Amex Contacts Nonroster Shops

It’s not often that non-roster shops get a shot at a piece of business from a high-profile brand name like American Express, albeit one that will soon be named something else. Almost any shop without a conflict would want to line up for American Express Financial Advisors’ $55 million account.

Last week consultant Pile & Co. in Boston began contacting what one source said were mainly New York and East Coast agencies. They include Omnicom’s TBWA\Chiat\ Day, Interpublic’s Deutsch and Foote Cone & Belding, WPP Group’s Grey Advertising, and MDC Partners’ Margeotes/Fertitta + Partners—all in New York, sources said. WPP’s Ogilvy & Mather, New York, the 21-year incumbent, is defending.

Amex said in February that it would spin off AEFA—which it said had 2004 net income of $700 million, 12,000 advisors and 2.5 million clients—in a process expected to be completed by the third quarter. According to sources, a company has already been hired to determine the new name for the unit.

“American Express is one of the strongest financial brands in the world,” said Dan Ross, president of financial services consultant Wechsler Ross & Partners in New York. “It has wonderful, positive attributes, and now they’re losing that.”

In a statement, Amex said that “as an independent company, AEFA would not have to compete for capital or management resource with other American Express business, and therefore would be able to react more quickly to market opportunities for new products.”

The agencies declined comment. Client rep Ann Wasik would not provide details on the review.

Sources said credentials are due back March 30. A cut to six semifinalists is expected April 4, and three finalists will be chosen from that group. Final presentations and a decision are expected in early May.