Updated: Apr 22, 2022
Based in Johannesburg, Mark Elliott oversees the performance, strategic direction and brand development of MasterCard in Sub-Saharan Africa. He ensures that MasterCard continues to deliver innovative and secure electronic payment solutions to cardholders and customers in Sub-Saharan African.
Prior to joining MasterCard in 2011, Elliott spent eight years at Barclays. During his time there, he was Head of Sales and Distribution and then Head of Retail for Barclays United Arab Emirates. He also spent two years in South Africa as Director of Business Development for Absa Card. Elliott is a qualified Chartered Accountant and a successful investment banker having held positions at ING Barings, PricewaterhouseCoopers, Dresdner Kleinwort Benson and Arthur Andersen.
Mark a non-executive board member of Junior Achievement South Africa, a non-profit organisation that provides engaging entrepreneurial programmes.
In our interview with Mark we explore his origin story, career, leadership style and MasterCard’s services in Sub-Saharan Africa.
Hello Mark and thank you for participating in this Q&A session. Please give us an overview of your origin story, background, and career to date?
Mark: My origin story has quite a diverse mix of cultural and geographic elements. I am a British national who grew up in Hong Kong and India, and then worked in Asia, the Middle East and then Africa. This exposure to different places has given me a wonderful opportunity to connect with many people and discover many different perspectives.
I graduated from the University of Newcastle-upon-Tyne with a BA (Hons) in Combined Studies. I’m also a qualified Chartered Accountant and an investment banker, having held positions at some of the top companies locally and abroad including ING Barings, PricewaterhouseCoopers, Dresdner Kleinwort Benson, and Arthur Andersen.
In 2011, I joined MasterCard and had the incredible opportunity to work in Dubai as the Middle East and Africa regional lead for all products and solutions. In this role, I developed and implemented our debit, credit, prepaid and commercial card solutions, driving the growth and evolution of our business across the region. This was followed by a move to South Africa in 2014 as Division President for Mastercard, South Africa, which was then enlarged to Southern Africa. In 2022, I have taken on responsibilities for the wider region as Division President for Mastercard, Sub-Saharan Africa.
I am also proud to be a non-executive board member of Junior Achievement South Africa, a non-profit organisation that provides engaging entrepreneurial programmes.
What originally attracted you to the banking sector, and then to payments technology?
Mark: During my time at university, I was inspired by the BBC show called Trouble shooter, where Sir John Henry Harvey-Jones advised struggling businesses across Britain, while making meaningful connections with the people he met along the way. It made me want to be in the trenches with the team and understand what makes a business “tick”, turn it around, and help it grow more successfully.
Frequently as leaders we need to “zoom in” and get very detail-oriented to really understand the problem and then remember to “zoom out” once achieved. - Mark Elliott
My career – which spans from accountancy to investment banking and now general management for a leading payments technology company – is still very much in line with this initial inspiration. It’s about listening and then addressing pain points by innovatively adapting or co-creating solutions – and taking them to market with partners who have the same vision - to make a real impact.
Frequently as leaders we need to “zoom in” and get very detail-oriented to really understand the problem and then remember to “zoom out” once achieved.
What do you attribute your success to as a business leader?
Mark: When I was 18 years old, I got my first internship as a journalist (my dad’s career) at the South China Morning Post in Hong Kong. Early on, it taught me the importance of listening, the value of an analytical mind, and above all, the importance of meeting tight deadlines. I also learnt humility, as what I wrote in the early hours, and what appeared in the newspaper, were often quite different.
I am also good at giving myself constructive feedback and right now, being curious, being comfortable with ambiguity and being competitively paranoid are critical to future success. - Mark Elliott
During the course of my career, I developed a global view and believe that achieving a balance between patience, and the urgency to execute, is critical. I also constructively look for ways to improve and do things better, which keeps me grounded and coming back for more.
I am also good at giving myself constructive feedback and right now, being curious, being comfortable with ambiguity and being competitively paranoid are critical to future success.
How would you describe your leadership style, and in which ways has it brought success to the organisations you have led?
Mark: I believe in prioritising diversity and exposing yourself to different challenges, cultures, and teams. It is the best way to grow as a leader, and it encourages new perspectives that drive forward a healthy feedback loop of listening, interpreting, adapting, and executing.
For us at Mastercard, inclusion and diversity is about more than bringing together people with different backgrounds. It’s an understanding that when we create meaningful connections, inspire acceptance, and cultivate a culture where we all belong, we are a better team – one that makes better decisions, drives innovation and delivers better business results. - Mark Elliott
In addition, I consider myself an inclusive and collaborative leader who likes to knock down silos and get people in one place to think and innovate together. An inclusive leadership style rewards everyone because everyone feels invested in the process of creating solutions or improvements.
Success also comes when leaders encourage innovation, and innovation does not come from a one-size-fits-all approach. It happens when we welcome people who look and think differently into our teams.
