MasterCard Inc, the world's second-largest debit and credit card company, sees business booming from selling data to retailers, banks and governments on spending patterns found in the payments it processes, a top executive told Reuters.
MasterCard, which handles payments for 2 billion cardholders and tens of millions of merchants, uses that information to generate real-time data on consumer trends, available more quickly that regular government statistics.
"It is an incredibly fast growing area for us," Ann Cairns, who heads MasterCard's business outside North America, said in an interview, stressing that the company respects cardholder privacy, using anonymous data rather than personal information.
MasterCard does not give figures for its information services products but "other revenues", which include the sale of data, grew 22 percent in the first quarter of 2014 to $341 million, outpacing the growth of total revenue dominated by payments processing, which rose 14 percent to $2.177 billion.
Cairns said clients for the data include retailers, banks and governments, with MasterCard tailoring it to their needs.
"Retailers are fantastic at using the data they have available about how people shop in their store, how their inventory turns over, but what they don't know is what happens outside their store," she said. "The data we've got is ubiquitous across the whole market. We can help retailers see what they need to do to capture more sales."
Cairns, 57, a statistician by training who joined MasterCard in 2011 after helping manage the disposal of Lehman Brothers assets in Europe, revels in the insights real-time card data can provide, such as London's popularity as the world's top travel destination and a rise in spending on experiences such as eating out or going on holiday rather than shopping in stores.
MasterCard has recorded a spike in spending in Brazil on groceries and a drop in spending on luxury goods as the price of food has risen ahead of the World Cup, she said, the kind of insight valued by companies such as Nike and Adidas that are hoping to sell $300 soccer boots during the competition.
Growth in E-Commerce, Emerging Markets
While MasterCard expands in "big data", Cairns sees no slowdown in its traditional business of processing payments, with plenty of potential for growth as 85 percent of consumer transactions are still made by cash or cheque.
"Moving money and doing it safely and securely is so deeply cared about by so many people around the world that it will be a business that has fantastic value now and for years to come," said Cairns, who previously worked at Citigroup and ABN Amro.
London-based Cairns, whose division accounts for 60 percent of MasterCard's business, said the expansion of e-commerce and emerging markets is driving growth, noting that 2.5 billion people are still without access to financial services. She predicted that shoppers in many developing economies will leapfrog plastic cards and go direct to payment via smartphone - adding MasterCard is providing "digital wallet" technology to retailers and banks and does not see their own moves into the payments field as a competitive threat.
She also played down the challenge from other new rivals such as Kenya's money transfer service M-Pesa, owned by Safaricom, and eBay's online payments unit PayPal, which is trying to move into physical transactions.
"We run at such a sub-infrastructure level around the world. It is very difficult to replicate our network," she said, adding that M-Pesa had built a branch network to receive and make payments in Kenya, but that would not work in countries where there is more established financial infrastructure.
"Most counties in the world have ATM networks and point of sale networks. Because they are so ubiquitous, that model won't fly," she said.
Meanwhile, MasterCard is entrenching its technology in other emerging markets, for example developing a biometrics-based card used for benefits payments in South Africa and working with the Nigeria government on a pilot to overlay payment technology on a new national identity card.