How Mastercard Is Powering Solar Payments in Africa | News & Opinion


BARCELONA—Mastercard continues to expand its digital payments capabilities far beyond the credit card. At Mobile World Congress, the company announced that its Masterpass Quick Response (QR) technology will underpin pay-as-you-go plans for solar panels in East Africa.

MWC Bug ArtThe credit card processing and payments giant is partnering with Kenyan solar energy company M-KOPA, which supplies power to 3 million people. Masterpass QR is currently available in Ghana, Kenya, Nigeria, Rwanda, Tanzania, and Uganda and supported by a network of mobile network operators and banks, but this marks the first extension of the payments tech into solar.

The Masterpass QR-powered payments will allow M-KOPA customers purchasung a solar home system on credit to make small daily payments by either scanning a QR code from their smartphone, or entering the merchant ID associated with the QR code into their feature phone. Matt Miller, vice president of new product development for Mastercard’s Commerce Device Team, said these flexible mobile payment methods are designed to make it easy for the 625 million people in Sub-Saharan Africa lacking access to electricity to pay for cheap solar energy, rather than relying on options such as charcoal and kerosene.

“We’re making sure that solar payments are easy and seamless and can be explored in many different markets, especially those who are off the grid without access to traditional electricity,” Miller said. “They can procure the panel and pay for it over time without a banking relationship. The Masterpass QR framework allows customers across the globe to participate, and with a technical interface that can be used with everything from a smartphone to a feature phone.”

Mastercard and M-KOPA are piloting the program in Uganda, with plans to extend across East Africa. Miller said Mastercard also sees opportunities beyond that to partner with mobile network operators and extend Masterpass QR payments to other utilities like water and gas.

“Solar is a great place to start, and we see it as a big opportunity globally when looking at other markets where solar can be of value,” Miller said.

That broader strategy ties into Mastercard’s other MWC announcement: the expansion of its Engage digital commerce and Internet of Things (IoT) platform. Mastercard said that Engage now has more than 150 participating vendors in its network enabling capabilities such as Masterpass-enabled digital wallets, tokenization, instant payouts, and mobile point-of-sale (POS) solutions.

Mastercard said Engage is now enabling a full payments ecosystem for issuers, merchants, and IoT device manufacturers. The platform will now have a directory that provides merchants with access to 100 vendors who are self-certified for mobile POS solutions, and the company plans partner with vendors to integrate Mastercard Send and MoneySend for instant payments. IoT manufacturers can also use Engage to enable secure payments through Mastercard’s Digital Enablement Service. One vendor, Fit Pay, projects it will payments-enable more than 9 million wearables in 2018.

“How can we make sure our products can be adapted to the most advanced technologies? By making sure there’s always a safe, secure, and easy way to pay,” Miller said.

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