Q&A: Changing the Way You Spend

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How would you describe the role that MasterCard plays in facilitating efficient African business travel?

Providing a simple and secure payment solution to employees who are travelling for business purposes, whilst providing their companies with a simple way of reconciling travel costs.

What travel-specific services do you provide?

Among others: MasterCard Corporate Card – a payment card issued to a company’s employees to pay for their business travel expenses. The card has numerous benefits, such as reducing the number of staff claims and reimbursements, accelerating business reconciliations, and enhancing control and transparency; MasterCard Central Travel Solution – a virtual card account that is lodged at the corporation’s travel agency to ensure all airline transactions are booked and paid for by the company’s central travel account. This ensures that the travel information from the travel agency, such as routing and passenger details, is matched to the financial transaction; MasterCard Smartdata.gen2 – a secure, online platform that provides usable spending data that can be used for reconciliation, enquiries, account and expense management.

What are the current African hotspots and why?

Lagos and Nairobi are gateways to West and East Africa respectively, and we continue to invest in growing our offices and boosting our staff complement in these cities.

How have business travellers’ spending habits changed over the years?

The recent economic challenges globally have had a great influence on business travel policies, especially in Europe and the US. Companies, SMEs and even government organisations have implemented far stricter travel policies when it comes to premium class airline tickets and accommodation. Organisations are now more vigilant when approving business travel and pricing is becoming increasingly important. Businesses are now investing more in gathering and analysing information around their frequent travel destinations. Meaningful reports are being used to identify frequent travel partners and this information enables them to secure competitive pricing.

In your space, what are the themes or talking points of 2012?

In the past, we have always seen an interest from the private sector for commercial card solutions. However, recently there has been a great drive from public sector and government agencies, especially in Africa, to move to a card solution. In some markets, the central banks have gone as far as developing policies to move away from cash to other electronic payment solutions. Nigeria is a particularly strong example of this.

How do you overcome concerns over the use of credit cards on African business travel trips, in terms of reliability and security?

MasterCard has invested significantly in developing robust security features in all its payment products. Innovations such as chip technology and enhanced e-commerce security, among others, have also played a great part in combating fraud. When it comes to reliability, connectivity has been a huge challenge, especially in rural areas in Africa. However, great strides have been made in growing acceptance in large cities and frequent travel destinations.

Cash is still king in Africa. How do you break down that perception and get more people ‘buying’ into using products such as MasterCard?

Bringing the benefits of electronic payments to business travellers across the African continent is a primary focus for MasterCard. Africa has always been heavily reliant on cash, both in the consumer and corporate sectors. We are actively engaging in education programmes to introduce governments, financial institutions and consumers to the benefits of electronic payments. This includes working closely with media, offering competitions to consumers and offering incentives. We are actively engaging with banks to offer education programmes to introduce merchants to the benefits of accepting payment cards, while alerting them to global best practice in engaging with merchants.

What are your biggest challenges?

For corporate travel, enhanced data is critical for businesses, as it provides the information required to reconcile travel expenditure. In most markets within this region it is extremely challenging for issuing banks to gain access to this information from travel merchants and acquiring banks, in order to provide their corporate customers with detailed bank statements. This is because current technologies are unable to source this additional data for it to be sent through the clearing process. Therefore, card schemes and issuing banks have to engage with travel partners and other third party agencies in order to gain access to this information.