International Business

American Express says sí to Cuba

A woman wearing leggings with the US flag design, walks in Havana on January 23, 2015. Hours into historic US-Cuba talks in Havana, a Cuban official came out to boast about the "relaxed" atmosphere at the meeting between the old Cold War adversaries. After barely speaking face-to-face since the 1960s, the United States and Cuba took big steps toward normalizing ties by holding a two-day meeting, even though the talks highlighted enduring rifts between the nations.
A woman wearing leggings with the US flag design, walks in Havana on January 23, 2015. Hours into historic US-Cuba talks in Havana, a Cuban official came out to boast about the "relaxed" atmosphere at the meeting between the old Cold War adversaries. After barely speaking face-to-face since the 1960s, the United States and Cuba took big steps toward normalizing ties by holding a two-day meeting, even though the talks highlighted enduring rifts between the nations. AFP/Getty Images

American Express is the latest U.S. company to throw its hat into the ring and say it plans to do business in Cuba under new regulations outlined by the Obama administration.

The world’s largest credit card issuer by purchase volume and operator of the world’s largest travel network provided few details.

“I can’t tell you when our cards will be working in Cuba, but we are planning to do business in Cuba,” Marina H. Norville, an American Express vice president, said Tuesday.

MasterCard announced last week that it intended to stop blocking Cuban transactions on its cards issued by U.S. banks on March 1. It already has infrastructure set up because MasterCards issued by non-U.S. banks are accepted in Cuba, generally at state-run hotels and for other tourist-oriented activities.

But American Express will be starting from scratch. “We have not had merchant relations or terminals set up,” said Norville.

The new financial rules are part of President Barack Obama’s initiative to normalize relations with Cuba.

As a U.S. company, American Express couldn’t do business in Cuba until the recent changes, which allows American travelers to use debit and credit cards on the island and also permits U.S. banks to open correspondent accounts at Cuban financial institutions to process authorized transactions.

Norville said American Express’ business activities in Cuba will be consistent with the new rules outlined by the Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control. “We’re still working on this,” she said.

The New York-based financial services company issues its own American Express cards but also provides Amex-branded cards issued by other financial institutions in its network.

Andy Fernandez, who heads the Cuba Action Team/financial services at Holland & Knight, said that while the new Treasury rules allow American travelers to use debit and credit cards in Cuba, “it’s still the choice of U.S. banks whether they want to engage in this activity.”

MasterCard advises travelers to check with the financial institution issuing their cards to see if they will be supported on the island.

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