Mastercard Wants the World to Cash Out

The payment processor prefers QR code options over paper money.

July 09, 2019

PURCHASE, N.Y.–Today, cash is used in roughly 85% of payment transactions worldwide and in about 30% of transactions in the U.S., but Mastercard wants consumers to stop paying with paper money, according to a story at Fortune.com.

That doesn’t mean using a plastic credit card for every purchase, according to Shamina Singh, executive vice president of sustainability at Mastercard. “It really opens up from the business perspective a runway of opportunity, if cash is your competitor instead of any other payment company,” she said. “It starts to get you really thinking—if you started to disrupt cash with digital, what would that mean for more people in the world?”

That question drove Singh to create Mastercard’s Center for Inclusive Growth in 2013, and today she serves as president. The Center aims to bring 500 million people without access to financial services, including many of whom rely solely on cash, into the digital economy.

In emerging markets, such as India, Mastercard has implemented Quick Response (QR) codes, which are payment solutions that can be scanned by consumers or merchants under a common set of universal standards. QRs allow all merchants to accept payment from a mobile device or QR code reader.

Singh tested the technology on a recent trip to India, where for the first time she paid for a rickshaw ride (or small motor scooter) using just a QR code. “They allow the same level of technology that you would get from a $300 point-of-sale device that you might see at a grocery store or a big market,” she said.

Once focused on developing parts of the world, QRs are helping similarly underbanked communities across the U.S. For example, Mastercard partnered with a New York-based, nonprofit, Grameen America, which makes small loans to low-income female entrepreneurs who wouldn’t otherwise qualify as borrowers. Often, the women, who run mom-and-pop shops or stands, lacked bank accounts and could only accept the loans in cash.

“You would think that we wouldn’t see that in the United States, but that’s actually more prevalent than you would think,” said Singh.

Mastercard worked with Citi and Apple to provide the women with bank accounts and technology that allows them to accept payments digitally instead of in cash. With the new technological upgrades, Grameen has been able to lend three times as much money, and the women have been better able to grow their businesses.

“We’re seeing scale in a way that we hadn’t seen before,” Singh said.

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