“Mastercard’s role is to offer choice in terms of means of payment, including cryptocurrencies”

Le Journal du Net is a partner of the Mastercard Innovation Forum 2022, scheduled for December 8 in Paris. Mastercard’s senior vice president, Martin Etheridge, details the outlines of Mastercard’s strategy with cryptocurrencies and NFTs to JDN.

Martin Etheridge, senior vice president of Mastercard. © Mastercard

JDN extension. Raj Dhamodharan, Executive Vice President of Mastercard, recently published an article entitled “How to turn cryptocurrencies into an everyday means of payment?” How does Mastercard invest in this cryptocurrency ecosystem?

Martin Etheridge. I think we have to start with our role, which is to offer customers a choice in terms of means of payment, and this, in a secure way. A Mastercard crypto payment card allows users to use the available balance on their cryptocurrency wallet using our secure real-time network. Likewise, if they want to use a bank-issued Mastercard and make a purchase on a cryptocurrency exchange platform, that is their choice and they can. It is the bank’s responsibility to know its customers and we have a number of tools available to our card issuers to analyze user activity and behavior in terms of cryptocurrencies.

Mastercard is now partnered with many cryptocurrency payment platforms. Do you see a growing consumer appetite for the use of these active ingredients?

Indeed, we are seeing a significant growth in consumer interest: our Mastercard Global New Payment Index shows that a third of users worldwide have already made an investment in crypto-assets. In Europe the figure is slightly lower but what is interesting is the percentage of the population that intends to increase its use of cryptocurrencies in the future and this is a higher rate than the number of current users. What we have seen is the desire of users to enter this type of market with a trusted infrastructure, which is why on October 18th we announced a partnership with Paxos to allow banks to make certain purchases and holdings of cryptoassets for their users , using the functions that Mastercard is able to provide.

In 2018, when you were head of the fintech and digital currencies division at the Bank of England, you went to the House of Commons with a clear distinction between technology and crypto-assets. Is that still a line you share today, now that you’re at Mastercard?

Indeed, in my opinion it is absolutely necessary to understand the different types of cryptocurrencies and cryptoassets available. Over the past couple of years, we have seen significant growth in the use of blockchain technology, for example with NFTs, which are inherently very different from most cryptocurrencies, which are fungible in nature. Indeed, I still agree with what I said earlier: it is very important to understand the different characteristics of the different assets that underpin these technologies and how they are used in the markets.

“We are following the theme of the digital euro very closely”

What about CBDCs (central bank digital currencies)? Do you think Europe is behind on this issue?

No I do not think so. We have seen many documents, research from European institutions such as the European Parliament and the European Commission: there is a real will to analyze the theme of the digital euro and this is something we are following carefully.

Could we imagine a non-private Mastercard solution in the future?

I can’t list all the products that are about to be released by Mastercard, but I can quote our head of information security who regularly says: “Trust is at the heart of our business.” We want to support our customers as they look for new ways to pay using the trust and security provided by our payment network.

How does Mastercard design the metaverse?

It is already possible to make payments with a Mastercard in the metaverse; many metaverse applications such as purchasing NFTs can be done with a Mastercard. We have also organized events in the metaverse and are very proud of them, especially the celebrations of diversity (Your True Self is Priceless campaign in Decentraland and Horizon Worlds in June 2022, ed). How far this will go is hard to predict, but we are very curious and excited to explore different ways to support the payments infrastructure in a secure way.

An economics graduate from the University of Bristol, Martin Etheridge began his professional career as an executive at the Financial Conduct Authority, the UK equivalent of the MFA, in 2001. In 2011 he joined the Bank of England where he took the responsibility of the regulatory department before taking the reins of the digital currencies department until 2020, the year of his departure for Mastercard. In January 2022, he became the vice president in charge of product development, blockchain and digital currencies.

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