For us at Mastercard, inclusion and diversity is about more than bringing together people with different backgrounds. It’s an understanding that when we create meaningful connections, inspire acceptance, and cultivate a culture where we all belong, we are a better team – one that makes better decisions, drives innovation and delivers better business results.
What does your role entail as Division President for Sub-Saharan Africa, MasterCard?
Mark: In my current role, I am responsible for the overall performance, strategic direction, and brand development of Mastercard in Sub-Saharan Africa, overseeing close to 30 markets including Nigeria, Kenya, South Africa, Zimbabwe, and Mauritius, among others. This includes further driving our innovation and growth agenda and building on our successful purpose-driven culture.
My role also includes finding new ways to scale the latest payments technologies to drive financial inclusion – a topic I’m very passionate about. Technology is helping us achieve things previous generations could only dream of, and through our partnerships, we are able to scale its positive impact so more people can thrive in a world beyond cash.
Mastercard has pledged to connect 1 billion people and 50 million small businesses to the digital economy by 2025, a global commitment that has also placed a direct focus on including 25 million women entrepreneurs. This means we have to continue investing in Africa for Africa, championing digital transformation together with our partners, and designing locally relevant solutions that fully address the needs and desires of people and businesses, which can vary by geography, individual preference and community.
Since you have been with MasterCard, what key changes have you implemented across the value proposition offered to your customer base?
Mark: Among the changes I’m quite proud of is the way we’ve managed to adapt our Mastercard products and solutions for our region for example, by working with local partners to make things like card benefits more relevant and exciting for consumers in African markets.
As a technology company, we are constantly innovating to enhance our value proposition, and it has been wonderful to see how our expertise, collaboration and partnerships have positively impacted the people and businesses on the continent.
We’ve partnered with Spot Money on their open banking app, giving South African consumers more choice in how they pay and manage their money. And in Zimbabwe, E-Livestock Global introduced a first-of-its-kind traceability system powered by Mastercard’s blockchain-based Provenance solution, empowering farmers to prove the origin and health records of their cattle, while reducing risks to buyers. Small businesses have more access to more cost effective, and secure solutions for digital payment acceptance, which has become crucial during the COVID-19 pandemic.
We’ve worked with Zazu to drive digital payments in Zambia, and it’s been great to see TNM Mpamba become the first mobile money provider in Malawi to launch a Mastercard virtual payment solution. Financial institutions in Mauritius have already issued sustainable cards made from recyclable, bio-sourced, chlorine-free, degradable and ocean plastics, based on our sustainable card program for all card issuers globally.
What do MasterCard customers in Sub-Saharan Africa have to look forward to in the coming year?
Mark: Across Africa, our Grow, Diversify and Build strategy has already helped us to grow our position in payments, expand to several new markets, build out our services capabilities, and forge new partnerships with Telcos, retailers, governments and financial institutions to move beyond cash.
In 2022, we will continue to build off this foundation, prioritising areas that represent our biggest avenues for growth — expand in payments, extend our services – such as cyber and intelligence - and embrace new networks like Open Banking. It’s these opportunities that drive us to power economies and empower people.
Our work to support FinTech's and expand our capabilities in digital currencies and real-time payments will continue to be a focus for us as we unlock people’s ability to do more with digital money. It’s about providing more choice and more value beyond card – from remittances, which still remain too costly across the continent, to the improved convenience of person-to-person (P2P) payments. And our new horizons beyond payments such as cybersecurity will be valuable building blocks to expanding our services capabilities.
As we’ve seen a rapid shift to digital due to the Covid-19 pandemic, this work becomes even more critical to respond to consumers’ changing needs and making sure smaller merchants and people with few digital tools aren’t left behind. This kind of work is fundamental to our mission because we believe that we only thrive when the world thrives. It’s our responsibility to make the digital economy work for everyone, everywhere – and our commitment to financial inclusion will remain a top priority.
The pandemic has also exposed and exacerbated a number of environmental, economic and social issues we can’t ignore. Through our Priceless Planet Coalition pledge to restore 100 million trees, we hope to unite the efforts of more partners to fight climate change, educate stakeholders, commit to goals, and contribute to the protection of our planet and with it, a prosperous future for us all. Thank you Mark for participating in this Q&A session, we wish you all the best.
Mark: Thank you.
Success also comes when leaders encourage innovation, and innovation does not come from a one-size-fits-all approach. It happens when we welcome people who look and think differently into our teams. - Mark Elliott
MasterCard (NYSE:MA), www.mastercard.com, is a technology company in the global payments industry. We operate the world’s fastest payments processing network, connecting consumers, financial institutions, merchants, governments and businesses in more than 210 countries and territories. MasterCard’s products and solutions make everyday commerce activities – such as shopping, traveling, running a business and managing finances – easier, more secure and more efficient for everyone.