MasterCard acquired Dublin-based software company Orbiscom in January for $100 million, hoping to empower card holders with a new generation of tools that include budgetary features and security controls. If the deal delivers, it will be a game changer. "This is a necessary and important step for the card networks to move in this direction," says Gwenn Bezard, director of research at Aite Group. "Card products today are not very flexible, they're one-size-fits all, and they need to be more flexible, more user-friendly."

MasterCard and Orbiscom struck a partnership in 2007 to work on the inControl platform, integrating Orbiscom's technology with the MasterCard network. But it didn't take long for MasterCard execs to realize they wanted to control the intellectual property. Michael Fiore, senior business leader, solutions integration, says the partnership initially focused on reaching large commercial customers, but after Royal Bank of Scotland signed on in 2008 MasterCard quickly saw the wide consumer potential.

"We learned there was a lot more scale to this than we initially thought, and that intense interest is why we decided to purchase it," Fiore says.

MasterCard is now identifying possible products, but in consumers will be able to set their own personal controls, dictating the type and level of spending that occurs on a card, as well as where and when that spending can occur. Those features could trigger alerts, for instance, and help consumers design and stick to budgets - as well as guard against identity theft.

"As long as you're a MasterCard customer, you'll have access to this technology," Fiore says.

Bezard cautioned, however, that MasterCard must still design products based on the inControl platform that consumers want. That's no small detail. "The platform is still more of a concept than an actual product," he says. "Now they have to roll it out and productize it."

Subscribe Now

Access to authoritative analysis and perspective and our data-driven report series.

14-Day Free Trial

No credit card required. Complete access to articles, breaking news and industry data.