Leading From the Heart

Leading From the Heart

Amnah Ajmal, EVP Market Development for EEMEA, outlines how Mastercard is working with companies and individuals from across the financial spectrum

Mastercard is a vast entity, employing tens of thousands of people in dozens of countries around the world. 

But at the heart of its business is a universal desire to connect and power an inclusive digital economy that benefits everyone, everywhere. 

The payments giant is achieving this by making transactions safe, simple, smart and accessible, providing a seamless, omnichannel experience along the way. 

“I love the fact that so many of our clients also have the same mission,” says Amnah Ajmal, EVP Market Development for the EEMEA region. “If you’re aligned at the top from a mission standpoint, it really makes it easy to do business. 

“People buy from people, and we make sure our purpose is directly from the heart. I look after different segments that cut across multiple geographies and have different needs but one mission: to make people’s lives better and transform their digital experiences.”

She adds: “Most of our clients are venturing into new lines of business, for example financial services, where we leverage data, trust and distribution with telcos, retailers and marketplaces. They have bold ambitions and we support them in bringing their visions to life. 

“The financial services industry is complex, but every innovation isn’t about transformation. We offer simple solutions to complex problems to fuel the bold ambition of our clients.”

There are two simple, fundamental ways Mastercard is helping clients diversify their businesses. Firstly, by enabling acceptance on SMEs’ phones, and secondly, by equipping consumers with digital cards enabled in their mobile phone wallets.

Ajmal says: “As we enable this hyper growth of new business lines, we also support future-proofing of their businesses by leveraging our security and safety assets.”Plenty has changed since Ajmal joined Mastercard in 2015. 

Nobody was talking about artificial intelligence nine years ago, she says, whereas now it’s become almost impossible to have a single meeting without AI being raised. 

What’s more, the topics of sustainability and diversity have gone from being afterthoughts to everyday conversations.

“Sustainability wasn’t really top of mind back then,” Ajmal continues. “But in the last decade a lot of our work has been around protecting the planet and fostering prosperity around the world. Gender and diversity, too, has become a mindset, a way of working. 

“My journey in this role has definitely changed as well, given we’ve historically focused on financial institutions and banks. Now we have partnerships across digital merchants, governments and telcos.”

Diversifying businesses

As has already been outlined by Ajmal, she and her team work closely with countless non-financial institutions, enabling them to get closer to their customers and deliver value. 

Many of these organisations want to generate meaningful growth momentum or improve their profit margins by entering into financial services. 

Expanding into financial services, Ajmal goes on, represents a promising opportunity to change the picture. 

“Not only are the margins great in this line of business,” she explains, “but it also gives them the ability to serve people at the bottom of the pyramid and to drive financial inclusion. Historically, large organisations have not done a great job when it comes to servicing that segment.”

Bringing this strategy to life, Ajmal references Mastercard’s work alongside telcos in the region, not to mention food delivery companies like Delivery Hero and ride-hailing specialists such as Uber.

Many of these firms have millions of active customers and, with Mastercard’s help, they are enjoying new revenue opportunities thanks to the availability of digital wallets and digital payments. 

Ajmal adds: “That's the strategy – to actually diversify our clients’ businesses and, in return, it's helping us to diversify our own business.”

Providing a platform for female entrepreneurs

One of the many areas where Ajmal and Mastercard are united is in their desire to fuel growth among the next generation of female entrepreneurs.

Ajmal’s own take is that women—entrepreneurs or not—have faced barriers compared to their male peers when it comes to both networking and celebrating their own achievements.

Enter Mastercard’s annual Women SME Leaders Awards, which welcomes nominations from across the Eastern Europe, Middle East and Africa region, and is designed to recognise and empower women-owned and run SMEs. 

Additionally, in 2023, Mastercard collaborated with the Global Summit of Women conference in Dubai to host many of these ambitious women, presenting them with an opportunity to take to the stage and share their stories. 

Commenting on the women-focused initiatives she has led, Ajmal says: “When I speak to women entrepreneurs they believe they have very ordinary stories but, when they share them in a conference room filled with hundreds of people, it’s so inspirational and makes a huge difference. 

“These women have the opportunity to talk to other successful entrepreneurs, network, and figure out the challenges they may have and drive learnings from them.” 

Mastercard also has an active partnership with Women Choice, an international organisation on a mission to create one million jobs for Arab women. 

The collaboration is aimed at empowering female social entrepreneurs across the Arab world with the proper training and resources to place at least 1,000 women in their respective enterprises.

“It has a multiplier impact, which I think is really important,” says Ajmal. “When you train a set of women in creating their personal brand, you’re also ensuring they give something back to other women and it becomes a cycle. This is something I’m very passionate about. As a mother of a daughter, I’ve been able to give choices to her that I didn’t have. It’s important for me to uplift women and make them believe in their dreams.”

