Beyond payments: How Mastercard is fueling transformation and driving inclusion

Great strides have been made in advancing digital transformation and building a robust payment ecosystem across the region
Beyond payments: How Mastercard is fueling transformation and driving inclusion
Adam Jones is the executive vice president and division president for West Arabia at Mastercard.

Mastercard, a world-leading technology company in the payments industry, recently optimized its regional network in the Middle East and Africa to expedite its growth. Among other strategic moves, this has led to the formation of the West Arabia division under the leadership of Division President of West Arabia at Mastercard, Adam Jones. In his expanded role, Jones is overseeing several key territories. These include Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Iraq, Egypt and Levant.

Solidifying regional leadership

Mastercard has been driving payment innovation in the region for almost 40 years now. The company is leading the way in enhancing financial inclusion and building trust in the digital ecosystem. Mastercard leverages its global network, experience and expertise, combined with its local know-how, to create market-relevant offerings that connect people and businesses to the digital economy. The company applies its trusted advanced technology solutions to new use cases, brought to market through partnerships with fintech companies, governments, financial institutions, digital giants and telcos.

“To take our successful digital transformation journey to the next level, we have now optimized our regional network through restructured division operations to be closer to our customers. The creation of the West Arabia division is a clear indication of the incredible growth and evolution of customer needs in what used to be our MENA Central cluster. Recognizing the region’s immense potential, the strategic move is part of our refreshed organizational design that focuses on fast-tracking growth, strengthening stakeholder engagement and enhancing our multi-rail capabilities in priority markets,” Jones shared in an exclusive interview with Economy Middle East.

For Jones, this combination of scale and Mastercard’s deep local market knowledge puts the company in a better position to foster inclusion and advance a sustainable digital economy in West Arabia.

An already strong presence

Talking about Mastercard’s strong presence in Saudi Arabia, he said, “We play a key role in driving the Kingdom’s digital transformation in line with its pioneering Vision 2030. We leverage our global innovation capabilities to co-create locally relevant solutions in partnership with the public and private sector. Our Mastercard Gateway technology, paired with our global network of 200+ acquirers, give over 500K merchants access to ongoing innovation and more than 110 million acceptance locations. In 2023, Mastercard Gateway processed more than 950 million payments in Saudi Arabia, supporting the growth of digital commerce in the market.”

For example, Mastercard collaborated with Saudi Payments to launch sarie, the country’s instant payments system. In addition, the company has been fueling the growth of Saudi Arabia’s one-billion-dollar gaming industry by providing innovative payment solutions to gamers in partnership with Saudi Esports Federations (SEF).

Cross-border payments are on the rise in the Kingdom. According to Mastercard’s latest Borderless Payments report, 43 percent of its population expect to send more cross-border payments, while 40 percent are likely to receive more in the next year. The tech giant is fueling this growth by bringing Mastercard Move to the market in collaboration with tiqmo. Mastercard Move is the company’s comprehensive portfolio of money movement capabilities that comprises Mastercard Cross-Border Services and Mastercard Send.

Meanwhile, in Egypt, Mastercard established a national interoperable mobile payment ecosystem and infrastructure in collaboration with the Egyptian Banks Company (EBC), the technology arm of the Central Bank of Egypt (CBE). The goal is to empower financial institutions and service providers to contribute to the formal economy via digital payment channels.

“We are also playing a key role in the development of the country’s first smart city, the New Administrative Capital, by supplying efficient infrastructure and advanced electronic payment systems,” Jones shared.


Tourism drives growth

Mastercard, as part of the payments industry, also plays a critical role in the region’s tourism sector. It connects various aspects of the travel experience — from booking flights and accommodations to enjoying local attractions and shopping.

Lauding MENA’s strong tourism performance, Jones noted, “While much of the world is barely touching pre-pandemic levels, MENA is the only region to show visitor arrivals 22 percent above 2019. Among the main drivers of this growth are the increasing competitiveness of MENA’s hotel industry and the ongoing evolution of its tourism offerings, driven by ambitious national strategies, such as Saudi Arabia’s Vision 2030.”

“In January 2024, Saudi Arabia exceeded three million inbound visits per month for the first time, and repeated that for three consecutive months,” he added.

From the West Arabia perspective, Egypt emerges as a standout country. It was among the top 10 fastest-growing destinations for European travelers last year. Meanwhile, Egypt’s capital Cairo and Saudi Arabia’s Jeddah made it into the top five most visited cities in the region.

Mastercard expects this tourism boom to continue throughout 2024 and beyond.

“Our new report ‘Affluent travel: A Middle East perspective’ has also highlighted the increasing role of high-net-worth individuals (HNWIs) in boosting the travel and hospitality industry. This discerning segment contributes approximately 36 percent of the global spend on travel and nearly 70 percent of the spend on luxury travel. More than half of affluent travelers prioritize meaningful travel experiences over material things,” Jones revealed.

Financial inclusion is a priority

As stated, fostering financial inclusion is one of Mastercard’s priorities.

