November 24, 2020

Today’s guest has her finger on the pulse of global change in the world of payments, including how the COVID pandemic is changing the world. She is Ann Cairns, Executive Vice Chair of Mastercard.

I first met Ann at the Paris Fintech Forum last January, just before the virus turned our world upside down. It’s fitting, then, that we started our discussion with the pandemic, and specifically with how it is affecting women. By the time we finished, we had traveled far into the future of payments.

On the pandemic, Ann shares insights on the economic shocks hitting women as they disproportionately lose jobs, leave jobs to care for children, and struggle as business owners who are often cut off from access to the mainstream financial system, even in good times. She also analyzes how the pandemic will alter financial services overall. She talks about the headwinds hitting many sectors of the economy, and also about the powerful coronavirus tailwinds that are accelerating technology adoption across the board. She’s optimistic for a buoyant recovery on the other side, like “flipping a switch.”

And looking out five to ten years, she sees a wild ride of change in the payments world. Our talk ranges from cybersecurity to 5G to quantum computing -- Mastercard has launched a major quantum project with IBM. She offers insights on how to navigate the massive challenges ahead on data use and making AI fair and ethical, and she contrasts Europe, the US and China in their strikingly different approaches to regulating for privacy.

I loved her thinking about the need to develop global standards for technology and data (she said the lack of them is “madness” and I agree!). And she lays out the bedrock principles that need to guide the journey to developing smart standards, ones that will do more good than harm.

Since we were talking payments, of course, we talked about cryptocurrencies and blockchain. Mastercard is engaging with several countries exploring Central Bank Digital Currency (CBDC). On payments interoperability, Ann sees the world bifurcating, with some regions and countries embracing it and some nowhere near doing so. And she shares a glimpse of Mastercard’s future, far beyond being a card network.

Ann also has wise advice for regulators for how to keep up as technology changes the world.

We ended the conversation near where we started, with her thoughts on financial inclusion and its powerful, but not always obvious link, to innovation, with examples drawn from her project with the Gates Foundation in Africa. 

I think what makes Anne so fascinating is the span and richness of her experience. As a young woman she was an award-winning engineer and the first woman to lead an engineering team on an offshore oil rig. In the years since, she’s pretty much seen the whole world, and thought deeply about it all.


Before turning to my conversation with Ann, I want to share good news. I’m delighted to report that last week, four of our past podcast guests were inducted into the Fintech Hall of Fame by CB Insights. Kabbage President and Cofounder Kathryn Petralia was named as an OG (so cool!). My great friend Brett King was chosen for the Hall of Fame in media. Varo CEO Colin Walsh was named as a 2020 All Star. And Anne Boden, CEO of Starling Bank, was chosen in the category of Women in Fintech.

And, I’m extremely delighted to say, I was too!

More on Ann

In her role as Executive Vice Chair, Ann represents Mastercard around the world, focusing on inclusion, diversity and innovation.  She plays the important role of senior ambassador and executive leader and sits as part of the company’s global management committee. Prior to her current appointment, Ann was President of International Markets responsible for the management of all Mastercard customer-related activities in over 200 countries.

Ann brings more than 20 years’ experience working in senior management positions across Europe and the U.S.  Prior to joining Mastercard in 2011, she was head of the Financial Services Group with Alvarez & Marsal, CEO of Transaction Banking at ABN-AMRO and held senior positions at Citigroup.

Ann is currently chair of ICE Clear Europe, owned by the Fortune 500 company Intercontinental Exchange (ICE).  She is global chair of the 30% Club, the chair of the Financial Alliance for Women and serves as a member of the UK government’s AI Council and the IBDE advisory board. She has a Pure Mathematics degree and honorary doctorate from Sheffield University and a M.Sc. with research into medical statistics and honorary doctorate from Newcastle University.

More for our Listeners

Please follow AIR on LinkedIn and Twitter, and also follow me personally on Twitter @JoAnnBarefoot. And please be sure to leave us a five-star rating on your favorite podcast platform.

The remaining podcasts in 2020 do not fall short of amazing! We have the legendary Scott Cook, Founder of Intuit; Ross Burhdorf and Lamine Zarrad of ZenBusiness; and Alex Lintner of Experian. We’ll also welcome back former CFTC Chairman Chris Giancarlo, with Daniel Gorfine, to talk about the Digital Dollar Project. And much more.

I am also excited for my remaining speaking engagements of 2020! You can join me at Fintech Americas, and ABA Financial Crimes Enforcement Conference, as well as Fintech Abu Dhabi and the Singapore Fintech Festival, sponsored by the Singapore Central Bank. I’m speaking twice for that event, including a fireside chat with US CFTC Chairman Heath Tarbert. I hope, virtually, to see you all there!

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