The Brex corporate card is one of the fastest-growing financial tools we’ve seen startups adopt in the past few years. But traditional card vendor American Express isn’t sitting on its laurels, and has announced their own “Brex Killer” card – “American Express Corporate Program for Startups.”
So, what most early-stage founders want to know is, should you switch to Brex or this new offering from AmEx? If your company is a VC funded business, then the answer is a strong YES. As a leading accounting and finance consulting firm that has worked with startups that have collectively raised over $2 billion in funding, we have some strong opinions on which card is right for you and why.
Which is better for a funded startup, Brex or AmEx?
Cutting to the chase: right now, Brex’s cards are the better product for a funded company. Brex beats American Express’ current offerings in pretty much every category, that a founder who has raised seed or venture financing should care about. Because Kruze Consulting is a leader in the startup finance space, Brex is offering our referrals an amazing deal - 150,000 points for signing up now through Kruze.
We may change this recommendation once AmEx releases their new card, but as of now you can’t actually get their startup focused card, and Brex is the best solution available.
Let’s break down what to look for in a card, and compare the two options to see which card is best for a funded startup; we’ll use all the information that is currently available on the not-yet-released offering coming from American Express.
First, what does a startup need in a card?
We only work with early-stage “Silicon Valley” style companies that have raised seed or venture capital funding. These kinds of businesses are very, very different from “traditional” small businesses like flower shops or 2-person law firms. Traditional business owners are usually looking for a low-fee product that gives them travel points, and they expect their line of credit to be based on their personal credit score.
Funded startups need a radically different offering:
- A credit or spending limit that is based on the company’s funding, not the founder’s credit score
- No founder’s guarantee on the line of credit
- Perks for the startup, not for the business owner (i.e. discounts on services used by the company, not travel points for the founders personal use)
- Easy accounting and bookkeeping, to save valuable time
- A good UX and tools the founder can use to manage the company’s spend
APR and personal travel rewards aren’t what we recommend funded companies focus on. If you are starting a small business that you own 100%, these might be perks that you want. But when you are raising capital from VCs, you want to get things that increase your startup’s chance of succeeding. Features that save you time and reduce your company’s burn rate are much more important. And you also want to split the spending limit from your own, personal credit score. And you don’t want the debt on the card to follow you if the company fails! Again, we recommend Brex over AmEx’s current offerings, which are focused on traditional small businesses. The new, “startup-focused American Express” product will likely be a lot more appealing to funded companies, but we can not recommend AmEx’s current product.
You’ve heard of American Express, but what is Brex?
Ok, so American Express is obviously a well-known brand, and is one of the larger financial services companies in the world. But what about Brex?
Journalists have started to refer to Brex as Amex 2.0. The company offers corporate cards (not which are actually a little different than credit cards) to funded, early-stage companies. Right now, we think it’s the best choice for VC funded businesses. The Kruze Consulting clients that are using them say that they love the rewards, and appreciate the extra points on common startup spend categories like ridesharing. Startups that pay for important services like AWS can get discounts. They do not make the founder put up a personal guarantee - and does not link the company’s spending limit to the founder’s credit score. This is a big deal! We’ve seen our founders who have fast growth companies struggle to keep the cloud servers turned on because they were growing so fast that their personal credit card kept getting maxed out! The company itself is a venture-funded business - a unicorn to be exact. It’s raised over $380 million in venture capital. You can get one here.
When is AmEx coming out with their startup card?
The American Express Corporate Program for Startups card won’t be released until the Fall of 2019. Which is basically now, although we haven’t actually seen anyone with it yet. Their site currently says “by invitation only Fall 2019” and has a number you can call to get more information: (855) 407-0599. Let us know if you get it; we’d love to hear about your experiences.
According to Bloomberg, American Express said “We acknowledge that for a younger company, with a younger set of founders, the traditional corporate program wasn’t meeting their needs.” As we understand it (source here), the biggest two changes they are making for this offering is that
- The card will no longer force a personal guarantee onto the founder
- Spending will be linked to the company’s bank account
It looks like the perks will be the same as other American Express cards - access to airport lounges, seating for sporting and cultural events… so not really super startup focused.
Comparing AmEx and Brex’s cards
This chart details the key differences between the AmEx card and the Brex card.
|Brex||American Express Corporate Program for Startups|
|Type of Card||Corporate Charge Card||Corporate Charge Card|
|Currently Easily Available||Yes||No|
|Built for Funded Startups||Yes||Yes|
|Spending Limit||Generous||Up to 10% of linked business bank account|
|Rewards||Points for spending, including higher points
for key startup expense categories
|Airport lounge access
Premium seats for sports
|Personal Guarantee||Not Required||Not Required|
|QuickBooks Online Sync||Yes||Weak|
|Instant Sign Up||Yes||No|
|Ability to Carry Balance||No||No|
|Robust Spending Controls||Yes||No|
Reviews of Brex and AmEx’s cards
So, the new American Express card is not yet really available, and we don’t yet have any clients using it. Once we have a few CEOs with the product we’ll be able to update our comparison chart and add their reviews. We have a large number of our clients using Brex now, and they give it very positive reviews. From Kruze’s bookkeeping team’s perspective, Brex makes doing the books and accounting a lot easier. And our FP&A team has seen it meaningfully reduce the burn rate of our clients who switch from AmEx to Brex because the spending controls are so strong.
Why is American Express reacting to what Brex is doing?
It’s a big deal when an incumbent like American Express reacts to something a startup like Brex is doing. So why is AmEx coming out with a new product to specifically compete against them?
Probably because Brex is eating their lunch. Brex and also Stripe, (which has a new card that’s not out of beta yet) have found a solid niche serving funded, early-stage companies. Brex is taking serious market share from AmEx - at the end of Q2, 23% of our clients were using Brex, up from nothing a year ago. And when we re-run the data for Q3 2019, we expect that a greater percent of startups are going to be using Brex than American Express.
It’s our startup clients who benefit from all of this competition and innovation. With the removal of a personal guarantee, plus all these more startup-appropriate perks, it’s the early stage companies who are going to reap the rewards. Also, accountants like Kruze who know how to use technology to be more efficient. We benefit too. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯ Of course, since we pass along this savings to our clients with low-priced bookkeeping, everyone wins!
Do we recommend Brex or AmEx?
We have a lot of happy customers using Brex, and they are offering new signups that come through Kruze 100,000 bonus points for signing up - you can sign up and get the reward here. And American Express hasn’t officially launched their new card; plus we don’t yet have any clients using it. So we strongly recommend Brex over American Express’ new Corporate Program for Startups at the moment. We’d like to see the AmEx offering live in the market, do some monthly bookkeeping with it, and ask some of our CEOs for reviews before recommending it.
Brex Card - the best option for funded, early-stage companies. With a generous spending limit based on the company’s funding and performance, and no personal guarantee, it’s truly built for the Silicon Valley-style startup. Sign up now.
AmEx Corporate Program for Startups - probably going to be a decent option, once they launch it and work all of the kins out. The biggest innovation they are offering is breaking the link between the founder’s credit. The perks seem a little too small business owner focused, but since they haven’t actually launched we don’t yet know what they will come out with. We’ll be able to more firmly review this product after some of our clients get their hands on it - and we’ll update this page once we know more.
Want a detailed review of the best credit cards for startups? Click here to read our comparison of the top providers our clients use. We list out the pros and cons of each of the cards we see with major market share.