Mastercard Inc. is tapping Asia’s leap into the mobile era, helping central banks build their payments networks and enrolling tech players like Alipay and Grab Holdings Inc. to use its service on their platforms, according to executive vice president Rama Sridhar, who oversees digital partnerships in Asia.
When Singapore’s central bank envisioned building a payments network that would allow people to send money to each other using only a mobile phone number, it reached out to Sridhar. The payments company is now creating similar infrastructure in the Philippines and three other countries. Meantime, it’s trying to gain access to China’s $27 trillion of digital transactions.
Here are edited highlights of an interview with Indian-born Sridhar:
How are you working with central banks in the region?
People can send payments to each other from their bank accounts using just a mobile number, running atop Mastercard’s real-time payments system in Singapore and Thailand. The goal is that people who are even unbanked will be able to conduct mobile transactions via prepaid top-up methods.
We hope to be able to offer them massive, real-time payment infrastructure, which will help the whole digitalization agenda of these countries.
How is Mastercard partnering with fintechs for online payments?
We have created a program that helps create fast, rapid onboarding for new fintech players. It’s making it easy for them to work with us by offering advisory services on market expansion and giving them some upfront fee discounts so that they don’t feel the pressure of working with us. So that’s one big area we’ve solved. Mastercard has partnered with more than 100 tech and fintech companies in Asia.
What is Mastercard’s plans for China?
Securing in-principle approval for Mastercard to begin setting up a domestic bankcard clearing operation in China was a team effort. We remain focused on working with the Chinese government and local partners to help drive a safer, more inclusive and seamless payments ecosystem for Chinese consumers and businesses.
How does your Asia digital strategy compare with the U.S.?
Many parts of Asia Pacific are far ahead of other regions in how they’re embracing technology, e-commerce and digital payments, so our digital strategy is predicated on a multi-rail approach and it addresses both emerging and developed Asia discreetly.
We are focused across all unique aspects of Asia, enabling new payment methods like wallets and QR payments, fostering the financial and digital inclusion of Asia’s significant middle-class economy, supporting small- and micro-businesses to accept digital payments, go online and secure credit facilities, partnering with regulators and governments in efforts toward digitization of payment infrastructure, and offering multiple payment rails for cross-border payment flows.
In India and Indonesia, our Micro Credit Platform opens access to credit for shopkeepers excluded in the past. By 2022, Mastercard Academy 2.0 will equip 100,000 Indonesians with the digital skills they need. In Vietnam, we work with CARE International to help banks and fintechs bring women into the financial system and support women entrepreneurs.
What is Mastercard doing in AI and data study?
We’re accelerating the growth of advanced data analytics, cybersecurity and other digital skills to support innovation and hiring needs of companies in Asia. In our regional headquarters in Singapore, Mastercard Labs houses projects that range from robotics, artificial intelligence, unattended retail and contactless technology, to wearables, biometrics authentication and solutions that drive financial inclusion.
How did your personal experience help with your job today?
Growing up in Calcutta, Delhi and Chennai, I was taught girls work hard, got good grades but were never heard. Then when I turned 14, my father was put on a ventilator and hospitalized for six months after a traffic accident, needing me to take care of two younger sisters.
To me, it was a huge tipping point. This whole notion of obedience and following directives, which was dominant in my belief system, needed to change. Suddenly, I had to grow up overnight and take charge in life.
By 19, I was one of three women working among 1,500 men on a printing shop floor. The two other women worked in offices upstairs. I felt both mentally and physically threatened. I started learning to deal with fear and patriarchal behavior, because when you are one girl on a whole shop floor, you’re kind of physically scared for yourself. But quitting was not an option because of the situation at home and who I aspired to be.