In West Arabia, the financial inclusion rate varies considerably between developed and developing countries. According to the Global Findex Database, out of the countries surveyed in the region, Saudi Arabia had the highest number of adults with a financial account at 74 percent. In contrast, Egypt had 27 percent and Iraq 19 percent.

However, Jones noted that there has been significant progress in this area over the past years, and it is driven by advanced technologies that have brought game-changing innovations, such as digital wallets, which democratize access to financial services.

“As part of our global goal to connect 1 billion people to the digital economy by 2025, we have developed technologies to support wage digitization, social disbursements, gig worker platforms and mobile money solutions,” he remarked.

In Egypt, Mastercard joined forces with Levi Straus & Co. to digitize the wages of over 10,000 garment factory workers in Port Said. Moreover, the tech giant collaborated with BSR’s HERproject and the Ministry of Social Solidarity’s Women’s Program to launch the country’s first government disbursement model for social benefits, which provided digital wallets to over 60,000 women.

“To advance financial inclusion for people with disabilities, we partnered with National Bank of Bahrain (NBB) and Saudi National Bank (SNB) to launch the Touch Card in their markets. The innovative solution facilitates payments for blind and partially sighted people by allowing them to easily distinguish between their cards with just a touch,” Jones further stated.

Supporting MSMEs

Mastercard’s efforts to bolster financial inclusion also extend to supporting small businesses.

As Jones emphasized, “Micro, small and medium enterprises (MSMEs) are a cornerstone of Arab economies, accounting for over 90 percent of all businesses. However, according to the World Bank, nearly 63 percent of MSMEs in MENA do not have access to finance. The total financing gap for small businesses in the region is estimated at USD 210 to USD 240 billion.”

The Mastercard SME Confidence Index 2023 has found that SMEs in Saudi Arabia have identified accepting omnichannel digital payments, digitizing business operations and access to training and development support as the main drivers of growth.

For its part, Mastercard has been leveraging its extensive network, state-of-the-art technology and global partnerships to help SMEs adapt to changing commercial environments and new spending patterns.

“We build synergies with the public and private sectors to advance financial inclusion and motivate consumers and merchants to support small businesses. These efforts are part of our pledge to connect 50 million MSMEs globally to the digital economy by 2025,” Jones said.

For instance, Mastercard joined forces with Saudi Awwal Bank (SAB) to introduce an SME Business credit card, which aims to transform SME lending.

In line with its goal of advocating financial inclusion, Mastercard also pledged to equip 25 million women entrepreneurs worldwide with the tools and resources they need to grow their businesses by 2025. The company achieved this goal in June 2023.

“We recognize the crucial role women play in advancing innovation, sustainable development and social progress,” Jones emphasized, adding that Mastercard also partnered with the international organization Women Choice. Their goal is to create one million jobs for women across the Middle East and Africa in the next five years.

In addition, Mastercard launched ‘Her Voice’, a podcast series that amplifies the stories of some of Saudi Arabia’s most impactful female changemakers with the aim of motivating women in the Kingdom and beyond to realize their full potential.

Saudi Arabia Inclusion

A paradigm shift in B2B payments

With the volume of business-to-business (B2B) payments increasing rapidly, Mastercard acknowledges the role of innovative payment solutions in fostering businesses growth.

According to data by Straits Research, the Middle East and Africa B2B payments market value is projected to reach USD 122 billion by 2030. In such a fast-evolving landscape, outdated payment methods are costing companies significant time and money. It is clear the need for digitization has never been greater.

“At Mastercard, we seek to enable businesses of all sizes to reap the full benefits of the digital economy. We are driving a paradigm shift in the B2B payments landscape, putting an end to the operational and financial challenges caused by inefficient processes and multiple payment systems. We provide digital payment solutions that allow companies to pay and get paid quickly and securely, expand their reach and deliver a seamless experience for their customers,” he remarked.

A prime example is Mastercard’s strategic partnership with Bahrain Commercial Facilities Company (BCFC) to launch a commercial card program that aims to transform the country’s B2B payments landscape.

Also in Bahrain, the tech giant teamed up with the fintech firm Infinios to introduce the first wholesale travel program in the MENA region, which digitizes B2B travel payments.

In addition, the company is collaborating with SingleView to provide businesses in Saudi Arabia with access to a full suite of corporate and commercial solutions and enable them to unlock the value of data safely and securely.

Pushing fintech forward

The MENA region has been witnessing accelerated growth in its financial technology (fintech) sector. Currently, it’s home to over 800 fintech startups. The fintech landscape in West Arabia is thriving, with countries such as Saudi Arabia and Egypt pursuing ambitious strategies to become regional fintech hubs.

According to data by Mordor Intelligence, the Saudi fintech market is expected to reach USD 63.90 billion this year and grow to USD 87.14 billion by 2029. Meanwhile, Egypt’s FinTech Landscape Report 2023 indicates that the country’s fintech startup ecosystem expanded more than five times between 2018 and 2023. Investments in the sector soared to USD 796.5 million in 2022.

