In the midst of the pandemic, businesses and governments are grappling with decisions that often must be made on the fly.
The right data can help them get some certainty that unprecedented efforts — stimulus programs and the great shift to digital among them — are bearing fruit.
To that end, and as announced Friday (May 29), Mastercard launched its new Recovery Insights initiative, which includes a collection of tools and research aimed at helping governments pinpoint where aid needs to flow and helping businesses fine-tune operations to serve consumers more efficiently.
In an interview with Karen Webster, Raj Seshadri, president of Data and Services at Mastercard, said that Mastercard is making Recovery Insights available to streamline reopening and rebounding.
As she told Webster, “Back in January, who would have predicted we’d be here? The future is uncertain.”
And with a nod toward that uncertainty, the impact of tens of millions of lost jobs and an untold number of shuttered businesses on state and local governments will be profound.
Tax revenues have disappeared, and at the same time the CARES Act passed earlier this year provides hundreds of billions of dollars to state, local and tribal governments.
And for companies, the great leap to digital is currently underway, as consumer spending moves online, toward curbside pickup, card-not-present (CNP) transactions and payments done across mobile devices.
“Whether the recovery happens sooner, or more slowly, we need to accelerate it as best as we possibly can,” Seshadri said.
Informing Public Policy
To accelerate that recovery, Mastercard has said dozens of cities across the globe, spanning London to Barcelona to New York, have been using Mastercard tools (free of charge) to glean insights not just into budget planning, but into consumer spending as well. Spending, after all, generates tax dollars, and tax dollars flow into government coffers and optimize services and investments.
In this way, governments can triage efforts to help smaller firms survive during the age of the coronavirus. In one example, as plans to reopen New York City have taken shape, noted Seshadri, retail sales were down as much as 44 percent in March, during the peak of the pandemic. Mastercard’s Geographic Insights, one of the tech tools on offer, identified spending pattern changes in specific neighborhoods.
“Each type of government — city, state countries and counties … have unique geography with a unique set of citizens and needs,” she said.
Speaking specifically about New York, Seshadri said things have been getting better, progressively, week by week.
Getting granular 360-degree details on local economies can help governments disburse aid more effectively — and double down on what is working — as they gain real-time insight, with the help of aggregated and anonymized payment data. The data illuminate which areas are open for business, and which areas are less financially healthy and are in need of support. In terms of mechanics, the information is delivered to users through application program interfaces (APIs) or files.
Mastercard also offers a testing platform that lets governments and businesses, with additional insight from the company’s Economic Institute get a sense of which commerce-boosting efforts are most likely to be successful, she said.
She said the company has helped a major retailer in Europe pivot away from stocking larger stores toward smaller outlets, where consumer demand was on the upswing.
The data showed that “it was important to keep the smaller stores open and stocked because many of them are in residential areas,” said Seshadri. “And as consumers were staying home, they were largely shopping locally.”
In another example, grocers found that it was best to restock inventory at night in order to meet the next day’s demand.
To gauge the daily ebbs and flows of consumer demand, said Seshadri, Mastercard has developed the Daily Market Trend Index that can help verticals such restaurants and retail fine tune their efforts with insight into consumer spend, average ticket size, and transaction frequency.
Small- to medium-sized businesses (SMBs) gain complimentary access to the Mastercard findings through their banks and can use credible data to gain insights in near-real time.
“In this world of global uncertainty,” Seshadri told Webster, “the one thing we can do is be data driven.”