Yesterday, Wells Fargo and American Express announced a new chapter of working together: Wells Fargo will issue new credit cards accepted on the American Express network in 2014, after a pilot in select markets during the third quarter of this year. This announcement brings our companies full circle, as Wells Fargo and American Express share the same founders and a rich history of working together to serve customers and their financial needs.
In 1850, Henry Wells, William Fargo and John Butterfield joined to establish the American Express Company, to transport packages, valuables and goods. Wells was President of American Express until 1868; Fargo succeeded him and remained as President until 1881.
While Butterfield maintained the American Express business based in New York, expanding its East Coast operations, Wells and Fargo formed Wells Fargo & Company in 1852, to provide reliable banking and express services to Gold Rush pioneers. In 1857, Butterfield and Fargo demonstrated their entrepreneurial spirit in another venture, separate from American Express and Wells Fargo. They joined other investors to establish the Overland Mail Company, the first transcontinental stagecoach line, which carried news, passengers and the US Mail over a 2,800-mile route. Even today, Wells Fargo stagecoaches roll in community events every day, and create the same excitement as they did more than a century ago.
Wells Fargo and American Express continued to expand in the express business, handling customers’ money and valuable goods. Wells Fargo Express grew “Ocean to Ocean,” with 10,000 offices by 1918. American Express introduced its express money orders in 1882, and a decade later, the traveler’s cheque—a new financial convenience for international travelers.
While American Express and Wells Fargo sometimes competed, the two companies also collaborated many times to make the customer experience seamless—through joint agencies, shared commercial space and even personnel.
In 1918, the express industry was consolidated as a wartime measure and both American Express and Wells Fargo came face to face with a radically changed business model. American Express continued with its international travel and financial businesses, while Wells Fargo concentrated on banking. Over the rest of the century, Wells Fargo and merger partners grew to encompass much of the territory it enjoyed in 1918, and today has more than 9,000 stores and 12,000 ATMs across the country (pdf).
The strategic relationship announced yesterday re-connects the two historic companies to begin a new era of serving customers together.