Saturday, July 20, 2019

The Open golf fans in Portrush are first in UK to experience Mastercard’s sonic brand

Golf fans at The Open up in Portrush are the first in the UK to hear Mastercard’s new sonic brand and see the associated animation when they pay for goods in the tented shopping emporium at the sporting venue.

Together with solutions provider Global Payments and card machine manufacturer Ingenico, Mastercard have developed technology to play its distinctive four-note melody on card payment terminals to indicate that a transaction has completed. Customers will soon become familiar with the company’s multisensory branding as it rolls out across physical, digital and vocal payment environments.

While often viewed as a credit card company, Mastercard nowadays position themselves as a technology company operating in commerce.

Their Dublin tech hub employs 550 people and is the global headquarters for Mastercard Labs. Executive vice president Ken Moore showcased the work of the Labs he heads up at an event on the fringes of The Open, of which Mastercard are the official card and a patron.

Moore described the role of the Labs as encouraging innovation and entrepreneurial muscle across Mastercard’s business and that of its customers. Separating the signals from the noise in the crowded tech space, he said that the Labs “convert [those] signals from emerging technologies and trends into opportunities”.

In light of AI and machine learning “making their way out of the labs and onto the high street”, accelerated by the power of new 5G mobile networks, Moore made three predictions:
  1. When improved connectivity is combined with the utility and power of the mobile phone, you will be able to operate [much more complex] banking processes on your phone than you can do today.
  2. Security will dramatically improve, with real-time processing able to spot patterns of bad behaviour.
  3. The utility of the value-added services that can now be built into electronic payments will dramatically increase and, as a result, the use of cash will dramatically decline. While acknowledging that it does take time for the public to become comfortable with new solutions, Moore was confident that the usage of cash will radically wane.

The Labs as a Service team consult with clients and help them ideate and launch new services. They also work with cutting edge startups and connect partners with innovators to shape the future of commerce.

Amy Neale, a Mastercard vice president, heads up their ‘Start Path’ startup engagement programme which identifies, mentors and partners with leading later-stage startups that want to scale and connects them with the payments platform company as well as its customers.

The six-month programme has worked with 210 startups around the world over the last five years. Irish startup RecommenderX was part of the 2018 alumni.

While the 37 or so fintech ‘unicorns’ (privately held startup companies valued at over $1 billion) steal a lot of press attention, Neale’s Start Path programme works with ‘rabbits’: real actual businesses building interesting tech!

Mastercard’s global R&D teams are experimenting with new concepts and technologies in Artificial Intelligence, blockchain, Internet of Things, mixed reality, new networks and quantum computing.

They have a goal of opening up financial inclusion for 500 million new consumers and 50 million businesses around the world, mostly in the poorest communities that do not today have access to financial services.

As well as modelling identity as a stool (with legs of people, devices and things), the Labs are working on new methods that can lower the cost of how a merchant can accept digital payment, as well as real-time proof of provenance techniques to address the estimated $5 billion cost of counterfeiting.

While barcode scanners are commonplace in grocery stores and even corner shops, not every good sold in a smaller independent retailers in rural parts of Africa may have a barcode, and it is common for multipacks (eg, nappies) to be split apart and sold separately in financially-challenged communities. A demonstration showed how a regular smartphone camera could scan goods passing underneath and match their shape, size and colour to pricing information, giving retailers transaction totals as well as accurate inventory information to inform their purchase of stock.

Another prototype projected a menu onto the restaurant table, allowing each diner to explore the menu and make selections. The same interface allowed bills to be split or combined by simple swipe gestures and supported contactless payment by tapping on the tablemat in front of diners.

The briefing and demonstrations from Mastercard suggest that the new sonic brand may not be the only innovation we see from their technologists in Dublin over the coming months and years.

Disclaimer: I took part in a technology briefing for journalists and hospitality at The Open at the invitation of Mastercard.

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