MasterCard wants to let you pay in a heartbeat

Within five years, all payments will be centred around an electronic device – whether a mobile, watch or authenticator. That's according to MasterCard – just don't tell the leather-wallet business.

Eyad Al Kourdi, the head of MasterCard in the UAE, demonstrates the cards they have launched in South Africa which can receive payments from the government. Clint McLean for The National
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The simple act of buying a cup of coffee is about to get a whole lot smarter.

We all know that cash is no longer king in the retail world, given the rise of credit cards and contactless payments. But according to MasterCard, ever more technologically advanced ways of paying for goods are on the horizon.

The global payment-processing company this year became the first international firm to sign a cooperation agreement with the Dubai Innovation Strategy, a government-led initiative aimed at making Dubai the world’s most innovative city. Under the agreement, MasterCard plans to launch high-tech programmes to enhance innovation in the UAE.

Eyad Al Kourdi, the head of MasterCard in the UAE, says his company now plans to go even further by opening a lab in Dubai, as it has in several other markets, to look at how new technologies can transform the consumer experience.

Mr Al Kourdi, an Emirati who has worked for MasterCard since 1996, says part of this will involve researching how the wallet of the future may look – and it does not involve much leather. Here he explains how, in just a few years’ time, UAE consumers could use their actual heartbeat as a signature when paying for that morning espresso.

In five years’ time, what might it be like paying for a cup of coffee in the UAE?

Everything is going to be centred around some form of an electronic device – be it a mobile, watch or authenticator – and that will become your gateway to all kinds of transactions. Your mobile could be the custodian for all your cards, and an authenticator would be able to tell whether you're the right person or not. I don't think it will be five years – it's going to happen much earlier than that. It's not going to be like Star Trek or Star Wars, but there's some amazing stuff coming our way.

What will MasterCard be doing as part of its agreement with the Dubai Innovation Strategy?

We will be developing applications and launch pads for solutions that will revolutionise the overall consumer journey in the UAE. Today, the normal way of payments is that you go to a shop, you like something, you hand over a card, they swipe it and you’re done. The question is how we can evolve this entire payment transaction in order for us to move to the mobile world, or a world in which you can do all this in a seamless way. For example, there is a device called the Nymi that checks your electrocardiogram – something unique to every person – and tells all the devices paired with it that you’ve been authenticated.

Does MasterCard plan to open a research lab in the UAE?

We have labs in Australia, Asia-Pacific, Africa, Europe and the US. We are planning to have our labs in the UAE in the very near future.

Is this about MasterCard playing catch-up, struggling to keep relevant in a world of fast-changing technology?

I don’t see it that way. I see it as a way for us take to take the lead in evolving the way in which people think about a certain innovation or technology.

Some providers offer credit cards with embedded Nol cards for use on the Dubai transport system. Is that something MasterCard has looked at?

It can be done, and we are very open to working with a lot of the government entities. And you will see a few announcements on some of our government partnerships in the very near future. People will start enabling more applications on one single piece of plastic. This makes it easier for the consumer, as an alternative to having a number of plastic cards in their wallet, such as their loyalty cards, driver’s licence, medical records, national ID and credit and debit cards. Imagine a lot of these merging, and sitting in one single place. It could be a phone, watch or wristband rather than a plastic card. This will evolve so fast, and I think we’re going to be playing a larger role in that evolution.

So it’s bad news if you’re in the leather wallet business?

Hey, listen. Some of these wallet makers have evolved and are starting to provide iPhone covers. People can decide whether they’re going to be stuck on one single product, or whether it’s going to be an evolution.

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