AmEx Travel Section Bears The Brunt Of Layoffs

American Express has announced plans to eliminate 5,400 jobs in the coming year. Expenses rose faster than revenue for the credit card giant and fourth quarter profits were down sharply. The company said the largest reductions would come in the global travel business.

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Heading in the other direction, American Express says it plans to lay off more than 5,000 workers in the coming year. These unexpected cuts come despite a strong holiday sales season.

NPR's Kirk Siegler reports.

KIRK SIEGLER, BYLINE: All told, the layoffs will account for about eight percent of American Express's entire workforce - most from the company's global travel business.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: American Express is one of the largest travel companies in the world, and you'll always get our support when you need it the most.

SIEGLER: The friendly travel agents featured in this ad are precisely what the company needs fewer of. Business travelers can just book or rebook plane tickets and hotels from their smart phones.

American Express CEO Ken Chenault put it a little more bluntly in a call with analysts.

KEN CHENAULT: One outcome of this ongoing shift to online is that we can serve a growing customer base with lower staffing levels.

SIEGLER: Despite the layoffs in Amex's travel business, Chenault says they'll add jobs in other divisions. That means that the overall workforce will still shrink, but only by four to six percent.

CHENAULT: The environment continues to be challenging, but I believe our core business results continue to show the strength of our franchise.

SIEGLER: One reason Chenault cited for that - despite the effects of Superstorm Sandy, the company did still report a sizable increase in consumer spending over last year. American Express will announce its formal earnings next week.

Kirk Siegler, NPR News.

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