A few weeks ago, I wrote a post about an email promotion American Express buried at the bottom of the newsletter about my Blue for Business card through which you could earn points by setting up an account with their foreign exchange international payments (FXIP) service. Since I sometimes need to make foreign wire transfers and actually had a couple coming up, I decided to apply, especially since the bonus - 15,000 points after one wire and another 15,000 after three more - was pretty enticing... even moreso given that they didn't put a minimum transfer amount on it. Unfortunately, it turned out that the application process is much more rigorous than a normal business credit card application. In addition to a bunch of information about your actual business (website, business category, annual revenue), they also want a tax ID (not a Social Security number) and a business (not personal) checking account. The application has six parts, so after completing the basic information on the first part, I gave up, realizing that this service was definitely not intended for peons like me.
(I'll take this opportunity to plug my hobby business (Chance Press) really quick, since I'm sure you're all dying to know what it is. In my spare time, I'm a fine art printer and bookbinder, and I sometimes get around to selling my wares, hence the "business" part of "hobby business.")
Since wires through FXIP are so cheap (free for the first ten, then $10) compared to what banks offer, I assumed that the exchange rates would be terrible, or that there was some hidden catch somewhere, like a monthly fee if you don't wire a certain amount of money each month. Luckily, OG Windbag commenter MangoJasmine noted that she was going to push all the way through the application process, so I'd at least be able to get some second-hand info about the program.
That's where it stayed for a week or so, but then the FXIP people started trying to get in touch with me. Since I had completed the first section of the application, they had all my contact info, and they left me a couple messages encouraging me to finish what I had started. I politely emailed back telling them that I'd like to use the service, but that my business is probably too small, since I don't have a tax ID number or a business checking account. To my surprise, they responded almost immediately that I could just use my social security number and personal checking account, as long as I use that personal checking account for my business, which I do.
I went ahead and filled out the rest of the application and waited another week or so before they sent me an email asking for a business license to verify my fictitious business name. I don't actually have a business license, so again I figured I'd just drop it. (I'm currently in the process of getting one, since the city where I live fined me for not having one and for not paying the local gross receipts tax that I didn't know existed... HOBBY BUSINESS!) Not wanting to give up this close to the finish line, I decided instead to upload a photo of my resale certificate, since that establishes that my fictitious business name is at least registered in some form with the State of California.
Fast forward another week, and they kept sending me emails asking for the business license, so it seemed like my resale certificate gamble had failed. However, I started getting calls from them again over the weekend telling me to call them to provide additional verification, and when I finally called back today, I just had to confirm my email address, business name, and affirm that I had actually applied for an FXIP account, and I was approved. What?! Good stuff.
Also, pretty hilarious, since Mango hasn't had it so smooth. Here's her comment from the original post:
An update on the Amex FX Payments program-
I submitted an application over the weekend with my state business license and business bank account information, and it looks like the application is just the beginning. The hurdles may be possible to cross for the most MR hungry, but it doesn’t look like this would be feasible for anyone who doesn’t have an actual business with documentation and can demonstrate the need for the FX program. See below.
Thank you for choosing American Express Foreign Exchange for your international payment needs. We look forward to working with you; your future business is wanted and appreciated. Currently your application is under review. As the Foreign Exchange market is a heavily regulated industry, we require some additional information in order to complete your application.
Please reply to this email with the items below:
· A copy of your active business license with DBA (Doing Business As, Trade, Assumed or Fictitious) name registration for XXXXXX. · You indicated on your application that your business does not have a website. Please explain how your business operates and advertises. · A brief description of your line of business and how you will be using our Foreign Exchange International Payment services. · 2-3 of any of the documents below in your business name and dated within the last 3 months that demonstrate your need for our Foreign Exchange International Payment services. · Contracts · Invoices · Service agreements · Previous international wire receipts · Business plan · Marketing Materials (i.e. Brochures, Fliers, etc.)
I look forward to your response, and if you have any questions or concerns you can email me directly. Again, thank you for choosing American Express.
Aside from the request for the business license, I didn't have to provide any of that stuff. I'm not sure what the takeaway is here... maybe make sure your business has a website before you apply? Still, it's not like I have a website that even gives the impression that Chance Press is a going concern - I mean, the last update is from 2014 (although it does have a link to my online store). I don't know why they decided to grill her and let me through with minimal scrutiny - it could just be luck of the draw based on what auditor is assigned to your account, or maybe the website thing really is a sticking point.
So, what happens once you get approved? First, I got an email with my new username for the FXIP site, followed by a second email with a temporary password, followed by a third email for a one-time PIN to enter after the temporary password. Once in my account, I was immediately able to send my first wire. The conversion rate was $1.00 to 1.1617 Euro (versus the xe.com true conversion of $1.00 to 1.1271). Not great, but actually pretty close to Chase's rate of 1.1609. At around 8 cents more per hundred Euros, it's well worth taking advantage of Amex's inferior rate to avoid Chase's $45 fee.
I executed the wire, although I haven't received email confirmation that it has gone through yet. We'll see how long that takes, and I'll update if I run into any snags. It also remains to be seen whether the points ever post - I should get 15,000 for sending my first wire once the payment goes through, but there's nothing anywhere in my FXIP account noting any sort of connection to the Membership Rewards program, so it might be for naught.
Bottom line is that I'm happy to have access to this service regardless of any bonus points, since I will be able to save tons of money on future wire transfers. However, it certainly isn't a straightforward process, and you'll at the very least have to upload some supporting documentation... and at worst, you'll have to go before the grizzled, becloaked Amex FXIP elders at a formal tribunal and plead your case directly to them.