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Mastercard Isn’t Just a Credit Card Company, According to its CEO

January 13, 2020, 2:11 PM UTC

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Many companies claim, in a trite sort of way, to be technology companies. They do this because tech earns a higher valuation and because, at least in an aspirational sense, they believe the technology behind their businesses is their secret sauce.

Few of these companies would be willing to repeat their claim in their securities filings, where it’s easy to be verbose and redundant but extremely difficult to fib. Not so for Mastercard, which most people think of as a credit card company. Here’s how the company describes itself: “Mastercard is a technology company in the global payments industry that connects consumers, financial institutions, merchants, governments, digital partners, businesses and other organizations worldwide, enabling them to use electronic forms of payment instead of cash and checks.”

Last week in San Francisco, I met with Ajay Banga, the long-tenured CEO of Mastercard. He genuinely believes “cash and checks” are the competition and what accounts for his company, once owned by banks, being worth more than $300 billion today. About 85% of the world’s transactions are still in cash, says Banga. He likens his company’s core technology to a railroad that’s willing to put any sort of “freight” on its tracks, so long as the purpose is moving money legally. “We are the rails of the railroad,” he says. “Trains can have different models.”

Banga rarely mentions cards, the ubiquitous pieces of plastic issued by his banking customers. The banks deal with consumers and pay Mastercard for the branding and the moving around of money. Banga wants Mastercard’s technology in as many places as he can get it, card or no card. This includes the digital wallets of tech giants like Apple, which co-issues a credit card with Goldman Sachs using Mastercard’s “rails.” (Banga visited Apple last week too; he wouldn’t say who he saw or what he discussed.)

Mastercard is a rare cross-generational success. (Its rival Visa has done well too; both once were owned by banks.) It also gets more than a quarter of its revenues from services like cybercrime consulting. And while the banks have let their Mastercard ownership dwindle to a 2% stake, the independent foundation endowed by Mastercard’s stock has $34 billion in assets and focuses its efforts on jobs in Africa.

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Two recommendations: 1) this amazing documentary about singer Linda Ronstadt, which anyone considering a mid-career tweak will want to watch; and 2) this important profile of the leader of the United Arab Emirates.

Adam Lashinsky

Twitter: @adamlashinsky

Email: adam.lashinsky@fortune.com

This edition of Data Sheet was curated by Aaron Pressman.

NEWSWORTHY

This one does not go to 11. Following last year's Galaxy 10, the name of the next Samsung flagship smartphone will not be the Galaxy 11. Instead, Samsung is skipping right to 20. A leak of the new device appeared to show four cameras, with a macro lens included.

Twists and turns. The management saga at online luggage seller Away continues. Last month, CEO and co-founder Steph Korey stepped aside in favor of Stuart Haselden. But now it seems Korey has not left after all, and will remain at Away as co-CEO with Haselden, the New York Times reports.

Get your motor running. You won't be cruising down any highways in Israel with your hands off the wheel. Israel’s Ministry of Transport and Road Safety says Tesla must inform all customers in the country that autopilot driving is not permitted. Speaking of 'lectric vehicles, General Motors will bring back its Hummer line of mega-sized SUVs as an electric pickup truck. NBA star Lebron James will star in a Super Bowl commercial featuring the new truck, the Wall Street Journal reports.

Fear is the path to the dark side. The force is officially not with Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg. Star Wars actor Mark Hamill, who played Luke Skywalker, criticized Zuck on Sunday and said he was deleting the Facebook app because the company is continuing to enable lies in political ads. "So disappointed that Mark Zuckerberg values profit more than truthfulness that I've decided to delete my Facebook account," Hamill tweeted.

Turn the lights out. In a few days, one of the most popular operating systems of all time heads off into retirement. Microsoft says it will no longer support Windows 7 starting on Wednesday, meaning the end of free security updates and bug patches. Still, some large companies are paying for extended support.

FOOD FOR THOUGHT

There's plenty of superficial coverage of CES out there, but if you want to sample the deep dive of all deep dives, written by someone who has been going to the show for decades, check out Steven Sinofsky's post. The former Microsoft exec has seemingly investigated every nook and cranny of CES and come back with summaries, hints, warnings, trends, and quite a few pictures and videos to boot. Before he dives into his 12 categories (including, of course, 5G and 8K), he explains a little about what CES is—and is not.

This year’s #CES2020 was the usual spectacle of gadgets, gizmos, pleasant surprises, and near misses. Most of all CES continues to be an event where you can see the raw material of the next big thing far more often than you can see the next big thing. That so often frustrates people who hope for a romantic view of the old days “remember when they previewed the VCR or Atari?” If you expect CES to be that, you will have been disappointed for the past 50 years or so. Instead, CES is a show where invention meets innovation — inventions are the ingredients of products, not necessarily products. An innovation is the result of an invention meeting the best execution of product, price, place, and promotion, usually taking many iterations from many companies.

IN CASE YOU MISSED IT

AMD’s Command Performance at CES 2020 Was Years in the Making By Aaron Pressman

Women Now Outnumber Men in the U.S. Workforce By Emma Hinchliffe

Best of CES 2020? Tech Sites Opinions Differ Wildly By Chris Morris

Short-Sellers Took on Tesla and Elon Musk in 2019—and Lost Their Shirt By Erik Sherman

When It Comes to Streaming Media, Quibi Made the Most of CES By Chris Morris

The Toughest Job in America? Boeing’s New CEO Faces an Epic To-Do List as He Takes the Helm Today By Erik Sherman

High-Tech Fitness Offerings Are the Newest Luxury Hotel Must-Have By Chadner Navarro

BEFORE YOU GO

The New York Public Library system has been going strong for 125 years. On Monday, the library released a list of the top 10 most checked out books in its history. Along with famed tomes by Harper Lee and Dale Carnegie, you'll also find a British author's more recent story of a boy's magical adventures. And, no spoilers, but I've been reading the #1 ranked book since I was a toddler.

Aaron Pressman

On Twitter: @ampressman

Email: aaron.pressman@fortune.com