How Mastercard’s CEO is working toward financial inclusion during the pandemic

by Jordyn Eloise

On the newest episode of Leadership NextFortune CEO Alan Murray is joined by Ajay Banga, the CEO of Mastercard. The two chief executives talk about the pandemic, digitization, stakeholder capitalism, and more. 

Murray introduces Banga as one of the best examples he’s seen of the new brand of CEO that sincerely wants to focus their companies’ abilities on addressing society’s deepest problems. And Banga’s passion is financial inclusion, around which Mastercard has launched approximately 1,500 projects under his leadership.

With his eye on that issue, Banga said that the digitization he believes is being accelerated by the coronavirus crisis will need to be implemented carefully to not further stratify society.

“I believe that digitization is a mechanism to deliver inclusive growth,” he said, “but digitization is also the vehicle for those who are left out to feel even further left out.” 

Banga went on to say that for people who do not have government-issued identification, bank accounts, and a host of other accesses and documentations, increased digitization—in the form of cashless store policies, 5G access, and more—can make life worse. 

“While digitization enables inclusion, it can also raise the barrier,” he said.

In an intermission, Fortune senior editor Ellen McGirt speaks with Kate Moore, the head of thematic strategy at BlackRock. Moore noted that another way the coronavirus crisis could raise the barrier to inclusion is in the return to work. Or in the case of many workers, the continuation of unemployment while more privileged, educated people return to work. 

But Banga maintains that with a people-first mindset and a responsible implementation of technology, that digitization will be a good thing. And Moore said she is still excited about many companies—particularly in technology—during the pandemic, due to their flexibility and willingness to adapt to the moment and to what people need right now. 

Looking inward to his own company, Banga is putting people first during the crisis. The executive team has promised there will be no COVID-19-related layoffs and is honoring its commitment to hire new-graduate recruits. 

Around the 17:30 mark, Murray asked Banga his advice for balancing looking out for employees and looking out for the company.

“The first thing you have to do is look after your people,” Banga answered. “That is all part of thinking through inclusion. Inclusion is a fancy word for human decency.”

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