MasterCard’s growing role in smart cities (and why data matters)

Fri, 2015-10-23 06:00 -- SCC Staff

For MasterCard Chief Products Officer Craig Vosburg, data and intelligence are essential for cities on the path to becoming smart cities, particularly payments data.

In an interview with, Vosburg outlined why MasterCard, a Council Lead Partner, has taken such an intense interest in smart cities and their development and why it regards data as a critical element in the interoperability those cities need for true connectivity.

One reason cities are important is sheer numbers. Vosburg said today more than half of the world's population lives in cities. "In a few short decades, it'll be seven out of 10 people. MasterCard is intensely focused on cities and their importance. They do, after all, account for roughly 80% of global GDP.

Vosburg's view of what smart cities are at least in part explains why MasterCard has taken such an interest in them. He described a smart city as "…an urban center that's digital, connected, inclusive and interoperable. Interoperability is essential, as it allows computer systems, grids, sensors, devices and more to talk with each other in a common language. A smart city uses data and intelligence to make cities more livable, workable and sustainable."

How payments data can help manage a city
Payments data can provide a city with a lot of valuable information, Vosburg said, such as where visitors spend and what they're buying, the financial health of specific neighborhoods and small business performance. And data also can help manage traffic and public transit peaks, parking facilities and congestion, among other services.

Inclusiveness is a key concern
The word inclusiveness pops up often in the Vosburg interview for a reason. "We're focusing on inclusiveness so everyone can benefit," he said. "The costs to individuals and the economy of financial exclusion are significant," and exclusion from the digital economy where electronic payment is usually required can be costly for people and cause them to lose dignity.

Those reasons and others are why the company, which Vosburg said has brought 180 million people into the financial system, has a goal of 500 million by 2020.

Travel and tourism also are part of the smart cities equation for MasterCard. "Travel and tourism is an economic engine to be reckoned with as the world's largest industry. It represents nearly 10% of global GDP." Stressing the point, he added "The travel industry is too important to our collective future to not play a significant role in shaping the cities of the future."

Another key issue for the company is the need for public-private partnerships in smart cities initiatives. As Vosburg put it, the challenges are too great to go it alone. "That's why we're engaging with municipalities and city officials to better understand their pain points and to work in partnership to identify solutions."

Related articles:
See what the new data analysis platform can do for your city
The future of urban mobility? Project highlights cities leading the way
Study: Mobile payments catching on in the UK. Is your city ready?