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Cashless king

Published on Friday, 01 Mar 2013
Kevin Goldmintz
Photo: Gary Mak

MasterCard head has declared war on paper money and HK is the perfect battleground

Kevin Goldmintz sees a future in which Hong Kong can lead the world as one of the very first “cashless” societies – and it’s not that far away.

The head of Hong Kong and Macau for MasterCard Worldwide, Goldmintz knows that by combining smartphone technology, secure embedded credit chips and contactless “tap and go” payments at the point of sale, it will soon be possible to complete the vast majority of day-to-day transactions by electronic means alone, meaning greater convenience, faster payments, shorter queues, and fewer visits to the nearest ATM.

As Hongkongers have shown with their ready adoption of the Octopus system and their ongoing love affair with mobile phones, this is a city where more extensive cashless applications make perfect sense.

“In a sense, our company has ‘declared war’ on cash,” Goldmintz says. “By replacing it through the use of near-field communication [NFC] and the latest chip technology, we can make Hong Kong one of the world’s most advanced cities in the payment space. Technology already plays a huge role in people’s lives, but we can create new efficiencies for consumers and merchants.”

Spurred in part by the frustrations of fumbling for change in the back of taxis, Goldmintz, who has more than 15 years’ experience in the commercial and customer card business, is now taking his campaign to the streets. Key principles and agreements on the way forward have been discussed with the financial authorities, banks, card issuers, smartphone providers, network operators, merchant groups, and law enforcement agencies.

The next important step is to inform the wider public, overcome lingering doubts, and convince them of the benefits of using a card or payment-enabled phone wherever they go.

“We have just signed up 100 taxis to accept cards or contactless payments,” Goldmintz says. “I see a world where people and small businesses can also accept payments through their mobile phones and have the money in their bank accounts the next day. They will find that transactions which are electronic, automated and traceable are far more efficient for all involved.”

A comprehensive trial, in partnership with Hang Seng Bank, PCCW, and digital security companies Gemalto and Samsung Electronics, is currently under way. It includes equipping payment terminals with contactless readers and, where necessary, refining common standards for the open-architecture platform.

Security is an important concern, with emphasis placed on protecting information stored on customers’ phones and safeguarding the links and transfer of data between the parties involved in every transaction.

“We are using a lot of [applied] knowledge on how to integrate networks and make payments even more secure than today’s card transactions,” Goldmintz says. “We are also talking to all our partners in the commercial world, in the financial sector, and with telecom companies to hear their views.”

If all goes to plan, the system should be fully up and running by the end of this year. Afterwards, a major user migration to the new technology is expected, with early projections estimating more than US$70 billion in NFC-type payments worldwide by 2015.

“We anticipate few obstacles. Hong Kong is very sophisticated, very tech savvy,” Goldmintz says. “This is not a new concept, just a new way of paying, so of all the places in the world, this is where we have the least concern.”

The transition from cash and “plastic” to NFC marks a sea change for the credit card industry, but it is one in which Goldmintz finds genuine excitement. Leading a 30-strong team, he has the chance to align corporate strategy with market needs, motivate staff, and keep learning in a fast-moving environment.

“That is what gets me out of bed in the morning,” he says. “My philosophy and the way I operate is to set goals and targets. It makes people focus on what is important for the business and ensures they are all clear about what we are trying to do – and not trying to do.”

Goldmintz started out in finance some 20 years ago with American Express in the UK. However, he actually studied journalism at university in Toronto, Canada, where a course on macroeconomics got him thinking more about alternative career choices.

“I found economics fascinating, so I narrowed my job search and my first job ended up being in the area of credit operations and collections. It was a good fit for my personality – I like working with people – and I got a buzz out of it every day,” he says.

A subsequent series of ascending roles with international banks and credit card companies led to posts in Europe, Australia and Hong Kong, where he is now on a second tour of duty with MasterCard. Along the way, he has dealt with everything from co-branding initiatives with banks and airlines to working closely with SMEs (small and medium-sized enterprises).

An enthusiastic tennis player and avid e-book reader, Goldmintz believes that whatever the job, you’ve got to enjoy what you’re doing. “You also need a bit of gall and initiative early on to demonstrate drive,” he says. “This shows you are the right person for the job.”

Nearer and nearer: Milestones in NFC

1983    First patent associated with RFID, or radio-frequency identification – the precursor to NFC – granted to Proximity Devices founder Charles Walton
1995    Gaston Schwabacher develops an RFID-enabled wallet that he claims can make and receive payments. Mobile phone manufacturers take notice
2004    Nokia, Phillips and Sony establish the NFC Forum to advance NFC use
2006    The first NFC-compatible mobile phone, the Nokia 6131, is released
2011    MasterCard certifies use of PayPass system for Blackberrys using NFC

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