Helping fintechs to grow and scale

Ajmal’s personal take is that a strategy of innovation must always be based on collaboration.

“I always say no-one can innovate alone in today’s world,” she emphasises. “We have to make sure we're partnering with different players of the ecosystem.”

Fintech is, evidently, a crucial part of the modern-day ecosystem, especially for a payments powerhouse like Mastercard. 

Ajmal reveals there are two primary ways in which the organisation is partnering with fintech companies, helping them to grow and scale along the way.

She explains: “When I meet clients, be it the region’s largest retailer, a payment service provider or an airline, they’re looking for a specific problem to be solved, but we as Mastercard may not have all the assets and capabilities to provide the solution. 

“So, we co-create solutions with fintech companies and, because we adhere to compliance, data security and privacy standards, the fintech benefits from our expertise and receives access to the distribution network of our clients. 

“Our clients are very well-established industry leaders with a huge customer base, but need tailored solutions to provide superior consumer and merchant experience. It’s a win-win situation.”

In addition, Mastercard is continuously equipping fintech companies with the capabilities required to future-proof their businesses, whether in relation to risks like cybersecurity or fraud. 

“As fintech companies enter into business,” Ajmal adds, “they always think about growth which comes with the risk of fraud and cyber attacks.

“We make sure they’re on the right path in terms of profitability because one such attack can set you back for years.”

Enhancing CX with AI

Ajmal is a passionate believer in artificial intelligence. 

She reflects on the term first being coined back in the 1950s, long before the increased speed and power of computing made it possible for AI to scale. 

“Given your mobile phone now has more capacity than computers had in previous decades, AI is no longer science fiction – it’s a reality,” Ajmal declares. 

On the relatively recent rise of generative AI, Ajmal highlights the launch of OpenAI’s ChatGPT as an important milestone. Like millions of people around the world, she admits to experimenting with the groundbreaking chatbot, even asking it for parenting advice.

Businesses have, of course, been prioritising personalisation for years – attempting to achieve a better ROI on their marketing techniques. 

AI, Ajmal says, is now driving personalisation and ensuring consumers can enjoy the most personal service possible. 

“How many of us keep clicking ‘close’ on the ad we don’t want to see when we’re online shopping or on a social media platform?” she asks. “This is because companies, when targeting us for marketing efforts, haven’t been able to personalise what I want to see compared to what you want to see.

“Now, personalisation is possible and can be delivered at scale thanks to AI.”

We’re already seeing countless AI use cases in action, both in business and everyday life.

Ajmal recalls reading some research during an AI course at Harvard University, where respondents were asked whether they would be happy for their dentist to use AI to validate their diagnosis – and more than half said ‘yes’.

“You could argue, ‘why would anybody be okay with AI validating the diagnosis, especially when it comes to their teeth?’,” she continues. “But the answer is very simple: it’s in human nature to like anything that adds predictability and evidence. 

“The human eye can only see so many shades of grey, so there will always be variation in decisions. AI can plug a lot of the gaps in decision-making across different industries and will transform a lot of businesses.

“The key to scaling AI use cases is to start from a customer problem you want to solve. Don’t force-fit AI as a solution to every problem. In today’s world plenty of solutions are there, but the key is to find the right problem.”

The foundation of business

Ensuring partnerships have the potential to become healthy, collaborative relationships, rather than simply transactional, is a crucial element of Mastercard’s operations. 

Ajmal references telcos like e&, which has millions of subscribers across multiple countries in the Middle East, as well as MTN and Airtel in Africa. 

“These kinds of partnerships are crucial in the financial inclusion space,” says Ajmal. “You’re making sure the person selling apples from a farm can digitise their transactions, become part of the financial services ecosystem and then get access to lending.” 

Ajmal also highlights Mastercard’s links with companies like Marriott and Uber, which are about bringing personalised experiences to a more affluent segment, and the aforementioned partnership with Delivery Hero which is digitising payments so that drivers receive their salaries without delay. 

“These are different kinds of partnerships in different parts of the region, but each one has an element of creating a new experience or giving something back to the community,” Ajmal concludes. 

“Partnership is not about two businesses coming together. People do business with people, based on trust and alignment of your values and mission.

“Trust and thinking from your heart is the foundation of doing business in today’s world.”

Kongres Biznes Polska Świat
Fintech Surge
Interview with Amnah Ajmal
Amnah Ajmal


Make sure you check out the latest edition of FinTech Magazine and also sign up to our global conference series – FinTech LIVE 2024


FinTech Magazine is a BizClik brand