Mastercard Singapore country manager, Deborah Heng, talks about key developments in financial technology

With the number of digital payments expected to soar worldwide in the coming decades, payments technology companies have their work cut out for them. Deborah Heng, Mastercard’s country manager for Singapore, talks about how the company is investing in artificial intelligence (AI) innovations and other cutting‑edge technologies to better protect customers and make their lives more convenient.

(Related: 5 Things To Know About Global Strategist Parag Khanna)

Tatler Asia
Deborah Heng (illustrations by TWISSTII)
Above Deborah Heng (illustrations by TWISSTII)

Companies today are all undergoing digital transformation. What are the most urgent challenges for Mastercard?
Deborah Heng (DH) One of our key areas of focus is developing new and seamless ways to pay, so that customers will enjoy greater convenience with more options. We’re also investing in safety and security to protect the digital ecosystem. Today, about five to six billion devices are connected globally. In seven to 10 years’ time, it’s going to be 50 to 60 billion devices. The speed at which business is done, transactions are made, and data is moved will increase, along with the sophistication of cybersecurity threats. That’s why we are focusing on these areas.

(Related: Luxasia Group CEO Wolfgang Baier On Millennials And The Beauty Industry)

How is Mastercard tackling these challenges? What innovations is it introducing?
DH Global interoperability—the ability for different systems to understand, exchange and use one another’s information—is crucial for the digital world. So we are focused on creating globally interoperable standards to power the digital economy. One example is tokenisation, where sensitive data in a system such as bank account numbers is replaced with an undecipherable token, thus keeping the original data secure.
On the innovation front, we are delivering products and solutions that make it easier for consumers to pay more seamlessly and securely. These include biometric cards, QR codes and wearables for payment, digital wallets, and the use of analytics, AI, and biometric solutions to ensure safety and security in payments.

Tatler Asia
New technology makes use of artificial intelligence to detect fraud more effectively. In addition, more efficient payments technology can help to foster the growth of more inclusive cities (image: 123RF)
Above New technology makes use of artificial intelligence to detect fraud more effectively. In addition, more efficient payments technology can help to foster the growth of more inclusive cities (image: 123RF)

How is Mastercard using AI to improve fraud detection?
DH AI can help us to better verify people’s identities and prevent fraud. In 2017, we acquired cybersecurity firm, NuData, which is a global leader in behavioural biometrics. Through its cutting-edge technology, we can go beyond static biometric interactions such as a single fingerprint, and take advantage of the field of behavioural and persistent biometrics, which includes the way a person interacts with a device, how they type in passwords, how they hold the device, whether it’s usually in their right hand or left hand, and so forth. The way a bot would type in a password is very different from how you or I would do it. With its AI, NuData can flag abnormal uses of devices based on past experience. Transactions that are assessed to be suspicious are reported to banks, merchants or other relevant stakeholders, who can then evaluate the risk in real time and allow or deny them.

We also have a comprehensive decision and fraud detection service called Mastercard Decision Intelligence that utilises AI and is used by many of our banking partners. The smart technology looks at how a specific account is used over time, and account information such as location, merchant, time of day and type of purchase made to detect normal and abnormal spending behaviours.
When you need to analyse more than 140,000 transactions every minute, and work through consumer behavioural history and a large amount of historical fraud data to provide an assessment on a transaction, you need the power of AI.

Tatler Asia
Fintech players are figuring out new ways to combine data-driven insights with innovative technology (image: 123RF)
Above Fintech players are figuring out new ways to combine data-driven insights with innovative technology (image: 123RF)

Why did Mastercard also decide to venture into smart mobility?
DH We believe that the key to developing liveable, sustainable and inclusive cities is combining data-driven insights with innovative technology. In 2014, we worked closely with Transport for London to roll out the acceptance of contactless payments across all modes of transport. This partnership helped make travel simpler: commuters use a product that they already have in their pocket (a contactless-enabled Mastercard or Maestro card, or smart device) and thus need less time to get through the station to their trains. Transport authorities can also cut the cost of collecting fares. Through this initiative, London has saved an estimated £100m a year.
We’ve been testing a similar fare payment system for public transport in Singapore since 2017 with the Land Transport Authority (LTA), and the user participation has been encouraging. (LTA has since expanded this pilot to include Visa and Nets cards.) We are also working with more than 100 cities worldwide to design efficient and intuitive spaces by integrating interoperable digital payments into a city’s core transport infrastructure.

(Related: What You Need to Know About Impact Investing)

Tatler Asia
Image: 123RF
Above Image: 123RF

What's next for Mastercard?
DH We see ourselves as a connector supporting the shared vision of inclusive growth and urbanisation. We offer the connectivity of information, infrastructure and innovation to make all payment flows more efficient, thus helping to build more inclusive cities. We want to continue to help individuals and businesses to thrive and grow using our technology, insights and expertise. As a truly global network, we can leverage these same assets to support governments and economies too. 

Tatler Asia
Image: 123RF
Above Image: 123RF

New Money

The People’s Bank of China is one of a handful of central banks all over the world currently pondering the possibility of issuing a digital version of a country’s currency. Here is why this might be a game changer
1. Better oversight
Private operators offering payments platforms have proliferated in recent years, in some cases fulfilling functions such as giving loans that used to be the purview of banks. A centrally issued digital currency may lead to better regulatory management over digital transactions.
2. Increased accessibility
Digital currency is potentially easier to distribute and access than paper currency, since physical infrastructure such as ATMs would be replaced by the likes of digital wallets on smartphones. 
3. Radical transparency
Paying in cash leaves no paper trail, figuratively speaking. The ease of tracking digital currency could lead to a whole new level of radical transparency, helping to eliminate black market transactions. But that could also mean citizens may lose a lot of privacy when it comes to their financial activities.  

Tatler Asia
© 2023 Tatler Asia Limited. All rights reserved.