American Express was at a crossroads a few years ago as the card network ran into a wall with an existing product — its small-business high-yield savings account — while consumers were itching for more digital banking services.
To create some new magic, the company tapped Eva Reda, a longtime Amex veteran known for taking on “thorny” new jobs, to lead the company’s move into digital banking and consumer financial services.
“It was like building a startup within Amex,” Reda recalled of her biggest recent accomplishment, in which she used one of her secret weapons — people skills — to quickly form a team of experts to launch Amex’s first set of dedicated consumer financial services outside of cards.
Amex Rewards Checking launched last year and quickly caught on. It was followed by a partnership with Vanguard to provide Amex card customers with access to investing advice, with rewards built in.
The high-stakes effort was more challenging than met the eye, but Reda — one of this year’s Most Influential Women in Payments — won corporate buy-in for these initiatives and more by using emotional intelligence skills she developed in her long, steady climb up the organization.
“Be human and kind. If you genuinely care, you have an easier time understanding people and working with them. Being a leader has taught me this over and over, as has working in partnerships. With both, you need to understand what others are trying to achieve,” she said.
Reda drew on more than 30 years of hard-earned experience at Amex in everything from technology to product strategy, marketing and partnerships to win her current position at the New York-based firm.
“In my career I’ve always made moves to take on a new challenge, and they are usually the biggest and thorniest ones,” Reda said, noting that whether the move was lateral or a promotion, she always made sure she was pushing herself in new directions.
“When you stop learning, start looking for your next move,” Reda says of navigating a career within a large corporation. “I’ve stayed at Amex because I’ve continued to find new challenges that allow me to learn and grow.”
Reda’s ambitions at Amex surfaced early. Within two years of joining the card network out of college in 1992 as a strategic planning analyst, she dove into reengineering Amex’s merchant processing functions, discovering ways to improve efficiency and reduce fraud.
Next she led innovation efforts to harvest information and data tailored for large merchants on the Amex network, kicking off her rise as an executive. By 2011, Reda oversaw Amex’s $1 billion consumer marketing budget for customer acquisition, with oversight of strategy and creative execution across multiple media and partner channels.
Over the next several years, Reda moved up to manage global cobranded card partnerships and product development for companies including Delta Air Lines, Hilton, Marriott, steering key operations for more than 30 different Amex card portfolios.
Immediately prior to assuming her current role, Reda was executive vice president and general manager of global consumer lending and cobrand, where she oversaw expansion of one of the first credit card-based buy now/pay later products, Amex’s Plan It, which enables customers to split payments for certain items after purchase.
Along the way, Reda said one job stood out as a significant leap forward. More than 20 years ago, she was offered the opportunity to become Amex’s director of global pricing, an unfamiliar new area that touched multiple international markets.
“I moved from the U.S. to London for the job and was tasked with creating and staffing an entirely new global team. I was getting to know other cultures by working with our global team and living abroad for the first time, which taught me resilience, how to manage immense change,” she said.
The move also enriched her family, the mother of three said.
“I believe that success at work can’t happen without success at home. I’m grateful to my family for supporting me when I’ve faced challenges at work and when I’ve wanted to take on something new, even when that meant change for them, too, like the move to London,” Reda said.
As corporations have increased support for families, the trend has helped women advance in their careers, Reda said. She worked to expand these efforts by getting involved with Families at Amex, a colleague-based networking group that offers programs, tools and resources for employees who are parents and caregivers.
“I believe every woman leader has a responsibility to mentor and sponsor other women and without that, we cannot create equity for women in the workplace,” Reda said.
Four in 10 of Amex’s senior executives — and over half of the company’s global workforce — are now women, “but we are far from done,” Reda said. She wants to further expand executive and C-suite opportunities for women at Amex.
For Reda, the way forward within the organization has always been to shift her perspective away from herself.
“To decide what’s next, think about your customer. What problems do they have that need solving? Let that guide your next move. Whether it’s going for an open position or looking to create something totally new, you should always be on your front foot in your career,” she said.