Mastercard CEO On PayPal 'Talks' And VocaLink Buy

Could a thaw in the Mastercard/PayPal relationship be coming down the pike?

If Mastercard management's commentary about the payments giant’s latest results are any indication, it’s too early for spring, but green shoots are just starting to show.

As has been widely reported, Mastercard results topped expectations, with a bounce in the top and bottom lines that came as transactions were up 14 percent year over year. The company’s net income came in at $0.96 a share on an adjusted basis, which topped The Street at $0.90.

But it may be the potential détente with PayPal that has observers abuzz.

One tell might be the new relationship forged and announced last week between the online payments firm and Visa, where PayPal will stop “steering” customers to link directly to bank accounts, bypassing card usage. Mastercard CEO Ajay Banga was a bit close to the vest as to what might transpire from talks — if anything might at all — and yet noted “constructive dialogue” is in the works. The issues may remain the same as to the alleged PayPal “lack of transparency” around exchange wallets and ACH payments, but dialogue should be helpful.

Talk is just that, and Mastercard CFO Martina Hund-Mejean stated: “Everybody needs to remember that we were the first network, actually, to tell them … that the way that they’re doing the PayPal wallet is not good for the ecosystem … Both parties have to be happy, and we’ll announce when we can announce.”

For now, Mastercard seems to be sticking to its (increasingly virtual) knitting. Mastercard is expanding from the traditional physical credit and debit cards as its customers move to digital formats, as evidenced by the Masterpass expansion seen this month. This will have a short-term impact on margins, as investment continues to roll out the security initiative tied to that platform and also allows customers to use open APIs to push their own wallets, with customization across rewards and purchase alerts.

All in all, looking at Mastercard as a whole, purchase volumes were up more than 9 percent year over year to $897 billion. CEO Banga stated that, in a global context, “the United States economy is still holding steady. Consumer confidence up slightly, stable job growth, lower inflation and, frankly, prior to the Brexit vote, many parts of Europe were showing steady signs of improvement in both consumer confidence and unemployment.” Asia is a zone of caution for the firm, said the executive, with a “prolonged slowdown in China” and a slowdown in Australia. Brazil is seeing a rebound in business sentiment, and all of this, despite near-term uncertainty, might be setting the stage for consumer stickiness, which has buoyed the double-digit transaction growth that has been seen thus far.

In reference to the VocaLink merger, the CEO stated: “When you look at all payment flows in the world's top 50 countries — and this is not just retail payments — ACH represents about 50 percent of that total. And the potential of fast ACH is growing, especially given that it is being promoted by a number of regulatory bodies in Europe, the United States and in other parts of the world.” As a result, he added, the company “is the best asset in this space from … a technology standpoint.” The firm has additional assets in its fast ACH technology provided to The Clearing House in the United States.

That would lead to “both card and ACH transactions [enabling] us to offer an even broader range of data analytics and other services through partners,” with impact on B2B, P2P and government payments.

Touching on the recent news that the $7.25 billion class-action settlement involving Visa, Mastercard and a slew of merchants had been overturned, Banga said that his firm would “work with all parties to see if we can find ways to refund the settlement in line with the Court of Appeals' decision ... On the money damages, note that our financial exposure remains capped at 12 percent of any settlement or judgement under the agreements we entered into with the bank defendants and with Visa in 2011.”

Mastercard is also pushing its commercial business, said management, as one of the “important verticals for us is travel.” The firm has a new deal in place with Amadeus and that company’s B2B wallet, and Banga noted that travel agencies as a whole make more than $300 billion in annual payments across various verticals.

With a bit more detail on digital transactions, tokenization is ramping up as the Mastercard Digital Enablement Service is making "solid progress around making transactions more secure for Masterpass” in contactless transactions and in apps.



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