Prior to 2001, MasterCard had an aging, patchwork network. It lacked real-time transaction settlement and lagged in areas supporting merchant promotion and marketing. Seven years and $160 million later, MasterCard is a little savvier.

Its contactless PayPass system now supports "tap-n-go" New York transit payments. Issuing clients can graduate their customers to premium card levels without changing the 16-digit account number. And corporate cards now come supported with an array of expense and reporting features. "We really started in the early 2000s, and laid the foundation," says MasterCard technology executive Joan Kelly, recalling the introduction of MC's global transaction network that supplied the No.2 card association with an advanced data and processing infrastructure. "We created a state-of-the-art foundational system enhancement strategy, and what we've been doing since then is continually investing and bringing more added value."

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