Ann Cairns: Keen to Improve E-Payments

 May 7, 2018
Ann Cairns: Keen to Improve E-Payments
Ann Cairns, president of Mastercard's international operations, makes a point at a roundtable at the Singapore FinTech Festival in November last year. [Photo provided to China Daily]


Ann Cairns outlines Mastercard's role in using technology to make financial services secure in China

With artificial intelligence, big data and cybersecurity receiving prominence in China's quest for innovation-powered businesses, financial services major Mastercard will seek to strengthen the country in those areas, said Ann Cairns, president of the company's international operations.

On April 5, Mastercard promoted Cairns to vice-chairman, effective June 1. She will focus on a range of strategically important initiatives like financial inclusion, and empowerment and promotion of women within the company and in the communities Mastercard serves.

Mastercard is in the process of applying for a business license in China. It already serves millions of Chinese people visiting other countries for travel, business or education, by facilitating payments between the banks of merchants and banks or credit unions that issue branded debit and credit cards.

Cairns noted it is a challenge to balance ease of use with safety, and that is where the regulators step in. "For the payments market in China, the big tech companies aren't regulated in the same way as the banks, and that creates an unlevel playing field. In that kind of situation, I'd expect that people would look at the regulations and say, 'How can we make sure that it's fair and that things are working in a secure manner?'" she said.

Cairns believes China provides vast opportunities for financial services companies like Mastercard. For, according to a report from the China Tourism Academy, there were 131 million outbound Chinese travelers in 2017. No other country in the world has as many, and a significant number of them use Mastercard products.

To diversify its financial offerings in China, Mastercard launched a holistic service plan for major Chinese banks on April 11. The service plan helps banks to maintain their competitive advantages effectively, in terms of solutions and products. Leveraging Mastercard's global resources, the integrated services cover a number of areas, including market research, product design and data analytics.

To explore artificial intelligence, Mastercard acquired Applied Predictive Technologies, a cloud-based analytics provider. APT's test-and-learn technology can tell a retail business where might be the best place to open a shop, in terms of demographics.

Mastercard has also invested in cybersecurity-related measures like biometric authentication and anti-fraud tools, and developed safety nets that banks use to protect themselves from fraudsters and cybercrime. It has bought companies that have algorithms to identify non-typical, or fraudulent, behavior.

"We are obviously going to invest in future protection of ourselves, and the newcomers (in the payments market) ... should be investing in safety and security, too, because if they suffer big cyberattacks or big breaches, it would affect them on their market credibility," Cairns said.

Mastercard knows how to compete against both traditional card players and tech giants. It is also familiar with building partnerships with local companies and designing things that work for the local environment, she said.

Cairns herself loves accomplishing tasks such as building things and fixing things. She majored in pure mathematics, and landed her first job as a research engineer, designing and testing pipelines for oil rigs in the North Sea.

The first female engineer qualified to work on offshore oil rigs in the United Kingdom, she became the head of offshore engineering and planning at British Gas, managing a team of more than 50 engineers at a very early age.

"I started off as an engineer and what that taught me was two things: first of all, I love building things; and second of all, I love fixing things."

She made a career transition later, working in senior management positions in global retail and investment banking operations across Europe and the United States for more than 25 years.

"Both (building things and fixing things) are applicable in the payments industry because a lot of what I'm doing is building products for the future and trying to fix problems for customers," she said during the China Development Forum in Beijing in March.

"In the technology industry, things are changing all the time. You have to think about how to keep current while you still run your day job."

One of the things she does to keep current is travel all over the world - about 44 weeks a year. When she is in different countries, she buys a lot of products and services to see how they work. She also looks at what other companies, especially technology companies that may disrupt the payments market, are doing. For instance, she visited Chinese e-commerce giant Alibaba's headquarters in Hangzhou, Zhejiang province.

Similarly, in the past, she had visited Google, Apple and Airbnb's headquarters in California. She said she could see what other people think and what Mastercard can do to keep itself competitive.

"We actually think that it's good to have disruption in the market because it causes a market change. If we react to that change and take our technology forward, then usually it's positive," she said.

"Considering that we've connected up to 27,000 banks around the world in 45 million end points, if we see a good idea, we aren't just going to sit here and let someone else do that."

(Source: China Daily)



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