Business & Technology Review

Reimagining a Priceless Future Filed on September 21, 2021
Girish Nanda, Country Manager — UAE and Pakistan Mastercard

With Expo 2020 Dubai opening its doors in a matter of days, its Official Payment Technology Partner is set to deliver priceless experiences to millions of visitors from across the globe. Girish Nanda, Country Manager — UAE and Pakistan, Mastercard, sits down with Business Technology Review to discuss the payment giant’s role in leaving a lasting legacy for the UAE and beyond

What opportunities does Expo 2020 Dubai present for Mastercard as the Official Payment Technology Partner to share and shape the future of payments?

As a multi-rail company that serves merchants, banks, telcos, fintechs, SMEs and governments, we at Mastercard, are reimagining the future of payments.

In an increasingly tech-driven world, exciting developments are taking place as more people move to digital, contactless, mobile and wearable payments. As a pioneer in payments technology, we’ve taken great pride in providing innovative solutions for more than 50 years. Mastercard has been instrumental in making the payment experience frictionless, ultra-secure and safe, and we look forward to continuing this legacy of shaping the future of payments.

When the opportunity arose to join hands with Expo 2020 Dubai, it was in many ways a very natural and organic choice for Mastercard to step up as Official Payment Technology Partner. As a company, we inherently believe in the power of partnerships to achieve much more than we can achieve alone. Expo shares these values, since the mega-event is about connecting minds to create the future. To play an integral role as part of this global platform — and that too which is such a milestone for the UAE — is a great honour. Providing our expertise as we ideate solutions for the world’s challenges, working in collaboration with our partners feels like a perfect fit because it’s what we do in our business every day.

We look forward to connecting everyone to priceless opportunities at Expo. As a global leader in technology and innovation, we will be showcasing the future of payments and our vision for a more inclusive, digital world through our physical presence and work with our partners. We’ll highlight the tools that are changing the way that people pay, get paid and connect. We have planned an immersive experience for millions of visitors so that they can not only see but truly be a part of the transformation that we’re experiencing now. When it comes to payments and digitisation, there are some fantastic developments, which we are very eager to bring to life.

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It sounds exciting! How has the pandemic shaped and impacted these developments in payments and digitisation? Given that the pandemic also delayed Expo 2020 Dubai, were there innovative adaptations to your approach at the event as a result of the changes in payments?

Flexibility is everything. Adapting to changing circumstances is crucial, and that’s why we champion the cause for digital transformation so strongly.

The pandemic has accelerated behaviours that were already at play. Take the adoption of contactless cards for example; these took off at scale because our new reality demanded safer, more hygienic, and convenient payments. While these new habits were emerging, Expo 2020 Dubai was delayed, enabling the world to come to the UAE for the mega event in October 2021. The point where we are now is a deep, all-round realisation of just how powerful digital payments are in ensuring the continuity of commerce and connectivity.

We have worked hard to bring an elevated understanding of the future of payments to life at Expo 2020 Dubai. And while this preparation happened, people have adapted to new behaviours as they embraced the possibilities technology offers. It’s very positive because people of all ages and backgrounds now have a deeper understanding and appreciation of the opportunities that digital payments present.

Another change that has been happening is around the topic of sustainability, which has always been a central part of Mastercard’s business strategy and is also one of Expo’s three key themes. Sustainability continues to be a key topic as people increasingly educate themselves on climate change and look at their own environmental impact, and we see a rise in consumer activism for the environment.

This is an issue that matters greatly to us. Mastercard has made our Priceless Planet Coalition one of the pillars of our partnership. It was a special highlight when we welcomed Expo 2020 Dubai into our network that aims to fight climate change by restoring 100 million trees by 2025. We’re also giving every visitor attending Expo 2020 the chance to contribute to our efforts for a greener planet, and doing our part to help educate and drive awareness around the topic.

Once again, partnerships have given a boost to the efforts. Along with heavyweights such as HSBC, Emirates NBD, Emirates Islamic and Network International, we are rallying efforts to make a difference within the communities we operate in. As part of our environmental commitment, Mastercard has also pledged net zero emissions from our operations by 2050. We know that working towards sustainability isn’t just the right thing for the planet and people, but also the right for business.

In addition to sustainability as a theme of Expo 2020 Dubai, the event is also focusing on opportunity and mobility. How do these correspond to Mastercard’s approach in a new era?

As a technology company that serves merchants, banks, telecommunications companies, fintechs and governments with a digital-first strategy of tailor-made, multi-rail solutions that help people and businesses of all shapes and sizes, Mastercard knows that Expo’s three themes are all interconnected.

Digitisation directly corresponds to more mobility in business, and subsequently also the ability to benefit from more opportunities, while a sustainable approach to all elements ensures longevity and inclusivity.

Inclusion is a global priority for Mastercard, and therefore also a very important topic for opportunity and the empowerment of girls and women. In this respect, we are truly excited to leave a long-standing legacy through our partnership and we will be a key player in the Expo Women’s Pavilion. We have committed significant resources to knowledge-sharing, mentoring and fundraising initiatives for our women-focused programmes across the world. Expo 2020 Dubai will give us the opportunity to communicate our efforts in gender diversity and inclusion on an unprecedented scale.

