By @SimonCocking

What is your background?

My degree is in Computer Technology and prior to Mastercard I worked in hi-tech security systems including ‘hands free’ RFID access technology

Does it seem like a logical progression to what you do now?

Yes it does. I had no background in payments prior to Mastercard but my time here has given me that and of course my current role is all about technology

What are you currently working on, what are you excited about?

In my previous Mastercard role I spent six years working with Transport for London to enable ‘tap and ride’ travel with your contactless bank card (or NFC phone). In the two years since this service went live over half a billion journeys have been paid for this way.

More recently we’ve seen a ‘quiet revolution’ in payments with the advent of ‘tokenisation’. This is embodied in our Digital Enablement Service (MDES) which gives your phone its own unique ‘card’ number so that your real card number is not shared, and blocks any transactions with that number that don’t come from your phone. Essentially it builds the same security that powers chip and PIN into payments made by your phone

MDES is the ‘engine’ that connects companies like Google, Apple and Samsung to thousands of banks and billions of customers worldwide.

Right now we’re working on a completely new sort of payment system – it’s hugely challenging but if successful will, without exaggeration, revolutionise the payments industry – it’s a fascinating time to be doing what I do!

Will we see a cashless society, how soon?

It’s a long way off but we’re making strides towards it. Our goal in the next few years is to ensure that going cashless is an option for those that want to do it. That means ensuring that everywhere you need to pay, you have the option of paying electronically be that in corner shops, at vending machines or at ‘pop-up’ markets.

What are the barriers to widespread adoption?

The first as mentioned above is ensuring that electronic payments are accepted everywhere. To that end Mastercard set out a standard in 2014 that all payment terminals in Europe must accept contactless payments (and hence mobile phone payments) by 2020. Contactless is important because cash payment is such a deeply ingrained behaviour that you need something that is genuinely quicker and easier if you are going to displace it.

Will biometrics eventually solve identity fraud, are will it continually be an escalating war / battle against hackers?

Fraud is an ‘arms race’ – no form of security is absolute and the bad guys are highly motivated to overcome whatever barriers we put in their way. The trick is to maintain the balance of making it sufficiently hard for the fraudsters while ensuring that it doesn’t become too inconvenient for legitimate users. Accessible biometrics (for example via mobile phones) are a huge leap forward when it comes to the security vs convenience balance.

If we achieve unique personal identication (fraud free) how do we balance this achievement with personal freedoms, and potential miss-use in more totalitarian cultures?

This is something that we at MasterCard have always been extremely sensitive to. We have to hold massive amounts of data on payment transactions yet we have always been very careful to ensure that we do not have the means to identify transactional behaviour to a particular person.

Do you see any potential use cases for blockchain within the areas you are working on?

Absolutely, blockchain when applied correctly has the potential to significantly reduce the costs of moving money around the world. One of the enduring pain points in payments is the fees that people and businesses have to pay when they want to send money from one country to another. Blockchain could potentially make these transactions almost as cheap as a domestic funds transfers.

What’s your view on crypto currencies? Does bitcoin have a future or something else perhaps?

It seems likely that Bitcoin or something like it will have a role to play in future payments. A key challenge for cryptocurrencies is that one of their principle benefits – anonymity – is also one of their biggest problems. How do you ensure that in protecting the privacy of law-abiding individuals you are not also facilitating the activities of terrorists, traffickers and other abusers of people and their liberty?

Anything else you’d like to add / we should have asked you?

I guess the obvious question is “what’s next?”. The first big wave of digital payments innovation is already passing with major global players such as Google, Samsung and Apple having launched their mobile payment services in multiple markets. I think what we’ll see next is more and more banks ‘payment-enabling’ their mobile banking apps and also a plethora of smaller and more niche digital players launching their own payment solutions that are attuned to the needs of their own unique customer base. This could include fitness bands that will only let the legitimate owner ‘tap and pay’, connected cars that will take care of the payment whenever you fill up with fuel and ‘chatbots’ that recognise when you need to make a trip and let you book and pay for it without ever leaving your messaging app.

If you would like to have your company featured in the Irish Tech News Business Showcase, get in contact with us at [email protected] or @SimonCocking

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