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MASTERCARD IS COPING WELL WITH NIGERIAN MARKET CHALLENGES, SAYS MIEBACH

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MR. Michael Miebach is the division president, Middle East and Africa for MasterCard Worldwide.  Based in Dubai, Miebach is responsible for driving the evolution of payments and delivering increased value to MasterCard stakeholders in markets across the Middle East and Africa region.

Miebach joined MasterCard in 2010 from Barclays Bank Plc where he was the managing director for Middle East and North Africa, responsible for the bank's corporate, commercial and consumer business in the region.  He has worked extensively in Europe, Africa and the Middle East and represented Barclays as a Member of the Board of Directors in Egypt, Tanzania and Botswana.

Prior to Barclays, Miebach held several senior-level positions in Citibank. His experience spanned cards and consumer finance, corporate and investment banking, operations and financial control.

With a wealth of experience in banking operations, Miebach lectures at various banking conferences and has co-authored banking related publications.  He promotes community service and is a patron of the leading global student exchange organisation, 'Youth for Understanding.'  Miebach holds a Masters degree in Business Administration from the University of Passau in Germany.

In this interview with BUKKY OLAJIDE, Miebach talks about the cutting edge that MasterCard has, as well as, its vision and strategy in Africa.

following. In the coming three years, 500, 000+ students should have this card.

enablers,' merchant education and best acceptance practice.

HOW successful has MasterCard been in introducing electronic payments in Africa and replacing cash? Can you point to any products or projects in particular?

The growth of electronic payments in markets such as Nigeria, is taking off as payment cards are issued in significant numbers.

MasterCard has just announced its collaboration with InterSwitch, Nigeria's leading payments provider, to launch a co-branded chip-and-PIN debit card, which will be known as the Verve MasterCard debit card.

Throughout Africa, card acceptance networks are growing as countries develop their payments systems. MasterCard has a broad representation in many countries and continues to focus on growing the business in new and existing markets. Mauritius is one market in particular that has a high penetration of card (relative to population).

From a North African perspective, key markets are Morocco, Tunisia and Senegal but payment card penetration out of the banked population is still very low with about 60 per cent.  In other markets, such as Libya, Algeria and West Africa, there are infrastructure challenges, however, there is still an opportunity to bank these markets.

North Africa it is mainly a debit market with over 98 per cent share debit versus credit.  A great MasterCard success is the partnership with the Tunisian Banking Association (Association Professionnelle Tunisienne des Banques et Etablissements Financiers), which aim is to convert the entire National Debit Card portfolio issued by the Tunisian banks into MasterCard MChip.

Another great success in Morocco is the multi-application EMV Student cards issued in partnership with Attijariwafa Bank and all the public universities, currently over 29,000 cards have been issued to the Students of University Hassan II Ain Chock, the other universities are following. In the coming three years, 500, 000+ students should have this card.

Are there any challenges you are facing in conducting business in Africa?

MasterCard engages in many training initiatives in markets to transfer card knowledge and best practices (customer banks, merchants and cardholders) but in some markets, connectivity infrastructure can experience pressure and outages. MasterCard is proactively working closely with customers and vendors to implement alternative, more robust solutions that overcome connectivity issues.

Logistics and distance is another factor. There are many markets in Africa, all of which are at different stages of development and can be spread across huge geographical distances. MasterCard has a focused team for Africa and customer engagement happens at market level. Global support teams are also utilised where appropriate to ensure delivery.

Can you mention some of your business activities?
MasterCard Worldwide is at the heart of commerce. The rise of the electronic payments industry has helped economic growth transcend borders, bringing benefits to every corner of the world.  MasterCard Worldwide has led the industry in driving this evolution.

MasterCard enables the transactions that are at the heart of commerce, and brings insight into the payments process to make commerce easier, faster, more seamless, more meaningful, more secure, and more valuable to everyone involved.

It is committed to accelerating business through fuelling economic connections that drive real value for its customers, associates, merchants and consumers throughout the diverse Africa region.  MasterCard understands that results are best delivered through the development of business solutions that take into account the unique attributes of each local market business environment.

MasterCard strives to provide industry leadership locally to all our stakeholders by utilising our position as a leader of electronic payments globally.

MasterCard likes to be a source of knowledge for its customers, associates, and merchants as they grow their businesses and for their consumers as they adopt alternative payment solutions and migrate from cash to cards.

Can you mention some of your products?
MasterCard operates throughout the entire African continent – even in less developed markets that do not have card issuance or acceptance systems in place. Our products range are: Pre-paid cards, remittances, MasterCard Internet Gateway Services (MIGs), chip-based MasterCard debit cards, and Premium and Corporate Card payment solutions. What are your targets and marketing strategies?

