:00] Sure. Well, we work with partners of all shapes and sizes, everything from the big digital giants to small fintechs. I work really closely with our Amex Ventures team, and so they’re really connected to the startup ecosystem. And within labs we are at our core a digital product team and we’re always looking at what’s the way that we can create the most differentiated experience and deliver the best value to our customer. And sometimes we can do that by building a product on our own. But many times it’s thinking about how we can partner to create that most differentiated experience. And so again, I think we always look at it from the lens first of the customer, the customer need what’s the job that we’re trying to solve and how can we do that in the best way possible by sort of thinking about our assets and the other assets and capabilities that exist out in the market through partnerships. So we’re really intentional in terms of how we think about partnerships and putting the customer first. And at the center is usually one of the first principles that guides who we partner with, because I think it’s really important to make sure that you have sort of aligned values and shared goals.
Dave Yovanno [00:11:19] Yeah, that’s great. Just to pull that thread a little harder on product, sounds like you’re introducing new products and that’s important to you. Get new launches, you got to test that you’re doing. Anything else to share there from from that perspective, whether that’s with another business, you know, like a Ticketmaster who you’re partnered with or something that you’re bringing to the customer to enhance that customer experience.
Stephanie Schultz [00:11:40] Sure, We have a unique set up within labs where anybody on the team can pitch a new product idea. So we sort of have like a method. Everybody, anybody can come up with an idea. We have kind of like a pitch that anyone on the team can give to our leadership team, and that ensures that their sort of senior level alignment and strategic direction alignment with the concept and ensures that we have the right resources to support and nurture that idea. And then we really rally behind it to make sure that we can move that idea through our new product development process. So it goes from a concept to is this a viable business idea? Who would we potentially work with as a key partner to maybe we actually pilot it and bring it to market and sometimes we pilot things internally just as a company. Other times we’re testing them with real customers, and the ultimate goal is to launch the product, scale it in market, and then ultimately graduate it into the core business at Amex so that we can continue to move on to and focus on on the next thing. But there are a number of different products that we’ve recently worked on. I’ll give a shout out to Google. We just worked on launching a new product with them called Virtual Cards. So in Chrome, if you’re shopping and you’ve ever shopped online using Autofill, it’s a pretty slick way for you to get your payment information on file through checkout. The benefit of virtual cards is we actually create a virtual card that could be stored in Chrome Autofill So it’s a secure, tokenized version of your card, and we automatically generate a security code that’s used at checkout every time you shop through Chrome. So it’s pretty seamless. It’s really secure. That’s an example. One of our our products that went through the lifecycle.
Dave Yovanno [00:13:29] Okay, Steph. There’s something that you said that really piqued my interest and it ties all the way back to one of the first things that you said about tips on, you know, your own career. And it’s about having fun, what you just described in terms of that process inside your company about pitching a new idea. It sounds like a hell of a lot of fun. Are there any, like examples of pitches that really stood out to you, even if they had never made it out? I don’t want to like, touch on anything that’s like proprietary or confidential, but is there anything that comes to mind that you’re able to share?
Stephanie Schultz [00:13:54] Sure. It is a lot of fun. That’s why I like this job and. I’m still in it. And it is a little bit Shark Tank. But yeah, I mean, really, every single idea that we work on goes through this process. The point is, it helps to make it better, right? Like, if you have an idea and you work on it in a vacuum and you don’t get some pressure, test the idea and get the diversity of thought, That’s the whole point of bringing it into this format. Right? To pressure, test the idea and make it as well-rounded and thoughtful and strategic as possible. I really love the model. I think it’s been really successful. One idea that came through recently is is a product that we worked on actually in partnership with UC Berkeley, and the idea was to test into this notion of sustainability. It’s obviously a topic that many of our cardmembers care a lot about and to give our card members a tool to be able to track their carbon emissions. And so it’s pretty neat. We worked with UC Berkeley on figuring out the right calculations. It’s something that you could test out today if you wanted. It’s in the Try new feature section of the Amex mobile app. So you could you could go there and check it out. But that’s one of the ideas that that came through and we’re trialing.
Dave Yovanno [00:15:10] That is an awesome idea. I think you guys should be running commercials and just other arcane programs around it. That is right on point. I love that example. As we start to wrap, I’d love to hear what trends you’re focused on right now in the partnership economy. What’s top of mind for you right now?
