Amex throws $100M at its biggest problem: suiting up for the digital revolution

American Express has just earmarked a $100 million fund to “identify and develop innovative technologies that will help… accelerate the company’s digital transformation.”

The company, which was founded in 1849, is now establishing a Silicon Valley office to stay on top of the latest developments in mobile and finance technologies.

The new office and fund will be led by Harshul Sanghi, the former head of Motorola Mobility Ventures.

“As we enter the next chapter in our history, we recognize the need to work with emerging technology companies to inspire change, encourage innovation, and ultimately deliver the best products and services to our customers,” said the company’s group president for enterprise growth, Dan Schulman, in a release.

American Express has for sometime been hip to the jive of tech scenesters and mobile-minded whippersnappers. The company has thrown its weight into new initiatives from almost every front-running social network and mobile payments platform for the past year or so.

Over this past summer alone, Amex partnered with Facebook for a deals program and with Foursquare for checkin discounts. The company also got in bed with Isis, a mobile payment network started by three of the four big mobile carriers, during this time.

American Express also had a busy fall, courting new users for Serve, another mobile payment system, at a San Francisco rock festival in August; acquiring Sometrics, a social gaming and virtual currency company, in September; and hopping on the Google Wallet bandwagon in October.

If we didn’t know better, we’d say American Express was employing the tried-and-true “spray and pray tactic”, aiming its vast resources at every buzz-laden startup and platform it can see on the technological scene and praying that one of its bets will shape up to be a real winner in the mass market.

The American Express fund will invest in such verticals as loyalty and rewards programs, mobile and online payment platforms, security, fraud detection and data analysis.

We’ll be keeping an eye on Amex’s Silicon Valley funding and acquisition activity from our perch in San Francisco’s Financial District, so stay tuned for more.

Image courtesy of whiteafrican.

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