MasterCard has a customer-centric approach to its business operations in Africa. MasterCard works with its customers' financial institutions to identify new opportunities, in order to develop and grow the payments business in Africa.

Within Africa, a great deal of emphasis is placed on card knowledge and skills development, development of the card acceptance infrastructure, developing and launching new products, enhancing connectivity, operational efficiency, developing partnerships with 'technology enablers,' merchant education and best acceptance practice.

What is your perspective on the African market in the future?

The payments market in Africa is still in initial growth phases with only a few markets that are close to maturity or have a high penetration of cards. The focus remains on customers and working with these customers closely to grow their business (customer centric approach).

MasterCard also offers the services of its MasterCard Advisors, specialist consultants, who bring a unique combination of strategic thinking, advanced analytics, and best practices, honed from decades of real-world experience, to ensure best-practice principles are implemented by customers - this requires a close working relationship with customers.

Representing over 95 per cent of current transactions – cash is still dominating the payment space in many places in Africa.  Basic debit and credit cards still have a huge growth potential. In order to encourage consumers to adopt card payments as their preferred means of payment, we are currently devising a set of value added services, which will respond to the various customer segment needs in the various markets.

As an example, in countries where there is a high dependency on money remitted from overseas, a money transfer solution, as a benefit added to the card, will definitely encourage its acquisition and usage.

What is MasterCard's vision and strategy in Africa?

MasterCard is a responsible corporate partner that embraces integrity, security, reliability and innovation in Africa's payment systems, helping to stimulate economic growth and drive global interoperability. MasterCard's main vision for Africa is to grow the business year on year.

How is MasterCard working with banks, merchants and consumers in Africa?

MasterCard has a customer-centric approach to its business operations in Africa. MasterCard works with its customers' financial institutions to identify new opportunities, in order to develop and grow the payments business in Africa.

Within Africa, a great deal of emphasis is placed on card knowledge and skills development, development of the card acceptance infrastructure, developing and launching new products, enhancing connectivity, operational efficiency, developing partnerships with 'technology enablers,' merchant education and best acceptance practice.

What demographic profile is MasterCard targeting in Africa, is it the unbanked?

The unbanked form part of the profile and is a key market. There are, however, still many countries where 'bank proprietary cards' are issued to the 'banked' population and this profile is equally important for MasterCard.

In addition to targeting the unbanked, the banked population is also under served.  As banking products and services are developing, Electronic banking services, including payment cards, are growing as well.  Our customer focus strategy helps us identify opportunities to feed the business growth of our customers. These opportunities are mainly in mass Debit, Premium and Corporate card programmes.

How competitive is the electronic payments market in Africa, how does MasterCard stay ahead of the competition?

The payments market in Africa is still in initial growth phases with only a few markets that are close to maturity or have a high penetration of cards. The focus is on customers and working with customers closely to grow their business (customer centric approach) - There are key geographies that have higher potential and growth than other markets, and these key countries are focus countries – by developing these, there is a 'spill over' effect into surrounding markets through key customer banks that ensure development of the payments industry in those markets.

MasterCard also closely engages regulators and industry decision makers (such as central banks) where appropriate. Non-traditional customers, such as mobile companies and merchants, are also growing in importance with a view to enter the 'payments space'.

What are the main challenges you face operating in Africa? How has MasterCard sought to resolve these?

Card knowledge and skills; MasterCard engages in many training initiatives in markets to transfer card knowledge and best practice (customer banks, merchants and cardholders). In some markets connectivity infrastructure does experience pressure and outages and MasterCard is proactively working closely with customers and vendors to implement alternative, more robust solutions.

Logistics and distance; there are many countries in Africa and all at different stages of development. MasterCard has a focused team for Africa and customer engagement happens at country level. Global support teams are also utilised where appropriate to ensure delivery.

How important have technological developments become to MasterCard's operations in Africa, for example, mobile banking, mobile money transfer and prepaid cards?

These are all key areas of focus and continued efforts are placed on developing these opportunities. Mobile penetration in many countries is very high (vs banked population) and these opportunities enable a 'leapfrog' into otherwise untapped segments.

What new products and projects is MasterCard working on in Africa now?

Pre-paid, remittances, Premium and Corporate Card payment, MIGs and MasterCard debit (EMV). We will continue to grow issued cards and also push the acceptance network into new markets solution. As cash is still dominating the payment space, representing over 95 per cent of current transactions means, basic debit and credit cards still have a huge potential.

In order to encourage consumers to adopt card payments as their preferred means of payment, we are currently devising a set of value added services, which will respond to the various customer segment needs in the various markets.

As an example, in countries where there is a high dependency on money remitted from overseas, a money transfer solution as a benefit added to the card will definitely encourage its acquisition and usage.