Mastercard's priority is to work with all stakeholders in the cashless movement

Q&A with Timothy Murphy, the company's general counsel and chief franchise officer
By Staff writer
Sun 21 May 2017 08:29 AM

Public-private partnerships play a pivotal role in socioeconomic growth. What are Mastercard’s endeavors in this direction?

We know that a government cannot achieve financial inclusion alone, and neither can the private sector. Public-private partnerships are major catalysts for creating an inclusive economy, nurturing ideal conditions for innovations in payments and driving socio-economic growth. All stakeholders -- from governments to merchants -- have a part to play in this cashless movement, and it is a priority for Mastercard to work closely with governments to enable financial inclusion on a national scale.

In the Middle East and Africa, Mastercard has joined forces with public institutions to launch solutions that link a government identity with payments and enable people to become financially included on a massive scale. In Egypt, Mastercard is working with the government to extend financial inclusion to 54 million citizens, or approximately 65 percent of the population through a digital National ID program . We have also successfully managed to digitize salary payments of over 4.6 million Egyptians employed in the government. In Kenya, we joined the country’s Vision 2030  reform plans and successfully rolled out the ‘Huduma Card’ – a smart payment solution that will enable payments for all state services and provide an avenue for government to disburse social payments to the public efficiently and with accountability. We are making similar advances in Nigeria and Rwanda where we are working to bring millions of people into the financial fold, digitize payments and help the countries achieve the goals of good governance.

Mastercard is a key enabler of inclusive growth. How is Mastercard promoting Financial Inclusion?

As a leading technology company in the global payments industry, we have a responsibility and commitment towards devising solutions that drive inclusive growth across the world. A rich history of successful initiatives points towards our undisputed role in driving inclusive growth, but at the same time, we acknowledge that there remains a lot of work to be done. We have launched the ‘Mastercard Center for Inclusive Growth’ – a institution dedicated to unearthing workable solutions, invest in related R&D and connect government, academia, business, and NGOs in a bid to drive sustainable inclusion.

We also launched the 'Mastercard Labs for Financial Inclusion' in collaboration with the Gates Foundation to develop cost-effective financial tools that expand financial access and help build stable futures.

Since 2013, Mastercard has delivered programs and services to more than 200 million people previously excluded from the financial mainstream. Last year, Mastercard committed to connecting 40 million micro merchants through its products and services by 2020 , as these are the points of trade that the underserved and underbanked frequent. Having connected over 300 million individuals to the financial mainstream and added 5.5 million merchants, I can say that Mastercard has made significant advances and is well on its way to honoring the commitment in full.

How does technology and innovation play a role in financial inclusion?

Innovation in technology is the key to boosting financial inclusion in the region, and we are fortunate that governments and regulatory agencies in the region – especially the GCC - recognize how innovation can be a strong driver of economic growth and competitiveness. According to the 2015 Ericsson Mobility Report , 70% of people across the world will be smartphone users by 2020, and countries in Asia, Africa and the Middle East will account for 80% of the new subscriptions.

The ubiquitous nature of internet and smartphones, along with its exponential growth, especially in Middle East and Africa, provides a launch pad for new solutions that are easy to use and provide an alternative to cash.

At Mastercard, we believe that every digital device has the potential to connect more people to formal financial infrastructure by becoming a commerce device. But if we simply digitize the tools without extending them to those outside the system, we risk having the “Internet of Everything” without the “Inclusion of Everyone”. Hence, our breakthroughs in technology and innovation are focused on developing a more inclusive, connected payments landscape. We are motivated to unearth new possibilities that strengthen the ecosystem, and reach people who have a phone in their pockets but remain at a distance from the nearest bank.

The digital shift is the biggest change in payments. Does Mastercard see this as an opportunity?

Since the introduction of plastic money that made Mastercard a household name, the digital shift is the most crucial and game-changing development in payments. We foresee a significant change in the payments landscape. In fact, we believe that the power of digital will bring about more changes in the payments sphere in the next five years than what we have witnessed in the previous 50. With a rich legacy of innovations, this means that Mastercard is ever-ready to capitalize on the opportunities and turn challenges into avenues for improvement and growth. We are bringing safer and richer digital payment experiences to life for consumers and making their lives convenient and hassle-free.

For the region in specific, opportunities abound due to its demographic landscape. The Middle East and Africa has a growing youth population and they are not reluctant to see their gadgets turn into commercial touch points. In fact, key findings from our ‘Impact of Innovation Study 2016’  that surveyed Egypt, Kenya, Saudi Arabia, South Africa and the United Arab Emirates revealed that consumers are optimistic about the effects of digitization and open towards innovative solutions. Mobile payment readiness is the highest globally at 73% and the region has the highest ratio of enthusiastic followers at 33%.

Why does Mastercard support SMEs and what are the initiatives and solutions dedicated for that?

Micro, Small and Medium enterprises (MSMEs) are the backbone of an emerging economy. In Africa alone, MSMEs contribute close to 80% of the region’s employment  and fuel demand for goods and services. Mastercard is focused on developing solutions that cater to entrepreneurs and small-scale traders by linking them to cost-effective solutions that open up new avenues of trade.

Masterpass QR, an interoperable digital payment service by Mastercard, is helping small businesses tread the path of digital payments. It has already been rolled out in 7 markets across the region. In Pakistan and Nigeria, Masterpass QR is turning mobile phones into digital wallets and minimizing dependence on cash, thereby increasing efficiency and empowering entrepreneurs to connect with consumers remotely. Thanks to this tool, distance is no longer a barrier to trade.

Mastercard also introduced ‘Start Path’ – a program to engage with startups and drive their business ambitions. Since 2014, this initiative has provided more than 90 startups a variety of operational support, mentorship and investment to develop the next generation of commerce solutions.

An inclusive economy is also one where women entrepreneurs are empowered to break the proverbial glass ceiling and participate in socio-economic growth. The ‘Women’s Entrepreneurship Program’, funded by Mastercard and implemented by INJAZ Egypt, has empowered a number of young women in Egypt to pursue their dreams and realize financial independence by launching and growing their businesses. In the same vein, we launched the ‘Mastercard Index of Women Entrepreneurs (MIWE)’ as part of our ongoing efforts to better understand and track women’s progress and achievements in the business world.

Cash is still the king. When do you expect the region to be cashless?

Today, 85-90% of retail transactions in the Middle East and Africa are made in cash and cheque. This means that a lot of work remains to be done to facilitate the transition into cashless economies, especially for communities in rural parts of the region. As a leading technology company in the global payments industry, Mastercard - in partnership with financial institutions, merchants, telecom service providers and governments - has the technology, scale and capacity to accelerate the move towards greater financial inclusion by driving innovations in payments.

I believe it is not just a question of ‘when’, but ‘how’ we are collectively going to create a change in this cash-heavy culture and mindset. At the outset, it is important that we educate communities on the benefits of reliable alternatives like electronic payments and help them experience these benefits first-hand. This will spur adoption of efficient and scalable payment mechanisms and helps us reach the goal of 100% financial inclusion in the region and a ‘world beyond cash’ sooner rather than later.

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