MasterCard is the world #2 in global payment solutions, sitting some way behind Visa. Traditionally the two companies have always been arch-rivals, jostling each other for dominance of the world market as well as for for the most prestigious marketing partnerships. Once the undisputed leader in the international market, MasterCard lost its crown during the late 1970s, but for the time being remains the bigger player in debit cards outside North America as a result of its Maestro brand. Increasingly, however, the rivals find themselves in the same corner, fighting to defend their shared territory from smaller competitors such as American Express as well as new challengers like Paypal. Recently Mastercard and Visa have faced a string of legal challenges, primarily in the US, from retailers unhappy about their combined dominance of the credit and debit card markets.
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Adbrands Weekly Update 21st Jul 2016: Payments platform MasterCard introduced a new logo, the first redesign in 20 years. The new design, produced by Pentagram, retains the familiar linked circles but drops uppercase in favour of sans serif lowercase. However, the change coincided with a negative ruling for the company in the first of several court cases brought by UK retailers over inflated "interchange" charges levied by Mastercard for payments made with its cards. The UK Competition Appeal Tribunal ruled that MasterCard must pay Sainsbury's £68.5m in compensation and damages. Claims from other retailers total £1.2bn, and a US-style class action suit is also being prepared on behalf of customers, on the basis that some retailers passed on the interchange fees to shoppers by raising prices. That could demand damages of as much as £19bn.
Adbrands Weekly Update 25th Feb 2016: Ads of the Week: Pearson "Ellie Goulding". You won't need to be a fan of singer Ellie Goulding to be utterly captivated by McCann London's latest "Priceless Surprise" for Mastercard, tieing in to the UK music industry's annual awards fest this week, The Brits. Ellie surprises two of her biggest fans by joining them for an unexpected live performance. A completely charming and heart-warming film. (Rather more charming than its counterpart, which features the irredeemably supercilious Mark Ronson, a man who appears to refer to himself as "we").
Adbrands Weekly Update 9th Feb 2014: Interpublic's media business suffered another blow with the loss of one of its biggest global accounts. MasterCard is shifting media responsibility from UM to Carat in all markets except Latin America.
Adbrands Weekly Update 14th Nov 2013: In a move that bodes ill for Interpublic's UM, one of its biggest global clients, MasterCard, called a review of worldwide media.
Adbrands Weekly Update 29th Aug 2013: Mastercard named Raja Rajamannar as its new global chief marketing officer, succeeding Alfredo Gangotena, who is retiring. Rajamannar has held several senior positions in the US healthcare and financial services industry, and started his career at Unilever in India.
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Free for all users | see full profile for current activities: MasterCard was born when a group of US banks joined forces to issue their own credit card in competition with Americard, the scheme introduced a few years earlier by Bank of America. In 1966, Bank of America had begun licensing its credit card system outside the state of California for the first time, selecting one bank from each US state to act as its local partner. Inevitably this created substantial competition from rival organisations. Throughout the country, local banks scrambled either to join the Americard association or to set up a rival scheme. Among literally scores of such schemes were Master Charge, formed by a consortium of Bank of America's Californian rivals, and the Interbank Card Association, formed by Marine Midland Bank of Buffalo and five other banks from across the country.
In fact this early credit card boom came close to disaster. Desperate to get one up over their competitors in each local market, rival banks rushed into the market almost without restraint and chaos ensued. Between 1966 and 1970, more than 100 million unsolicited credit cards were sent out by the country's various banks. Famously, the banks began sending out cards at random to names off mailing lists, with the result that cards were even issued to children or family pets. In one Chicago mailing, the city's newborn babies all received their own credit card. Security systems were virtually non-existent, and fraud was widespread. Within two years several US banks, including some of those participating in the Americard scheme, were on the verge of collapse as a result of huge bad debts. However Interbank proved among the most conservative of the credit card operators, and by 1968 had edged ahead of Americard as the dominant scheme in the US market. The association also quickly established a presence in the international market, forming alliances in 1968 with Banco Nacional of Mexico and Eurocard of Europe. At the same time, Interbank acquired the now-struggling Californian scheme Master Charge and rebranded all of its cards under the latter's name. The first Japanese bank joined the alliance a year later, and over the next decade the group's coverage spread to Africa and the rest of Asia.
