Global payments company Mastercard is pushing ahead with its vision to become a digital payments giant, opening its only tech and innovation centre in the southern hemisphere in Sydney.
The decision to open the centre came after Mastercard Australia division president Richard Wormald realised 50 per cent of the company’s 800 staff in the country were software engineers.
Mr Wormald said the centre would supercharge the region’s ability to create world-leading payments technology utilising artificial intelligence, blockchain, natural language processing and robotics, which would be exported to the rest of the world.
“We’re interested in new technology that will change the way commerce occurs,” he said.
“We’re working in the field of augmented reality because we think it will change the way consumers interact with commerce. For example, when buying furniture they will be able to see how it would look in their house.
We’re also prototyping internet banking applications where you can just talk to Alexa or Google Home to make a purchase… and we’re already using artificial intelligence for fraud detection in our network. And we’ve built our own blockchain and registered 35 patents globally.”
The new centre will house all of Mastercard’s local operations and enable Mastercard to “co-create” new technologies with customers and local start-ups.
The transition to a tech driven company comes as the business prepares for physical cards to eventually become obsolete. Earlier this year Mastercard president of operations and technology, Rob Reeg, said this could occur in as few as five years.
The $207 billion payments company has adopted a fail-fast mentality, and runs five-day “sprints” to solve real technology problems.
“At the end of the five days we will have a working prototype, a high level business case and a pitch video,” Mr Wormald said.
“We use that process to fast-track innovation by bringing start-ups we work with into that process with corporate clients, and giving them the chance to collaborate.”
To build up Mastercard Australia’s tech capabilities, the company has been on an acquisition spree, buying start-ups all over the world, including Australian customer loyalty and rewards business Pinpoint, payment gateway business DataCash and San Francisco-based artificial intelligence start-up Brighterion.
Mastercard also joined Tencent, Gobi Partners and Sequoia in fintech start-up Airwallex’s latest $17.3 million capital raise, having worked with the start-up in its Start Path start-up engagement program.
Start Path, which has seen 300 early stage companies connect with Mastercard, has also seen businesses like Moneytree, Rainbird and Nymi participate.
Mastercard has also joined forces with Nymi to develop a payments wristband which utilises a person’s unique heartbeat as the authenticator.
But Mr Wormald said this product was still very experimental and in the near term consumers could expect major changes in ticketing and mobile payments technology.
“Australia is a developed, stable market that adopts technology readily, and yet we still haven’t seen rapid growth in mobile payments. Part of that is because contactless is such a good user experience… but we think in retail stores people will be able to scan items on their smartphone, pay in an app and just walk out,” he said.
“[In ticketing], this year Mastercard announced you could use the card to tap onto a Manly ferry and we think we’ll role that out in a number of markets in Australia. Why limit it to transit, when you could also use your card or mobile to get into the MCG.”