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Interview : Mark Elliott, MasterCard Africa president, in talks with Business Magazine

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In December 2023, MasterCard achieved a significant milestone by opening its inaugural office in Mauritius. This strategic step not only enhanced its footprint across East Africa and the Indian Ocean islands but also highlighted its dedication to catering to Mauritius’ dynamic market with cutting-edge financial solutions. By forging stronger partnerships with local entities, MasterCard has since laid the groundwork for a robust expansion strategy in the region, positioning itself for continued growth throughout the African continent. Mark Elliott, president of MasterCard for the African region, provided us with his insights into the strategic significance of this move.

 

 

What strategic objectives drove MasterCard to open its inaugural office in Mauritius, and how does this expansion bolster its overarching strategy for growth in East Africa and the Indian Ocean islands?

Africa is the world’s second largest and second most populous continent, after Asia. It is a vibrant, diverse, and a dynamic continent which comprises over 1.4 billion people. African countries enjoy one of the highest GDP growth rates in the world. However, approximately 50% of the adult population in Africa remain unbanked with heavy dependency on the cash economy, according to data from the 2023 African Digital Banking Transformation Report. At MasterCard, it is our mission to financially include these one billion people by 2025. Thus, our growing investments and expansion on the continent are critical for us to achieve our mission to transform people’s lives by unlocking the basic right to have access to financial services. To date, MasterCard has offices in Cairo, Casablanca, Johannesburg, Lagos, Nairobi, and now Mauritius.

 

How does MasterCard plan to leverage its global and local expertise to make a significant contribution to Mauritius’ digital economy and the global economic landscape?

MasterCard’s physical presence in Mauritius signifies the company’s efforts to drive the next level of growth and support towards the country’s digital economy. Through this office, MasterCard intends focusing on delivering key value to its customers and businesses in the region, by being able to deliver greater agility and efficiency when providing services to Mauritian stakeholders. Our dedication to Mauritius is demonstrated through our track record of successful collaborations within the country. Over the past few years, the company has initiated significant collaborations in financial institution (FI) and non-financial institution (Non-FI) sectors, aimed at introducing innovative card offerings and enhancing customer experiences in Mauritius. These initiatives reflect MasterCard’s holistic approach to the market, showcasing its strategic alignment and compliance with the Central Bank and key industry collaborations to foster financial innovation and accessibility in the country.

 

How does MasterCard assess and navigate through the competitive landscape, and what market dynamics does it anticipate?

There is utmost clarity on our end that African countries can realise their fullest potential if they embrace the idea of becoming cash-lite economies. Digital adoption not only paves the way for easy access to financial services, but also disintermediates the significant cost of cash, which ranges anywhere between 2-3% of the GDP of the African countries. We do expect that digital adoption will continue to grow on the continent, and it is our aim at MasterCard to contribute and lead this natural evolution to unlock the potential of Africa. We have already seen the fantastic impact mobile money has had on the continent in terms of access to financial services by enabling users to store, send, and receive money using their mobile phones. Given our strategy of deepening financial inclusion through collaborations, we continue to work together with like-minded organisations to realise a digital Africa.

 

Are there specific initiatives in place to support local businesses and communities?

Small and Medium Enterprises (SMEs) are the backbone of Africa and have been significantly underserved. MasterCard has introduced solutions like SME in a box, Simplify and many others to enable SMEs to effectively manage and grow their businesses. These solutions solve for and ensure low-cost payments enablement; the credentials and the data generated on the back of these solutions enable access to credit. It helps SMEs in going digital and benefiting from the efficiencies that digital commerce provides and much more. We just recently established a strong collaboration with Mauritius Post to support the digitalisation of payment services aimed at the SME sector.

 

Could you elaborate on the successful collaborations MasterCard has initiated in Mauritius in recent years? How do they fit into the company’s overall strategy and align with local regulations and industry standards?

MasterCard has a long and rich history in Mauritius, and the opening of our first dedicated office further cements our footprint in the market as we get closer to our local collaborators. Working closely with local financial institutions, cutting-edge solutions have been rolled out such as Simplify with Mauritius Commercial Bank (MCB), which enables small businesses to go online. Furthermore, we have launched a full suite of payment solutions with Bank One, including a strong proposition for the mass affluent local and diaspora base. We also just launched our payment gateway with State Bank of Mauritius (SBM) unlocking the power of e-commerce for local and regional merchants.

 

MasterCard also emphasises providing innovative financial products and services. What are these innovations, and how does the company plan to introduce them in Mauritius to enhance or transform the customer experience and support the digital economy?

At MasterCard, innovation is at the heart of what we do. We are actively adapting to the swiftly evolving landscape of changing customer expectations and developing future-fit innovative solutions. Among these solutions are our Tap-on-Phone technology, which enables businesses to accept payments from contactless cards or mobile wallets using their Near Field Communication (NFC)-enabled devices and virtual cards. This not only offers enhanced choice, efficiency, and automation for both buyers and suppliers, but also streamlines business transactions. Additionally, we provide a range of commercial solutions including real-time, cost-efficient remittance options, as well as solutions aimed at SMEs and enabling financial inclusion, all geared towards creating efficiency in enterprises for our customers.

 

Are there any plans for further expansion in East Africa and the Indian Ocean islands, in addition to the offices in Cairo, Casablanca, Johannesburg, Lagos, and Nairobi?

Most definitely, we intend to expand our footprint across the African continent. You will be hearing more news to this effect this year and beyond.

 

Do you plan to collaborate more with government bodies to support broader economic and technological objectives in the region?

MasterCard has a strong track record of collaborating with governments across the globe to drive digitisation, financial inclusion and with our cybersecurity, data management and services expertise. Last year, we collaborated with governments of Ethiopia, Kenya, Zanzibar, Mauritius, and Uganda in various sectors including government services, supporting exports, data privacy, enable digital payments, amongst others.

 

Finally, with the growing reliance on digital payments, what cybersecurity measures and technologies is MasterCard implementing to ensure the security and integrity of its payment systems, especially in the face of evolving cyber threats?

The global fraud figure reported is a staggering $34 billion as of 2022, and thus it is critical that we invest in the latest cybersecurity tools to protect against fraud. MasterCard is at the forefront of this fight against fraud with our innovative platforms and network protection tools such as MasterCard ID theft protection, Safety Net, Decision Intelligence 360, Cyphertrace (for crypto-related transactions) amongst others. In 2023, MasterCard bought a company called Baffin Bay Networks in Sweden which is known for thwarting DDOS attacks; this technology is now available in Africa. We will continue to collaborate and work with cybersecurity organisations to ensure we secure the digital infrastructure in Africa.

 

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