The fast-evolving financial technology landscape in Sub-Saharan Africa is witnessing a remarkable transformation, driven by technology companies and visionary leaders who work to drive financial inclusion in the continent. Global payments company Mastercard is one of the companies that are playing a big role in driving the growth of financial inclusion in Sub-Saharan Africa.
Mastercard’s Mark Elliot, is one of the visionary leaders who are passionate about driving financial inclusion and technological innovation. We got a chance to have an exclusive chat with Mark as we delved into his insights and priorities as he spearheads Mastercard’s mission to scale payment technologies, promote financial inclusion, and foster digital growth across the region.
In the dynamic landscape of financial technology, Mark Elliot, Division President for Sub-Saharan Africa at Mastercard, is at the forefront of driving financial inclusion and technological innovation. With a strong focus on promoting digital transformation and extending services across the region, Mark shares his vision of empowering Africa through Mastercard’s multi-rail strategy. In this exclusive Q&A, we explore how Mastercard aims to foster cross-border cooperation, support local economies, and facilitate the free movement of capital while maintaining individual economic identities. Join us as we delve into Mark’s insights on technology’s pivotal role in shaping Africa’s digital future.
Who is Mark Elliot?
I am the Division President for Sub-Saharan Africa at Mastercard. In my current role, I am responsible for driving our innovation and growth agenda and finding new ways to scale the latest payments technologies to drive financial inclusion – a topic I’m very passionate about.
What are your key priorities in your role for extending services and embracing new networks across the region?
As I said, I am very passionate about technology which I believe is helping us achieve things previous generations could only dream of. We have had partnerships that help scale the positive impact of technology so that more people can thrive in a world beyond cash.
This means we have to continue innovating in Africa for Africa, championing digital transformation, and solving local pain points to achieve scale. As a trusted advisor for governments, financial institutions, telcos, fintech, retailers and businesses, we are committed to add value and positively inform policies and decisions in a cohesive way that complements their innate expertise and existing strengths.
How do you plan to ensure the overall performance and development of the SSA Division in the three distinct clusters you are managed: Southern Africa, East Africa, and West Africa?
We will continue to build out our ‘One Africa’ approach, ensuring that we ‘think globally, act locally’, to expand across geographies, new segments, and payment flows – by deepening our capabilities. What this means is that we grow our business combining our local know-how with our global innovation capabilities, to deliver market relevant solutions in partnership with a broad range of stakeholders, solving real problems on the ground.
Looking at markets across Africa, there is still a need to include more people and businesses into the digital economy and that remains a fundamental focus for us at Mastercard. We have to provide more choice and more value across rails beyond cards – from remittances to the improved convenience of person-to-person (P2P) payments. This is at the heart of our multi-rail strategy, which basically means we are focused on how to support people, businesses, and governments as they transact across any channel and to any end point – adding value in places where traditional card products might never go. We are offering more choice, more certainty, and a frictionless experience.
Looking at the Pan African Payment and Settlement System (PAPSS), what are the opportunities and barriers to its successful implementation and adoption?
Innovative cross-border platforms can help organizations within an ecosystem to stay relevant and future-proof their operations. PAPSS, as an example, addresses the historic challenges of making payments across African borders, adding value through a common African market infrastructure for all stakeholders.
The move towards pan-African integration has exciting possibilities, yet the complexities of national solutions are an operating reality. Payments and data have become increasingly central to the operation of economies, and countries often veer towards finding national solutions. However, without a level playing field and private sector access, innovation can quickly fall behind.
What role is Mastercard playing in this?
At Mastercard, we see our role as an enabler, helping countries to digitize economies by accessing innovative, fit-for-purpose products, services, and strategic consultancy to positively develop wider digital infrastructure, urban mobility, and interoperability. We understand the need to blend global expertise with localization, in order to and help grow Africa’s position in the global marketplace.
We enable easier inflow of overseas capital through access to global markets, and we provide multiple rails for the easy movement of money and investment. Our tools and platforms like Community Pass also address the informal market – a vital part of the solution given the UN Development Programme estimates nearly 83% of Africa’s employment is informal.
Technology has grown in Africa. What role do you think it plays in facilitating the free movement of capital across African countries?
To build a vibrant, global economy, markets need to be interoperable — the flow of goods, services, capital and data across borders must connect seamlessly. At the moment, about 80% of African marketplaces are national marketplaces operating only in a single African country. But for true sustainable growth, integrated, cross-border coverage, supported by robust technology is crucial. And it’s important to recognize that interoperability does not require sacrificing privacy, national security, consumer protection or economic inclusion.
Technology and data are critical elements that will help us address some of the world’s most pressing economic and social challenges. Being part of a global, interoperable system can facilitate the deployment of innovative approaches to these issues, while maintaining appropriate regulatory guardrails on legitimate policy issues. Responsible and permissioned sharing of data across geographies helps to better identify trends and reinforce a foundation of trust.
How can African countries work together to harmonize their regulations and policies related to capital movement and cross-border transactions, while still maintaining their individual economic identities?
New regulatory initiatives should focus on building interoperable systems that build trust, encourage scalable investment, and support digital trade, including cross-border payments and e-commerce.
More and more countries are realizing that consistent standards play an important part in overall success. When there’s a patchwork of global data standards, it complicates user experiences and breeds confusion and mistrust. So, remedying this overcomplicated landscape is essential.
The innovation that can support the opportunities from digital technology, must be underpinned by a coherent approach to standards. When this happens effectively, it prevents fragmentation and strengthens international cooperation and consensus on digital governance issues.
How can the private sector, including businesses and investors, contribute to and benefit from the initiatives aimed at promoting the free movement of capital in Africa?
Partnership is key to optimized outcomes and shared prosperity for everyone. Everyone has a role to play, from across the public and private sectors, to drive forward solutions, especially as this can simultaneously drive forward financial inclusion.
At Mastercard, we are committed to being a responsible business and a local partner for organizations in Africa. We work closely with national schemes to enable domestic and cross-border spending. That has included our partnership with Zimswitch to enable the modernization of Zimbabwe’s payment infrastructure. We’ve also signed an MoU with EthSwitch to deliver a simple and better user experience that will contribute towards the acceleration of Ethiopia’s transition to a cash-lite economy.
We’ve made significant investments in payments infrastructure and continue to do so, while collaborating with local financial institutions, fintech companies, and many others to support innovation, enable commerce, and facilitate economic growth.