But bigger was not necessarily better. While Interbank extended its global footprint, Americard worked harder to establish foolproof and efficient transaction systems. Far superior customer service meant that it rapidly closed the gap on its rival, overtaking Master Charge by 1979. That year, Interbank rebranded once again, changing both its own name and that of its main product to MasterCard. During the 1980s, the company moved into other areas, issuing its first debit cards, as well as travellers' cheques. It was the first payment card into China in 1987, and launched in Russia a year later. Also that year the company acquired Cirrus, then the world's largest network of ATM machines. To strengthen its presence in Europe it acquired a minority stake in partner Europay (the former Eurocard), but both businesses faced a withering onslaught from Visa. Increasingly, MasterCard came under pressure from its member banks, who were keen to offer Visa as well. During the 1980s the two rivals agreed a truce, allowing member banks to offer both payment services. In a bid to develop a new market elsewhere, in 1991, MasterCard and Europay launched the Maestro debit card, but it met with only modest success compared to credit cards. In 1995 MasterCard invested in European electronic payment system Mondex, but this business too was slow to take off. MasterCard later bought out its European partner Europay in 2002, and also increased its stake in Mondex to 51%.
Back home, Visa and MasterCard were both facing new competition during the late 1990s from American Express, which had launched its own credit card scheme, Optima. In 1996 Amex agreed a deal with Advanta Corporation to offer American Express Optima credit cards to its members. However Advanta was also a Visa and MasterCard member. The credit card companies responded by issuing guidelines prohibiting their members from working with American Express or smaller competitor Discover. This inevitably led to a lawsuit from the latter, and a subsequent investigation by the US Department of Justice. In 2001, a federal court decreed that Visa and MasterCard should not be able to prohibit their member banks from also issuing cards for American Express and Discover. However the big two successfully held up any further action for several years with a series of appeals. These were finally overturned in 2003, and the following year American Express sued for damages over the attempted boycott. MasterCard eventually agreed to settle the claim in 2008, agreeing a payment to American Express of $1.8bn over three years. It eventually settled a similar suit from Discover for $515m.
The apparently close relationship between the two credit card suppliers in this area has led to a number of further cases. In Europe, the companies were jointly accused of prohibiting competition by artificially fixing transaction fees. MasterCard delayed taking action on this matter and was eventually warned at the end of 2007 by the EU that it would face a daily fine of almost $320,000 unless it cut the fees it charged for international credit and debit card payments. In the US, they were charged with fixing artificially high conversion rates for foreign currency transactions, and were obliged to offer rebates in early 2003. Meanwhile an even more serious suit was brought by a consortium of more than 4m US retailers, among them the mighty Wal-Mart, claiming that Visa and MasterCard had established an artificial monopoly on debit cards. During the 1990s, in order to ensure the success of their own debit cards, which carry higher transaction charges than rivals, Visa and MasterCard forced retailers to accept the cards or be dropped from their credit card program. Facing the risk of substantial financial damages from losing the case, MasterCard was the first to fold, agreeing to settle out of court just before the case went to trial in April 2003. Visa was forced to follow suit a few days later. MasterCard agreed to pay the retailers about $1bn in combined damages over several years, waived its "honour all cards" policy, and said it would significantly lower its fees for processing debit card transactions.
A new legal battle erupted in 2005 when large US retailers began filing suit against both Visa and MasterCard, accusing the pair of colluding over the fees charged to merchants for processing credit card payments. Many smaller retailers also joined the suit, which rumbled on for several years. It was finally resolved in favour of the merchants in summer 2012, with Visa, MasterCard and their card-issuing partners banks forced to pay a total of $7.2bn in cash and merchant fee rebates. The agreement will also allow merchants to charge an additional fee at their own discretion if their customers choose to pay by credit card rather than cash.
In 2005, MasterCard announced that a hacker had infiltrated the electronic payments network of CardSystems Solutions, a third-party card processing centre in Arizona, and gained access to names, account numbers and verification codes for up to 40m credit cards of all brands, including 13.9m MasterCard accounts. See full profile for current activities
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