American Express (NYSE: AXP) is a global financial services company and one of the leading brand franchises in the world. In 2007, Interbrand ranked American Express as the 15th most valuable brand in the world, behind only companies like Coca-Cola and McDonald's.
American Express operates the largest closed-loop credit card transaction system in the world. This means that the company issues its own cards and processes the transactions, collecting a fee called the discount rate. This is a different business model than competitors Visa and Mastercard who rely on banks to issue the credit cards.
American Express is a shareholder friendly company, returning 71% of the capital it generated from 1994 to the present back to shareholders via share buybacks and dividends.