Inclusivity also means we must do everything we can to connect everyone to the benefits of a growing digital economy. We are providing technology solutions, platforms and propositions that enable a superior digital experience and drive greater inclusion for people across the globe. We have enhanced our own capabilities through the introduction of innovative products and acquisitions of industry-leading companies. These connections are essential for women entrepreneurs, but also for small businesses across the board, many of whom have struggled to deal with the effects of the pandemic.

We have addressed this extensively by also rolling out a dedicated programme during Expo that will be geared towards digital and financial inclusion for SMEs, with a particular focus on women-owned SMEs. Through this programme, we will activate knowledge sharing, access to digital tools, mentorships, partnership programmes and a deeper understanding and access to the digital economy.

That is great to hear, as SMEs have certainly had it tough. How does Mastercard’s technology and solutions support small businesses beyond the expo?

The pandemic has dealt a very tough blow to many small and medium-sized businesses (SMEs), especially the ones excluded from the digital economy, as that impacted their ability to pay and get paid. As the backbone of global economies, support to this sector is a top priority and as such, Mastercard pledged $250 million over five years to support SMEs with the digital tools, data and insights to adapt, succeed and grow.

We have also committed to connecting 50 million micro, small and medium-sized businesses globally to the digital economy by 2025 using our technology, network, expertise and resources in support of Mastercard’s goal of building a more sustainable and inclusive digital economy.

On the upside, our inaugural Mastercard MEA SME Confidence Index is showing that 88 per cent of SMEs in the UAE are optimistic about the year ahead, so there are many silver linings and the future does look bright if we can maintain the momentum. By rolling out solutions such as SME-in-a-Box, Click to Pay, and Tap-On-Phone technologies in collaboration with our strategic partners, we are keeping the needs of small businesses front of mind:

SME-in-a-Box is a one-stop solution that helps business owners build their online platforms and sell their products and service through e-commerce. With our Simplify Commerce offering, SMEs also have a plug-and-play e-commerce store builder with instant online checkout.

When you look at something like Click to Pay, it’s exciting because we’re removing the friction of entering card details each time a shopper wishes to checkout. By working with our partners to roll this out for businesses of all sizes, we see Click to Pay becoming the gold standard of tomorrow’s shopping experience.

We have also focused on expanding Tap-On-Phone contactless technology, which can turn a smartphone into a payment acceptance device. This, of course, becomes a powerful and cost-effective tool for small businesses to quickly be able to accept digital payments in line with consumer expectations.

With the digital economy evolving rapidly, cybersecurity is a growing issue, which is why we protect and secure SMEs in the accelerated shift to digital. The Global Cyber Alliance (GCA) and Mastercard released the free online Cybersecurity Toolkit to arm small business owners with basic security controls and guidance, operational tools, how-to materials, and recognised best practices to protect themselves from ever-evolving cyber risks.

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What kind of emerging payments do you think will gain the most traction during Expo 2020 Dubai and beyond?

There is certainly an increased consumer appetite for trying different ways to pay and our Mastercard New Payments Index has shown that the adoption of new payment technologies is rising, with a preference for fast and flexible digital experiences. It’s an incredibly exciting time in the evolution of the digital economy, with 95 per cent of MENA consumers saying they will consider using at least one emerging payment method in the next year.

Cryptocurrency is gaining ground and consumers are increasingly showing interest in being able to spend crypto assets and digital currencies for everyday purchases. Five in 10 people (52 per cent) said they plan to use cryptocurrency in the next year, and Mastercard will start supporting select cryptocurrencies directly on our network.

Then there are biometric payments, which are seen as trustworthy, convenient and safe according to 66 per cent of respondents. We expect to see wider adoption of biometrics, with around half of consumers (49 per cent) saying they plan to use verification methods like gait or walk assessments and fingerprint authorisation.

We’re listening to our cardholder needs and will continue to identify consumer trends and develop solutions through our partnerships to ensure that the payments landscape further evolves in response to people’s demands. We work with all the players in the ecosystem — including fintechs and startups to ensure that we’re at the forefront of disruption and innovation.

And what is your approach when it comes to working with fintechs and startups?

The fintech ecosystem is crucial for rapid digital transformation. Mastercard is continuously diversifying its business by looking to new partners, new markets and new ways to build on our core competency as a payments network. We are engaging in multiple strategic partnerships with innovators, regulators and financial institutions to enhance our local ecosystems.

Looking at Mastercard’s Fintech Express and Engage Programs, these are designed to support fintech innovation, boost financial inclusion and enhance the payment experience for consumers. Mastercard is constantly adapting by creating new programmes and partnerships to empower digital transformation, create diversification, and accelerate the emergence of new market players. For example, we partnered with Hub 71 to accelerate innovation in the UAE’s fintech startup community. The partnership identifies relevant companies for Mastercard Start Path, opening up market access for Hub71’s startups and Start Path companies — for everyone’s mutual benefit.

It is only through this pursuit of innovation that we can continue to build on five decades worth of progress and connect people to the world around them, to the digital economy, and each other.

Nisthula Nagarajan

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