James Militzer

The Power of Interoperability: An interview with Zahir Khoja, CEO of MasterCard’s Mobile Payment Solutions

Mobile money platforms are scaling up around the world, but they share a common problem: payments are often only possible between phones on the same mobile network. This lack of interoperability is widely seen as one of the key challenges to making mobile money work on a global scale.

But Mobile Payment Solutions, a joint venture between MasterCard and SMART Hub Inc., believes it has found an answer: a mobile payment tool that’s not linked to any single network or bank. As its CEO, Zahir Khoja describes it: “You have a MasterCard instrument on your mobile phone and, partnered with a bank and/or a telco, you can do peer-to-peer transfer, airtime top-ups, bill payments, international or domestic remittance, or even merchant payments, depending on the regulations in the country.”

The tool gives people the ability to conduct safe, secure transactions, regardless of the mobile network used by the payer and recipient. According to Khoja, it’s the kind of approach that could help mobile money evolve in the same way that SMS texting did in the early days of cell phones. “In the late 80s and the 90s, you were only able to SMS a consumer that was on the same network as you,” he says. “When SMS became interoperable, it grew exponentially. Because now it doesn’t matter what network you’re on, I can SMS you. Somebody in the middle does that switching, and that is exactly what MasterCard does. It provides that interoperable solution between all the players, the banks and the telco companies.”

Mobile Payment Solutions currently operates in Brazil, Argentina, Peru, Indonesia, India, the Philippines, Turkey and Egypt. In this interview with Mercy Corps’ Kyla Yeoman (Part 3 of our Mobile Money Movers series), Khoja discusses what makes a country ready for mobile payment solutions, the challenges of working with telcos, banks and merchants, and the ways that an interoperable payment tool can impact people’s daily lives at the BoP.

Note: Click here to read Part 1 and Part 2 of the Mobile Money Movers series. Upcoming interviews will include:

digital payments, interviews, mobile finance, remittances