James began his career working on the ground floor before university, in the factory environment manufacturing the credit cards for American Express, and doing this throughout his studies. Post university, with a degree accredited by the British Computer Society in Business Information Systems, he has been in the American Express mobile app team for 10 years and now leads their international app team, supported by a great team of product managers.
In your own words, what’s your role in the app business right now?
I look after the international mobile app at American Express. Amex operates in 21 international markets outside the US. My team of product managers and I look to develop features and functionalities for these markets as well as bring US app features to our international business. We partner with product, design, engineering and marketing colleagues around the globe, as well as stakeholders across the business globally to bring digital journeys to life for our customers.
How did you end up working in apps? / get started?
Having studied business information systems at university, I had always wanted to be part of a role and team that put my studies into practice. Having joined the Amex mobile team in 2012 when apps were still in their infancy, I’ve been part of it ever since. The team and space have grown massively in this time.
What are you most excited about in apps right now? (tech, trends, people, verticals)
I love it when new capabilities or features are released that allow us as a digital servicing team to develop functionality that will make customers’ lives easier and also benefit me as a customer/user! Things like iOS12 autofill for one-time passcodes is one example that makes an inevitable task completely redundant by optimising the efficiency and removing extra steps for the user. Seeing the newest devices and operating systems constantly being updated and refined and making us think how we can best utlize these newest technologies make working in the industry really exciting.
What other companies in the app space do you rate/ inspire you and why?
We’re often compared (both by customers, and myself as an employee and customer!) with both the fintechs/startups and established brands. It’s great to see how brands with a similar industry, yet different business model and scope are able to offer varying approaches to a familiar challenge. The fintechs in particular do a great job of offering app-first digital servicing. Seeing how they also vary their approach to marketing communications and app store messaging is also really interesting, e.g. a more business-like tone vs a conversational tone. I always read through the ‘what’s new’ sections in each of the app updates to see how they approach communication style.
What do you like most about working in apps?
For my role in particular, getting to work with 21 different countries and people from around the globe is the main part I love about my role. Being able to work with teams from all corners of the globe and seeing how the app proposition varies from market to market. The apps themselves are as varied as the cultures that they support. Getting to then identify opportunities and bring new features to life and seeing the app store ratings come in is great. I would highly recommend Amex for this as a great place to learn and develop!
What one thing would you change about the app industry / market?
Content and translation management, not just for an app, but any digital channel can be a challenge when working across many regions and locales. An efficient way to support this, not just for our mobile engineers/product owners, but also to make lives easier for our broader colleagues who aren’t part of the mobile team but are involved in the development and localisation process. Approaching this with a broader mindset of not just app as a channel, but multichannel is something I’m looking to refine and optimize.
Where do you think there’s an opportunity for apps / or unmet needs?
There are unmet needs that vary both locally at an individual market/region level and more broadly at a global level. Addressing this is what my team and I strive to improve on everyday. On the broader level, having a greater set of functionality to make the app the go to channel for your self-servicing needs is the wider aim for us. There will always be cases where a customer would prefer the peace of mind of chatting with customer services, but for many interactions, customers prefer the option of self-servicing through the mobile app. Addressing this in a sustainable manner and catering for multiple markets makes the challenge both a simple in theory concept, but a challenge to implement in practicality. Bridging the gap between broader global needs and local needs is also one I’m interested in seeing the opportunity in, e.g. adjusting the experience based on where the user originated from to where they are going to (such as while travelling).
On a more personal interest level, I’m very curious in which way the wearable space will head and how it will change. It will be really interesting to see how these latest computers that we take with us will transform how we interact with the world and brands in the way that mobiles have done.
If you weren’t working in apps what would you be doing?
I very much enjoy the breadth of the industry I’m in, but if I were to work in something non-app related, a friend and I started a sustainable fashion brand. So potentially that, or if I had to completely restart, I’ve always found history interesting. So, maybe something in that field.
iOS or Android?
What app(s) have been most useful to you over the last year?
Slack, MapMyRun, Duolingo
Any Netflix/ TV show recommendations?
James May – our man in Japan
Is there anything else we should know about you?
Come say hey if you see me at any industry events!
Do you know someone driving change and growth in the app industry? Nominate an app leader here.