“Innovative fintech players are contributing to the rapid digital transformation that makes people’s lives more convenient, simpler and rewarding. And as an experience-centric company, we at Mastercard are supporting this creative disruption,” Jones commented.

“Through our portfolio of products and services, powered by innovative and secure technologies, fintech innovators can plug into our capabilities to create added value. This provides an express lane for fintech companies of all sizes to scale their offerings,” he added.

To simplify its work with fintech companies, Mastercard launched Mastercard Accelerate, a global single-entry point to its wide portfolio of specialized programs. Within Accelerate, four initiatives cater to SMEs at different stages of their life cycle – Mastercard Developers, Mastercard Engage, Mastercard Fintech Express and Mastercard Start Path.

“An example of our commitment to fueling the development of the fintech industry is our strategic alliance with HyperPay, the fastest-growing payment gateway in the MENA region. Together, we are developing cutting-edge solutions that empower businesses, governments and SMEs to shift from cash-based payments to a seamless digital ecosystem,” Jones revealed.

In Saudi Arabia, the company is collaborating with Loop to bring innovative payment methods to consumers and businesses with the aim of driving financial inclusion. In addition, it has partnered with SiFi to issue corporate cards to SMEs and enterprises across the Kingdom, designed to overcome challenges in controlling spend, managing expense reports and accessing analytics.

“We are also working with our partners across the ecosystem to create an enabling environment for fintech innovation. In this context, we entered a collaboration with Fintech Saudi to advance the growth of the country’s fintech industry. In Egypt, we host the annual Fintech Industry Retreat that convenes the country’s fintech community to explore opportunities to enhance that landscape,” Jones stated.

Financial Services

Innovation at the core

The financial industry is rapidly evolving. Various innovative technologies and trends have emerged to support this expansion.

For Jones, high awareness, adoption and openness among consumers drive the shift to emerging payment methods in the region. In particular, seamless omnichannel payment solutions are rising in popularity.

“Technology is becoming more intuitive, interactive, immersive and embedded in our lives — with significant implications across all sectors,” he emphasized.

He further pointed out how advancements in three areas — AI, computational power and data technology — are converging to propel this trend forward. And these three amplify each other’s impact. For example, AI enhances data analysis and decision-making, while computational power enables faster AI training and inference. Spatial computing benefits from AI-driven object recognition, and data becomes more valuable as it feeds into AI algorithms.

“At Mastercard, we are tapping into the potential of emerging technologies, like AI, machine learning, 5G, edge computing, biometric recognition as well as virtual and augmented reality, to enhance solutions already available today,” Jones explained.

As revealed in the recent Mastercard Cities of the Future Report, 54 percent of Saudi residents and 61 percent of their Egyptian counterparts consider AI and machine learning the most important technologies for future cities.

Mastercard is leading the way in AI and ramping up its investments in AI governance, technology and talent.

“We have been using AI for 15 years, and today, it is critical to the solutions we provide to our customers. For example, it allows us to protect the over 125 billion transactions that we process on our network every year. In fact, our AI-powered solutions have saved USD 35 billion in fraud in the past three years,” Jones shared.

“We also use AI to drive better insights — from helping banks decide on the best actions for their cardholders to supporting retailers with real-time personalized offers to creating better predictions and improving measurements by removing bias,” he added.

Mastercard has embedded AI features and capabilities into its Data & Services offerings, developed by over 2,000 data scientists, analysts and engineers.

In February, the company announced the launch of Decision Intelligence Pro. It’s a next-generation technology solution based on generative AI (GenAI) that has the potential to improve fraud detection by up to 300 percent, supercharging consumer protection. The innovative proposition will be available to customers later this year.

Security is essential

Among the challenges that the payments industry faces, security remains a top concern.

Jones said, “With the proliferation of cyber threats today, the main challenge for all stakeholders is keeping payments secure. Robust payment infrastructure backed by cutting-edge security technologies helps ensure cyber-readiness.”

With this in mind, the firm has been working with partners to develop innovative cybersecurity solutions, powered by advanced identity and AI technologies.

“In this context, we have acquired several companies with industry-leading AI capabilities, such as Brighterion, RiskRecon and NuData, that enable us to boost our cybersecurity offerings,” Jones noted.

In the Middle East and Africa, Mastercard is collaborating with Network International to provide its Brighterion AI technology to 60,000 merchants across the region. The cutting-edge solution helps address fraud, declines and chargebacks in order to reduce costs and risk for acquirers.

In Saudi Arabia, Mastercard has initiated an AI-driven partnership with SAB that leverages Mastercard Gateway’s advanced Transaction Risk Management technology to deliver safe and seamless digital transactions.

Together with its partners, Mastercard works to build trust in the digital ecosystem, which forms a key building block of a prosperous, inclusive and sustainable economy where everyone can thrive.

Digital Payments

For more interviews, click here.

Disclaimer: Opinions conveyed in this article are solely those of the author. The information presented in this article is intended for informational purposes only. It does not constitute advice on tax and legal matters; neither are they financial or investment recommendations. Refer to our full disclaimer policy here.