Company Spotlight

Who’s The Most Digital Payments Ready?

It’s not who you think. Of the 13M internet users in South Africa, the majority go online via their mobile devices. PYMNTS got the scoop from MasterCard’s Head of Emerging Payments for the Middle East and Africa, Aaron Oliver, to understand what makes the South African market unique and how it will use those insights to bring MasterPass to this important emerging market.

One of the most recent markets to get access to MasterPass is South Africa. Aaron Oliver, Head of Emerging Payments for MasterCard Middle East and Africa, said that his primary responsibility is to bring products like MasterPass to the entire region which includes a broad spectrum of countries – those with high GDP per capita like Qatar, as well as those in Sub-Saharan Africa that are well on the opposite end of the spectrum. In a recent interview, we spoke to Oliver to discuss why, when battling cash in emerging markets, plastic doesn’t have to come first.


MasterPass was recently launched in South Africa – a first for the Middle East and Africa region. What is the significance of this announcement?

AO: The big thing is that MasterPass is a global initiative for MasterPass. The launch in South Africa marks the 10th country to go live this year. We’ve really got some key merchants lined up, including South African Airlines, an online superstore Takealot, and a ticketing website We’re also working with a number of PSPs in this market that provide technology to over 10,000 merchants where we will bring MasterPass to, and we’ve launched the first digital wallet that includes MasterPass with Standard Bank. It’s the first of many banks that will roll it out, but it’s the largest bank in South Africa.

From the perspective of launching, we’ve really hit a home run in the partners that we’ve gotten out there. But we’re the 10th country, which means that we don’t just start form where we are today. Prior to us going live with MasterPass, we have 40,000 merchants globally that have already gone live – merchants like Singapore Airlines, American Airlines, Starbucks, Burger King, Today, when someone downloads that app, they can transact online right away with one of these merchants already out there.


Based on your experience, what is the state of digital payments in this region? 

Obviously, with South Africa being a part of Africa, one thing that is pretty obvious is that South Africa is leading the way in digital payments. But one of the things that might not be so obvious to someone outside of this region is that of the 13 million South Africans that access the internet, the majority choose mobile to access the internet as the first choice. And for other developed markets with high online penetration, that’s actually the opposite – the laptop is still first.

So what’s really quite cool about South Africa is that they’re also leading the way in 3G penetration for the region. About 40 percent of the country has 3G penetration, which actually means that all different new devices that come out – things like tablets, mobiles, wearables – are actually more useful in places like South Africa. Smartphones are also getting cheaper, so we expect that across the continent, that will dramatically improve smartphone usage across Africa. But today, South Africans are leading the way in a number of regions in terms of their digital readiness.


What are some of the barriers MasterCard has encountered in igniting digital and online payments in South Africa, and what can South African cardholders do today that they were not able to do before?

AO: One of the barriers that we see in South Africa for online purchasing, and basically digital, is the fact that the majority of South African have PIN-based debit cards, which obviously don’t work online because they can’t put a PIN in securely online. So what we’ve done with MasterPass in the region is we’ve created a unique technology to seamlessly transition from an online purchase experience to a user’s personal mobile phone where they can select their PIN-based debit card, enter the PIN on the phone, click the purchase transaction, and the merchant online has acknowledged that the transaction is approved. So we’ve found a way with the app to seamlessly transition between online and the personal handset using a QR code that opens up all of South African debit for online shopping. This is very significant in the South African market.

In addition, one of the things about the Standard Bank app that I mentioned earlier is that consumers don’t have to be a Standard Bank customer to use it. Any South African cardholder can download the app and put any card into it. As an example, myself who lives in Dubai can download the Standard Bank app, put my UAE card in, and I can make a purchase in South Africa using MasterPass. So it really is a solution that covers the entire market.


Aaron Oliver MC

Aaron Oliver
Head of Emerging Payments for MasterCard Middle East and Africa

Aaron Oliver is the Head of Emerging Payments for Middle East and Africa (MEA) at MasterCard. In his current role, he is responsible for overseeing and managing the strategies and implementation plans of Emerging Payment products to meet the evolving needs of consumers. He is also a member of the MEA Operating Committee, which provides oversight for the overall operations of the organization in the region.

With an objective to further strengthen MasterCard’s position in the region and help enhance future growth, Aaron is also responsible for developing product strategies, implementation plans and applications of MasterCard’s Emerging Payment solutions, which include Mobile, E-Commerce, and Platforms such as chip, contactless, P2P, BillPay, InControl.

With over 10 years of experience in the payment solutions and services industry across the Asia Pacific and the MEA region, Aaron joins MasterCard from Visa where he held the position of Senior Business Leader, Mobile Money – Asia Pacific.

Prior to that, he also held a number of key leadership positions that included Managing Director, Fundamo Asia; Principal Consultant at HSL Consulting; and Vice President, mCommerce Services at Utiba.

Aaron holds a Bachelor of Science degree in Quantitative Methods and Computer Science from the University of Saint Thomas, Minnesota.






Banks, corporates and even regulators now recognize the imperative to modernize — not just digitize —the infrastructures and workflows that move money and data between businesses domestically and cross-border.

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