Surpassing Visa in market share -- now that would be priceless. Serving approximately 22,000 member financial institutions worldwide, MasterCard is the #2 payment system in the US. The company does not issue credit or its namesake cards; rather, it markets the MasterCard (credit, debit, and prepaid cards) and Maestro (debit and prepaid cards, mainly in Europe) brands, provides a transaction authorization network, establishes guidelines for use, and collects fees from members. The company provides its services in more than 210 countries and territories, and its cards are accepted at more than 31 million locations around the planet. MasterCard also operates the Cirrus ATM network.
There are more than 1.6 billion MasterCard- and Maestro-branded cards in circulation worldwide, and the company annually processes some 27 billion transactions worth some $3.2 trillion. Long considered more down-market than Visa, MasterCard is working to lure more affluent users by offering such products as the World MasterCard, which has no spending limit.
While not entirely recession-proof (revenues are directly tied to consumer, business, and government spending), MasterCard has proven resilient during the economic downturn, as consumers increasingly migrate to electronic payments. Though the number of MasterCard-branded cards in circulation has declined along with the number of financial institutions that issue them, the company's transaction volume, not to mention the corresponding processing fees it collects from them, has increased. This has brought the company's revenues and net income up for the past three years. With the US market virtually saturated, MasterCard has been focusing its expansion efforts overseas. (Revenue generated in the US accounts for less than half of the company's sales, and has been declining.) However, a protracted recession in Europe could hurt the company if consumer spending there declines.
MasterCard offers computer chip-enabled cards in several markets, including Europe, Latin America and the Caribbean, and the Asia/Pacific region. US consumers have been slower to adopt this technology, but not for the company's lack of trying. One "smart" product, however, that's showing signs of success stateside is the company's MasterCard PayPass, which allows customers to quickly tap or swipe their payment cards at specially equipped merchant terminals. In 2011, the company partnered with the New York City-area Metropolitan Transportation Authority to pilot a program allowing commuters to ride using tap-and-go payments. The program was successful, if not in its overwhelming usage, but as far as showcasing the company's ability to process the payments securely.
In keeping with its strategy of developing its online and mobile payments business in non-US markets, MasterCard acquired British payment services provider DataCash Group in 2010. The $525 million deal expanded the company's e-commerce business and increased its ability to process payments online, especially in Europe. The following year, MasterCard bought the prepaid card business of Travelex for some $460 million. It will use the acquisition as a platform to expand its prepaid card operations around the world, as its operations in that segment are already well-established at home. To gain traction in the burgeoning personalized shopping offers and rewards business, MasterCard acquired Silicon Valley firm Truaxis in 2012.
MasterCard, which in 2008 agreed to a $1.8 billion settlement with American Express over antitrust issues, faces further ongoing litigation which could cost it billions. Some 5 million retailers have filed another antitrust suit against MasterCard, Visa, and about a dozen large banks, claiming that the defendants have worked together to unfairly increase interchange fees. (MasterCard does not earn interchange fees itself.) The 2011 Durbin amendement cut the interchange fees on debit cards, which has already cut into the banks' revenues. If interchange fees charged to merchants decreases, the banks that issue the cards could ultimately pressure MasterCard and Visa to reduce their fees and assessments, further cutting revenues. – less