Mastercard received favorable headlines detailing their initiatives around small and medium enterprise lending in the Middle East and Africa, expanding access to capital in those regions. While Mastercard is clearly making waves on the news front, we also examined all this from a greenwashing perspective. Is this all window dressing or an effective plan of action?
In April 2020, Mastercard (MA) announced a commitment of $250 million to increase global financial inclusion by 2025. Since the announcement, the firm has been busy broadening their horizons by expanding their footprint into new markets and leads the Software and Services sector on Amenity’s ESG Safeguard platform in recent months. Most recently, the firm has been active in the Middle East and Africa where they are increasing digital use of financial services and access to capital.
In Bahrain, Mastercard partnered with Eazy Financial Services last week. The partnership will further Eazy’s digital payment services for small and medium enterprises (SMEs), which make up 30% of Bahrain’s GDP. Additionally, Mastercard is partnering with the Bahrain Islamic Bank for a “Future Leaders” financial literacy program. The program provides wearable technology from Mastercard and allows parents to digitally give their children allowance. The program is designed to teach children financial literacy at a younger age and give parents greater control in the process.
In Africa, Mastercard appointed a new Country Director in Ghana to drive digital transformation in the region. The new Country Director, Bossman Kwapong, joins Mastercard after two decades of experience with Standard Chartered Bank in Ghana where he worked on projects in digital solutions and client onboarding. His experience in the sector and region will help Mastercard expand their efforts in West Africa.
Mastercard has also introduced a new Middle East and Africa SMEs Confidence Index. The index is based on a series of survey questions for over 1,500 small businesses in 7 countries. A key finding from the study shows that 74% of small businesses in Sub-Saharan Africa are optimistic about the next 12 months and 69% have identified access to credit as the top driver for growth. Mastercard is not only increasing access to capital in the region, but also putting the time and methodology into answering why opening up access to capital is meaningful for their users.
While Mastercard is making waves on the news front, we also examined this from a greenwashing perspective. As of year-to-date (YTD), their proportion of news that was self-reported is 25%, a bit higher than the industry average of 17%. However, their sentiment difference of 0 shows that there is no significant discrepancy between external news and the company narrative and better than the industry average of -88 YTD. This is most likely due to their avoidance of major controversies that have hit others in the sector, as well as their activity level towards economic inclusion initiatives. Still, the higher instance of self-reported news is a notable factor and shows the company is effectively promoting their narrative.
Elsewhere in the sector, Visa (V) also made strides in financial technology and partnered with German bank Tomorrow and fintech firm Ecolytiq. The partnership aims to develop new technology that calculates carbon emissions for consumer transactions, a metric they are calling “Sustainability-as-a-Service”. This new technology has the ability to greatly increase transparency for decision making at a consumer level and is the first time a European bank will be implementing this technology. Visa has faced some recent challenges with legal and regulatory issues and, compared to Mastercard, has had lower overall news volume in recent months that is reflected in their low scores.
Outside of the financial services sector, the software company Adobe (ADBE) recently made headlines for their efforts toward increasing digital literacy in the UK. Adobe and SkySports launched “The Edit”, a program designed to increase digital literacy in Britain for low-income communities. The program involves giving children access to Adobe’s digital tools to create and edit content on people they look up to. Sky Sports hopes the initiative will inspire the next generation of journalists in Britain. The program aims to help teach digital skills to 40,000 students.
The drive to create a more inclusive digital ecosystem isn’t solely about advancing egalitarianism, but makes good long-term business sense for the companies we have discussed. Giving access and opportunity to people who have previously never used digital tools in this capacity helps create the next generation of future product users. In addition, increased digital inclusion not only helps businesses access capital and conduct commerce through new channels, but also gives companies the ability to create their own markets full of users who recognize their brand. Trends towards digitization that accelerated during the pandemic are here to stay, and software companies like Adobe are at the forefront of doubling down on this front.
Similarly, Mastercard is increasing access to digital economies in the Middle East and Africa while Visa is promoting transparency on sustainability data at the consumer level. Adobe, while not a financial service provider, is taking strides to impact communities in a meaningful way. Financial services companies like Visa and Mastercard thrive on economic activity, and by helping stimulate growth in new markets, they are helping their bottom line as well.
Watch a recording of our special guests Jean Rogers, Founder of the Sustainability Accounting Standards Board (SASB) and one of the world’s leading ESG experts, alongside Bruno Bertocci, Managing Director of the Sustainable Equity Investors Team at UBS Asset Management. They discussed why it’s crucial for the analyst community to include next generation ESG data and second-order information as part of an effective investment strategy.
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This communication does not represent investment advice. Transcript text provided by FACTSET and S&P Global Market Intelligence.
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