Mastercard's API Move Values Relationships as Much as Tech

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Nodding to a future in which innovation can come from almost anywhere and personal relationships matter just as much — if not more than — invention, Mastercard is changing how developers access the payment network to bring new ideas to life.

The card brand on Wednesday launched Mastercard Developers, a single gateway in which programmers and others can access more than two dozen application programming interfaces (APIs) that cover payments, data and security. Mastercard has also launched an experimental API to test forward-looking innovation in augmented and virtual reality, as well as the "Internet of Things."

"We're turning up the volume on APIs, and we're trying to make it easier to work with our technology," said Oran Cummins, senior vice president for APIs at Mastercard.

Traditional payment companies of all types including processors, card networks and e-commerce providers are competing to provide a favorable environment for technology developers, to capture the newest, best and most profitable innovation first.

To stand out, it's not enough for Mastercard to simply open its platform to developers. The card network is going further by providing experimental APIs to allow developers to environments that aren't easily accessible to them on other platforms.

"We have hardware that we can plug into a vending machine that allows payments from smart devices, for example," Cummins said. "We want people to be able to test technology for that hardware, but you can't really wheel a vending machine into your bedroom to do that."

At the same time, Mastercard's longstanding and busy "commerce anywhere" initiative addresses a proliferation of devices that can theoretically accept payments. Mastercard is already experimenting with enabling payments for grocery orders directly from the refrigerator, and alternatives such as augmented reality and bots are rapidly becoming less futuristic and more current.

Mastercard's API program is six years old, and activity is accelerating, Cummins said, noting a 400% spike in usage inside of the past year as the retail industry steps up adoption of m-commerce, digital transactions and Web-connected commerce.

To handle the expansion, the card brand is organizing around business categories and documentation. "There's a much better user interface, and it's easier to navigate and find APIs," Cummins said, adding the mix of APIs and software development kits cover six programming languages.

The gateway includes payment APIs for the Masterpass digital wallet, Mastercard Digital Enablement Services' tokenization process and Mastercard Send person-to-person and remittance app. Data services APIs include market insights, retail location analysis and digital media management. For security, the APIs cover fraud scoring, high risk merchants and digital identity.

Other APIs enable bots to integrate with platforms such as Masterpass, add services for Qkr! and add mobile apps to Mastercard's vending programing for in-app purchases. Developers can also build tools for financial inclusion in regions without a telecom infrastructure.

There's also a business impetus for Mastercard to attract developers — its direct competitors are competing for the same audience.

Visa, for example, in February, launched a platform for developers to build technology for identity, P-to-P transactions, brick and mortar and online payment services, with plans to extend payment categories in time. And PayPal earlier this month announced plans to move offices into a technology developers, startup and venture capital compound in Toronto.

"It's very important to be out in front of the newer technologies because you need to be in front of the newer technology development firms," said Rick Oglesby, president of AZ Payments Group, adding innovation is a trial and error process where failures often move onto additional attempts at innovation. "You never know where the next great innovation is going to come from."

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