Stephanie Schultz [00:15:25] Sure. So there are a number of new emerging technologies that we’re constantly testing and looking at. I would say one area that we’ve been more recently active in is really around Web3. And so I’m really excited about this because I think it actually has the potential to fundamentally change business models. I think it’s one of those inflection moments in the world of technology innovation. So I’m really excited about the potential in the long run. At the US Open this year, we tested this idea of customers who came to the US Open on site. We’re a big sponsor. They were able to engage with us and we had a program called Member Collectibles. So on site customers who showed up, they could claim a total of three digital collectibles, and so they were sort of at different locations at the US Open. And when they were collecting these pull ups or proof of attendance protocols, they actually unlocked exclusive cardmember offers on site. So for example, one of the offers is a transit offer, so you could get an offer on your ride home from the US Open. But it’s the idea of the digital ticket stuff in a way. But to not only have the moment and the memory, but then you get some real tangible value that you can unlock with it. That’s an area that we’re testing into and excited about is just another way to engage our customers.
Dave Yovanno [00:16:51] I think it’s a great example of the partnership economy, just to state it clearly. I mean, when I talk about how what you’re doing compares to things that companies like Amex have been doing for the last hundred years, right? When radio started, 20s then TV in that same year, it’s all been about getting your brand in front of the customer. What you’re talking about now is creating better experiences for your customers and doing that through partnerships like to me, that is what’s key today to be relevant to the customer. It’s not about, you know, your brand message going to rag, talking about how great Amex is and how you know elite it is as a brand. It’s about how can you improve their experience. That’s one consistent theme that we’ve been talking about all throughout this conversation. I just think that that’s so relevant and I’m waiting for what it takes to kind of stand out as a brand and can I continue to kind of grow and, like I said, be relevant to the customers any day? I think they are expecting it now. Right. And not, you know, you just kind of bragging about yourself and, you know, propping up through those traditional means. So forever, that’s where they start to call out. Do you agree with that, by the way? It sounds like that is that is key to your mission.
Stephanie Schultz [00:17:56] I couldn’t agree more. I mean, I think the power of partnerships is it enables you to combine the assets of two different companies to come with like a bigger impact. Right? And so I don’t know, there’s this like quote that I think about. It’s kind of like if you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go to go together. Even with like the Web3 example, I do feel like that capability is going to enable more interoperability, more partnerships in new ways and hopefully make it easier. Right? Sometimes partnerships are hard. You have to like negotiate the deal, You have to build the tech. I’m hoping that there’s going to be an easier way in the future where, you know, maybe we’re all on the same whatever blockchains and it’s a little bit easier to create some of these joint experiences that we want to create for our customers.
Dave Yovanno [00:18:48] Excellent. Yeah. And I couldn’t agree more with everything you just said. And just to make the point, I mean, this is something that myself and my team at Impact.com is focused on the technology aspect with everything that we can do to automate partnerships is kind of where where we’re focused, how to make more partnerships happen through a a software and a platform sort of experience. And finally, for anyone listening who wants to form a partnership with Amex to contact you or your team, what’s the best way for them to do so?
Stephanie Schultz [00:19:13] Yes, find me on LinkedIn. I would love to connect. If you have an idea, talk to me. I’ll probably pull somebody on my team to work on it with you and they’ll come to our pitch session and see if we can find a way to work together. So we would love to hear from you. We’re definitely looking at new ways that that we can partner. So I always love to get get new ideas.
Dave Yovanno [00:19:36] I love that. All right. That’s a wrap. Thanks, Stephanie. That was great. Thank you so much for joining us and for sharing your incredible insights. Lots of great takeaways here. And thank you to our listeners for tuning in. We’ll see you next time on The Partnership Economy podcast. Always fascinating to consider how far this industry has come from direct mail to something like American Express, his latest venture, Virtual Cards. This episode featured some great examples of the unique ways that businesses can partner together to produce a better offering for the end consumer. I also loved hearing about the innovative activations that Amex stood out like the U.S. Open exclusive onsite offers. One thing that resonated with me was the way that Steph team pitches new ideas. I love the Shark Tank concept and that anyone on her team can pitch their ideas to leadership, although it has to withstand the pressure test and any questions from her teammates, it’s really shows the importance of knowing your product inside and out. Finally, Steph gave some sage advice at the start of this conversation around how she’s been able to build her career and accomplish a proud 13 years at American Express. It comes down to passion. Having fun with what you do and being realistic about your ideas and how they can scale. I hope you enjoy this episode as much as I did. Thank you Steph, for joining us on The Partnership Economy Podcast and thank you for listening.
Canned Intro [00:20:55] Thanks for listening to The Partnership Economy brought to you by Impact.com. If you enjoyed today’s episode, be sure to subscribe to the show and rate and review it on Apple Podcasts.