Foreign Exchange

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Foreign Exchange

Foreign Exchange

Foreign Exchange is very important to the Remittance business as well as to other foreign operations of the company. It is now conducted in impressive offices, but in the early 1900s, when the tide of immigrants was swirling over Ellis Island, it had one picturesque aspect.

Every morning Frederick P. Small, who was then in charge of this operation, would go to the Ellis Island ferry with an assistant. An American Express money wagon - a small one-horse express wagon caged in by stout wire netting - would meet him at the pier with a load of specie. Fred Small and his assistant would load the bags of gold and silver on a handcart and take them over on the ferry. On Ellis Island they set up shop behind wooden tables, exchanging American money for the currencies of all the countries of Europe at the standard rates of exchange.

In order to protect its millions of patrons who carry its Travellers Cheques, the company maintains the Inspectors Department, which a representative of Scotland Yard recently referred to as "the finest international detective service in the world." The Inspectors Department is in the charge of James J. Bulger. His visual memory is incredible. He can instantly recognize any person whose photograph he has ever seen, and if he has studied a signature even ten years ago, he can identify it.

His leisure time is spent in analyzing and memorizing files of current cases - he averages about 5,000 a year. Once committed to memory, he can recall almost every detail. Bulger looks the part of a detective. He speaks in a clipped military manner and moves forcefully.

The motto of the Inspectors Department is, "A crook a day," and the department very nearly lives up to it. operations are as world-wide as the company's business, since agents are maintained in the principal cities all over the world. These agents are usually men trained by Bulger personally for their jobs. Preferably, each is familiar with the leading underworld characters of his area of operations.

In addition, elaborate files are kept on known criminals. The company is said to possess one of the most complete international rogues' galleries in existence. The Federal Government, the police of states and cities, the armed services of the United States, and various European police forces, including Scotland Yard and the famous French Sitret´┐Ż Nationale, frequently confer with the American Express.

For example, a huge international ring of counterfeiters began passing counterfeit American Express Travellers Cheques in 1947. French police and American Express agents, working together, began the arduous task of tracing the counterfeit Cheques back to their source. When he saw the extent of the conspiracy and the danger it represented, John K. Livingston left his regular duties in New York and went to Paris to take personal charge of the situation. He remained there for the greater part of three years, keeping in close touch with the investigation by the police in the twenty-two countries in which these counterfeit Cheques appeared, and with the International Police Commission, which, among its other special functions, co-ordinates the efforts of member countries in the suppression of counterfeiting.

Owing in large measure to the prompt handling of the numerous and very difficult cases which began in the summer of 1947, only £30,000 worth of Cheques, out of a total that might have run to hundreds of thousands, were passed. The long and persistent investigation resulted in the arrest of those who had planned, financed, and manufactured the counterfeits and scores of individuals involved in their distribution and negotiation. Upon trial of fifty-eight of the defendants in the Paris Criminal Court in the spring of 1950, fifty of them, of thirteen different nationalities, were convicted. Their individual sentences varied from eighteen months to nine years. Individual fines ran as high as 6,000,000 francs, and a judgment of damages was awarded the American Express in the amount of 20,000,000 francs.

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THE BIGGEST DIVISION of the American Express Company is the Comptroller's Office, where Paul R. Ross, a slender, greying man, presides over financial transactions that literally run to billions of dollars a year. Nearly 80 per cent of the employees at headquarters in New York work under his direction, and the department overflows the space available in the main building and has sections on Trinity Place and at 61 Hudson Street.

This is necessary, for what with Money Orders, Letters of Credit, Foreign Remittances, and - especially! - Travellers Cheques, this department is responsible for the accounting of the great volume of business of the company and the preparation of financial statements and reports. Sales of Travellers Cheques are made through 28,000 outlets around the world, and the amount of bookkeeping entailed thereby is enormous. Several million people purchase American Express Travellers Cheques every year, and they negotiate them... see: CHEQUES, BALANCES, AND DETECTIVES

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