Innovation at Mastercard – an Interview with Deborah Barta

Innovation at Mastercard – an Interview with Deborah Barta

Originally written and published by Ron Kunitzky.

I recently had the pleasure of interviewing Deborah Barta — Innovator @Mastercard. Deborah is based in New York City and part of an innovation team that is shaping the future of payments and digital commerce.

1. Who are you? What do you do and what does that mean at Mastercard?

I am Deborah Barta, Senior Vice President of Innovation Management and Startup Engagement at Mastercard. We are a part of Mastercard Labs, the company’s R&D division, where we shape the future of commerce with and for our customers across the globe. I am responsible for the programs that help generate unique, innovative ideas, both internally and in collaboration with our key external partners. I also lead Mastercard’s engagement with the global startup community through Start Path, which collaborates with elite, later-stage startups from around the world to create breakthrough solutions.

Working alongside employees, banks and merchant partners, startups and the fintech community, we identify and experiment with future technologies through an agile approach to research, development, incubation and pilot.

2. How does Mastercard create a culture of Innovation?

Mastercard Labs is the company’s innovation engine that puts new payment and commerce ideas into action. Supported by research & insights, strategic development and incubation we drive measurable impact for our partners. Mastercard Labs focuses on a diverse range of relevant areas including digital payments, data solutions, financial inclusion, safety & security, new payment flows, among others.

Within the company, Labs plays a key role in driving culture by engaging the wider business in idea generation processes and innovation competitions. The goal is to identify and drive disruptive, breakthrough innovations in commerce. Our Innovation Management team specifically focuses on managing company-wide programs and processes that generate, qualify, shape and develop innovative opportunities and ideas.

Let’s go a little deeper into what these programs are:

For partners:

Our Labs-as-a-Service business partners with Mastercard customers to accelerate new product development by developing prototypes through collaborative engagements. The Labs-as-a-Service engagements are designed to offer our proven tools, techniques, and processes from Mastercard Labs along with our process, consulting, and digital practices expertise within Mastercard Advisors to help our clients conceptualize, develop, and pilot new digital product concepts and drive innovation culture within their organizations. The team uses innovation sprints and challenges engaging cross-functional teams to design and deliver technology solutions to business problems in a short period of time — sometimes between 2–5 days.

For the FinTech community:

Start Path is Mastercard’s program for partnering with later-stage startups from around the world to shape the future of commerce through our global network and our well-established framework of startup experts, corporate partners and Mastercard subject matter experts.

Our goal is to help startups grow their businesses faster than they could by themselves. We also identify business needs and match startups with our bank and merchant partners to develop new products and services together.

For employees:

Within our own company, we have a number of programs that bring employee ideas to life by giving the most promising idea generators the opportunity to become intrapreneurs within Mastercard. For example, Take Initiative is our global, 48-hour hackathon competition that accelerates ideas and enables employees to pitch to key executive judges for prizes and bragging rights. The program is built for employees to have an opportunity to take a step back from the day-to-day, to get creative and to solve challenges that are meaningful to them, the region and our objectives. Another example is Ideabox, which is our internal innovation engine where employees can pursue their passion through an innovative journey to catalyse an idea to a prototype and ideally, a full commercial launch. Through a series of guided steps, employees have the opportunity to really make a difference and potentially create their own startup within Mastercard. Ideabox is about creating innovators, not just innovations.

3. What are your greatest innovation challenges?

In the next five years, we anticipate that commerce will change more than it has in the past 50. Disruption is constant and safety and security are paramount. Most transactions still rely on the inefficiency of cash. Industries are being reinvented in an increasingly connected and digital world, where technology is evolving faster than ever before. Barriers are lowered and new players are entering from all directions. Everyone and everything are increasingly becoming connected — and this connectivity is transforming the way consumers interact…and now transact. The digital shift presents a big change for payments and is a big opportunity for Mastercard.

This transformation means we have to act quickly, think differently, design products differently and innovate faster than ever before — alongside issuers and partners — to make sure every Mastercard account is as digital as the consumers using them around the world. We have to anticipate new technology that is 3–5 years out and design and deliver safer and richer experiences to enable consumers around the world to pay at the speed of life.

Within Mastercard Labs, this means creating an environment where we can move things quickly from ideation to launch. Not all ideas are worth the push, so we have to be efficient in how we filter them. We have to continue being laser-focused on the company’s vision. At the end of the day, the goal for Mastercard Labs is to develop commercial products that Mastercard can launch, so we invest in ideas that lead to action, and ultimately, impact.

4. What is your single greatest career related achievement as it relates to innovation?

In the early days of Mastercard Labs’ innovation programs, I was asked to be the Incubation Executive Officer of Mastercard’s first virtual Startup, which we called “Simplify Commerce.” Simplify is an easy-to-use, API-first platform designed to be a simple way for small-to-medium sized merchants to connect into payments online, in store and via mobile. The platform includes a variety of value-added services, such as a website builder, recurring payments, fraud solutions, e-Invoicing and more, with a great customer-centric user experience.

Bringing a new concept to full production capability in a very aggressive timeframe certainly brought its share of challenges and the complexities of introducing a highly-agile culture inside the corporate environment was equally unique.

We successfully merged the platform into the appropriate business unit for further scale and I’m delighted to see it thriving. From its humble beginnings through its global presence today, I’m incredibly proud of what we created. Now, in my current role, I’m able to shape the ideation process globally and shepherd new incubations to commercial viability, ensuring that we appropriately evaluate and progress the next breakthrough idea in an innovative and fun environment.

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