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How MasterCard became a tech company

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Ask Banga what other technologies MasterCard has up its sleeve and he offers a string of examples, some of them apps, some just small features that bring big convenience. He loves inControl, which lets you carry just one MasterCard but set it to charge either your credit or debit account for purchases above or below an amount you choose. It can also work like parental controls on a television, restricting the type of store where the card can be used. Or, Banga points out, it can help curb your Starbucks addiction: Set it to limit your spending there each month to, say, $50, and “at $45 it’ll send you a text and say, ‘Hey, dopey guy, you’ve reached $45. Next time you go, what do you want me to do?’ ” That all may sound pretty simplistic, but it’s something MasterCard has patent-protected for the next 10 years.

"Dopey guy" LOL

Much of the opportunity for the company is in parts of the world where a digital wallet is still decades away. It is zeroing in on the 2.5 billion people in the world who are unbanked or “underbanked.” (Banga co-chairs the World Economic Forum’s financial steering committee.) In Lebanon and Jordan it partnered with the UN World Food Programme to give Syrian refugees MasterCards loaded with $27 per week for food. In political crisis zones like Russia and Egypt, many government employees get their salaries on prepaid MasterCards. When chaos hits, banking systems freeze, and cash becomes unavailable, their cards are still automatically refilled. (would love to see a commercial for THIS!)

Unbanked is an interesting word. 

Smart smart smart:

To run MasterCard Labs, Banga tapped Garry Lyons, a 42-year-old Irishman who came in as part of the acquisition of Orbiscom, a Dublin-based maker of payment-solution software the company bought in 2009. Banga gave him a long leash: “Garry is geeky—it’s like he’s got ADD,” Banga says. “I told him, ‘Here’s the money. Knock yourself out. Waste it. Buy booze if you like. I don’t care. But if you don’t give me stuff to launch, I’ll fire you all.’” Last year, Lyons held an “innovation express,” where he put a group of his techies in a hotel room for 48 hours and told them to create a new product. One product from MasterCard Labs is ShopThis!, which lets customers purchase items from within a magazine app—click on an ad for cologne, for example, and buy it right there. Banga also made Lyons, seen as a star within the company, MasterCard’s chief innovation officer. Lyons says it’s a comfort to have a CEO who is committed to technology: “We have the right guy driving the bus.”

(I love these stories!)

MasterCard Labs does sound like a lot of fun.

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