Mastercard’s CEO succession puts fintech response first

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Michael Miebach was already a major cog in Mastercard’s digital transformation and dealmaking, a path that will take him to the company’s top job when current president and CEO Ajay Banga transitions to executive chairman at the end of the year.

While Banga will be on the job for another year, Miebach transitions into leadership as Mastercard responds to a consolidating payment processing industry, the rapid rise of fintechs and an uncertain looming threat from the coronavirus.

Miebach, who is the current chief product officer, will become CEO and a member of the card brand’s board on Jan. 1, 2021, and will become president on March 1 as part of a transition. He’s been part of two major strategic moves at Mastercard in recent years. Miebach was tapped in 2018 to lead a products and innovation team that combined digital payments, Mastercard Labs and processing.

Miebach is also part of Mastercard’s cryptocurrency and blockchain strategy. Mastercard was an early supporter of Facebook’s Libra, then pulled out of the project as regulatory pressure mounted. Miebach at the time told PaymentsSource, "The most promising digital currency use cases revolve around blockchain-powered concepts to improve financial inclusion, while reducing informal economics, particularly in developing countries." Mastercard is "convincing partners within the ecosystem using our experience to develop standards and rules, helping create new politics and legal constructs that will help all stakeholders safely realize the great potential of blockchain and cryptocurrency," he added.

He also weighed in on the trend toward central bank digital currencies, saying "by 2020, central bank digital currencies will have gained significant momentum and we'll have moved beyond the pilot phase and we'll see established stable digital currencies with growing volume of digital transactions."

Miebach, who is 52, has quickly risen through the ranks at Mastercard. He joined the card brand in 2010 to lead the Dubai region, following three years at Barclays and time at Citi earlier in his career. He became chief product officer of Mastercard in 2016 and was part of several major acquisitions at Mastercard that helped drive the company's technology strategy. He was also part of the Vocalink acquisition. Mastercard has used Vocalink to extend a variety of digital initiatives, including real-time bill payments.

The Vocalink deal was one of the payment industry’s largest at the time, in 2016, but the deals have gotten much larger. Mastercard late in 2019 spent about $3 billion to buy Nets’ payment platform as part of the card brand’s faster payments strategy. Mastercard picked up an electronic billing platform and instant payment services. Mastercard also acquired merchant ID fraud firm Ethoca and bill payment company Transfast.

The payment processing industry has spent billions of dollars consolidating, while VC investors have poured billions into fintechs such as Stripe.

These deals place payment processing deep into the background in favor of apps, user experience and “pay anywhere” Iot and wearable deployments. That puts pressure on Mastercard and Visa to diversify revenue streams by providing faster payments and to accommodate a variety of digital methods. Mastercard’s innovation in these areas includes its work on transit technology through dozens of projects that often range far beyond fare payments to include data-driven traffic volume and emerging biometric entry sensors.

Mastercard’s response has also been to push a “buy button” to standardize online payment experience — a move intended in part to stake a position as an enabler of international e-commerce — and to pursue omnichannel commerce through IoT projects such as NFC watches.

As he transitions to CEO, Miebach will also become the company’s face when dealing with more general matters. Banga has often commented on political issuees, such as immigration policy, supporting payments for gun sales, Brexit, Mastercard’s plans to set up a domestic payment market in China and the potential effect of crisis such as the coronavirus. Mastercard on Tuesday also warned the coronavirus could hurt first quarter earnings by up to 2% if the spread of the virus continues, and it's likely Miebach will inherit any headwinds from future crisis or political battles.

Kate Fitzgerald contributed to this story.

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