MasterCard’s Walt Macnee: We’re Better Than Cash

Financial inclusivity is an enormously important issue both in the U.S. and abroad, with the World Bank estimating that a stunning 2.5 billion adults lack access to traditional financial services. At MasterCard’s Cashless Conversation on November 13, leaders from the financial, non-profit and academic worlds convened to discuss the industry’s latest findings and to offer solutions for the underserved moving forward. spoke with Walt Macnee, vice chairman, MasterCard Worldwide, to discuss financial inclusion, and how increasing underserved awareness ties in with his company’s vision of a world beyond cash.

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MasterCard’s Walt Macnee: We’re Better Than Cash

We’ve spoken to numerous MasterCard executives about their company’s vision of “a world beyond cash,” and have received no shortage of intriguing responses. But perhaps the most succinct reasoning we’ve heard comes from Walt Macnee, vice chairman, MasterCard Worldwide, who, earlier this week at MasterCard’s Cashless Conversation on Financial Inclusion, offered this explanation of his views on cash’s limitations:

“Without being simplistic, we must say to ourselves, ‘cash is bad.’ It’s something that has a huge long history, but we’re better than that now.” spoke with Macnee to discuss some of the industry’s latest findings, and why a world beyond cash could benefit billions – yes, billions – around the globe.

“We look around the world and we see that cash carries extraordinary cost,” Macnee explained. “Some of the obvious ones are that cash is expensive to print and secure, and it’s expensive for governments to create it and monitor it … there are all of those costs. But then we see some big societal costs. Cash facilitates all of the illicit activities in the world … I’m talking about everything from running borders with elicit goods, or drugs, or prostitution … they’re all facilitated by cash,” he said.

“Cash is a risk proposition for huge, huge segments of the population … because carrying cash makes you a target.”

One of the key points of discussion at MasterCard’s Cashless Conversation surrounded the company’s new survey, which revealed some startling statistics about the financially underserved. The survey noted that when made aware of the 88 million Americans who lack access to traditional financial services, two-thirds of respondents characterized financial inclusivity as “an issue to be addressed.”

Macnee described the notion that in a nation with a $15 trillion economy, such a high percentage was “very surprising,” and illustrated that others likely felt the same way, given the survey’s results.

But beyond the U.S., a lack of financial inclusivity is even more problematic. According to a World Bank study, around 2.5 billion of the world’s adults are underserved by traditional financial services, and their lack of access can dramatically reduce their quality of life.

“We think that probably half the world’s population, and at least a third of the world’s population, lives on $2 a day or less,” Macnee said. “If you’re in that situation, the threats that come along to you and your family are the same that come along to you and I.”

Macnee cited medical emergencies or educational needs as the most common costs that people endure, and illustrated that those who cannot save or prepare for such events are at a serious disadvantage.

“If you have no way of saving, if there’s no safe way to put a little bit of money away … you’re denying people something that’s a fairly basic service in the rest of the world,” he said.

When asked about how to better educate the unbanked and underbanked about financial possibilities, Macnee emphasized the importance of action, stating that he believes the most important step for financial institutions to take is to introduce payments services to such populations as soon as possible.

“I think MasterCard has to and is moving beyond talking about this,” Macnee said. “It’s our job to provide basic, basic financial services, and to educate them that way.”

To hear more Macnee on financial inclusivity, listen to the full podcast below. 


Walt M. Macnee

Vice Chairman, MasterCard Worldwide

Walt M. Macnee is vice chairman, MasterCard Worldwide. In this capacity, he is responsible for various senior client and government relationships – engaging these important stakeholders on key issues related to the ever-changing payments industry. In addition, he leads MasterCard’s evolving merchant strategy.

Previously, Mr. Macnee was president, International Markets, with responsibility for all markets and customer-related activities outside of the United States at MasterCard. Prior to this, he was president, Global Markets, with responsibility for building all aspects of MasterCard issuance and acceptance business globally. And, prior to that, he was president of the Americas Region. From 2001 to 2004, Mr. Macnee was president of MasterCard Canada, where he oversaw the company’s efforts to provide advanced, secure, and reliable payment solutions and to strengthen its position in the Canadian banking industry.

Mr. Macnee briefly left MasterCard from 2004 to 2006 when he served as executive vice president, Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce, in Toronto. In that position, he was responsible for overall management of the bank’s credit card business and national collections. Previously, he spent 18 years with Toronto Dominion Bank where, in his last position as senior vice president, he had full product management and client service responsibility for payment cards and personal lending.

He has earned several university degrees, including a master’s in business administration from York University.

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