Mastercard Labs’ Dave Fleming: ‘We’re building our capability in Dublin’

16 Nov 2018

Dave Fleming, senior vice-president and global head of R&D at Mastercard Labs. Image: Glen Boland

Payments and commerce will change more in the next five years than it has in the past 50, says Mastercard Labs R&D head Dave Fleming.

Dave Fleming is senior vice-president and global head of R&D at Mastercard Labs. Fleming has more than 20 years’ experience in technology and R&D focused on the financial domain including consumer banking, corporate banking, payments, point of sale, e-commerce, digital and more.

He has a background in computer science and started his career working in Microsoft as a member of the team porting the Windows OS to new chipsets. He has held key leadership roles in a number of start-ups and in major technology and financial multinationals.

‘Whether you’re an engineer in Labs, Enterprise Security Solutions, or one of the other software engineering teams here in the Dublin Tech Hub, you’re building the future of payments and commerce’

In his role at Mastercard Labs, Fleming is responsible for leading Mastercard’s R&D teams globally to identify and experiment with future technologies, start-ups and trends in order to unlock the benefits for Mastercard and its clients. Prior to joining Mastercard, he was a director at Citi with responsibility for technology R&D, and where he led the establishment of R&D in Citi’s First Innovation Lab network.

Tell me about your own role and your responsibilities in driving tech strategy.

I live on the beautiful east coast of Ireland and as global head of R&D for Mastercard Labs, I have a very exciting role leading a team of incredible technologists across the world who tackle really interesting challenges in new and emerging technology areas.

In Mastercard Labs, we explore new technologies and trends, experiment and accelerate new concepts, and deliver transformative solutions to drive growth for Mastercard and our partners.

At Mastercard, innovation is a priority. We leverage innovation to help make payments and commerce safer, more secure and simple — whether that is for consumers here in Dublin and around the world, for communities in East Africa, for corporates in Singapore or everyone in between.

Mastercard Labs’ R&D team does this by spanning the creation of new payment flows and digital commerce interactions, unlocking the power of artificial intelligence and machine learning, exploring new technologies such as blockchain, and testing new interfaces such as virtual and augmented reality.

Are you spearheading any major initiatives you can tell us about?

Given Mastercard’s global and diverse footprint, we have many ongoing initiatives. However, from the current cohort I would like to highlight three interesting developments.

As you may have noticed in recent tech news, Mastercard is helping lead the way on blockchain and we are currently third in the world for the number of blockchain patent submissions. Stay tuned for more on this.

Our Lab for Financial Inclusion is going from strength to strength: empowering farmers in East Africa and India to get the best price for their produce; helping parents part pay for their children’s school fees; and helping micro-merchants agree a fair price for the goods they sell.

Additionally, we are always hands-on with new technologies and emerging business models. In Labs R&D, we are constantly exploring new technologies. This means we discover, experiment, build and learn by doing in order to help Mastercard and our partners unlock the commercial potential of emerging technology.

How big is your team?

I myself am based in Mastercard’s Dublin Tech Hub, but the R&D team is truly global. Headquartered in Dublin, we have team members from Singapore to San Francisco and everywhere in between, including Nairobi, Pune and New York.

We are focused on creating new value for Mastercard and our partners, so our priority is creating an environment where talent and innovation thrives.

What are your thoughts on digital transformation and how are you addressing it?

Our world is changing faster than ever before. Payments and commerce will change more in the next five years than they have in the past 50!

A great example of how rapid the pace of change has become is Pokémon Go. It took 75 years for the telephone to reach 50m users, but it only took 19 days for Pokémon Go to reach that same staggering scale.

This pace is driven by several factors: an explosion of connected devices, exponential growth in information access, rapid urbanisation, lower barriers to entry for start-ups and the growth of the sharing economy, to name a few. All of which has led to significantly increased consumer expectations.

Today, consumers are demanding access to products and services on their terms. They want personalised experiences, instant gratification and frictionless commerce experiences. In order to succeed, we need to ensure consumers can pay and access the brands, goods and services they require when, where and how they want to, providing an increasingly personalised and always-on service.

What big tech trends do you believe are changing the world and your industry specifically?

There are many big tech trends that are changing the world and it’s our job to ensure we are identifying the key trends that are important from a payments and commerce perspective – it’s what keeps our work fresh and very engaging.

New interfaces such as augmented reality (AR), virtual reality (VR) and natural voice interactions are growing at an incredible pace. And, as these take root, they will lead to new ways to engage in commerce and payments. For example, an online furniture store may use AR to help consumers see their furniture choices in their own home, and enable the user make the payment in AR, providing a quicker and more seamless shopping experience.

The emergence of new networks, too. We are seeing the early growth of new networks that are primarily decentralised, and seeking to challenge established players in many areas such as energy generation, identity management, transaction processing, currencies and the web. Blockchain technology is a good example of this trend, which is well publicised.

Another macro trend is the resurgence of artificial intelligence (AI). The clear use case for AI in our industry is security and fraud detection. Mastercard is focusing on and investing in this space, which can be seen by our acquisitions of NuData and Brighterion. Additionally, we’re also looking even further, into deep learning, natural language processing, computer vision, and prediction and recommendation systems. We’re building our capability in Dublin in these technologies in order to create a range of new products and services that Mastercard can bring to our global customer base.

In terms of security, what are your thoughts on how we can better protect data?

Payments need to be safe, easy, and ubiquitous. Products and services that don’t follow these principles will fail. In the mind of the consumer, there is nothing more important than safety and security. Is my money safe? Is my identify safe? Is my data safe?

At Mastercard, safe, simple and smart security solutions are the crux of what we’re working on to continually improve the payment technology landscape. A few highlights include:

  • Enhancing existing online payment infrastructure with tokenisation – security technology that creates a unique token or code to replace sensitive personal data and to prevent hackers from accessing important information
  • Use of biometrics for consumer authentication
  • Embedding artificial intelligence to automatically detect anomalous behaviour
  • Leveraging consumer controls so that consumers can manage their digital credentials across devices.

I mentioned earlier that the global Labs R&D team is headquartered in Mastercard’s Dublin Tech Hub. The Dublin Tech Hub also houses a large Enterprise Security Solutions software engineering team – these payments security experts are focused on providing smart security solutions to internal teams as well as industry partners.

So whether you’re an engineer in Labs, Enterprise Security Solutions, or one of the other software engineering teams here in the Dublin Tech Hub, you’re building the future of payments and commerce.

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John Kennedy is a journalist who served as editor of Silicon Republic for 17 years