MasterCard Worldwide's (MA.N) partnership with China UnionPay, the country's lone bank card transaction processor, will help it become a player in China's 3 trillion yuan ($455 billion) personal consumption market in five to 10 years, the head of MasterCard in China said on Monday.
The card payment market will grow at least 15 percent over the next 10 years, Ling Hai, MasterCard's president for the Greater China region, said in an interview.
That will further boost what Ling called China UnionPay's 1.4 billion debit cards in circulation in China, an enormous business opportunity of which MasterCard hopes for "a bigger chunk," he said.
Of the 3 trillion yuan, "China UnionPay processed one-third of that. There's another two-thirds that's cash," Ling said.
"So I've got opportunities on two fronts. One, the penetration of electronic payment is still low. Cash is still king, and I've got a tremendous war I can declare against cash.
"Secondly, that 3 trillion is going to continue to grow," even at the most conservative estimates of GDP growth of 5 percent this year, Ling said.
MasterCard and China UnionPay signed a memorandum of understanding last September to explore cooperation including domestic transactions and online payment. The two sides are still discussing ideas but do not yet have anything to announce.
Foreign credit card companies are barred from transactions in the domestic debit market, and only larger merchants, hotels and certain other establishments in China accept foreign-issued plastic for credit transactions.
"In Europe, CUP (China UnionPay) is not accepted everywhere. Our network can help China UnionPay cards to be more accepted," Ling said. "In China, inbound international cards are not accepted everywhere. China UnionPay can help us be more accepted."
He wouldn't give revenue figures or targets for China, or address a target number of cards or turnover volume, but said that China still represents only a small part of MasterCard's worldwide business.
The same month that MasterCard and China UnionPay signed their MOU, the United States filed a complaint with the World Trade Organisation prompted by larger rival Visa International's (V.N) frustration at being shut out of what it described as China UnionPay's monopoly over card services in China.
As for MasterCard's approach, "we understand this market well enough to know that to be successful you've got to follow the rules, and you've got to play nice with the government," Ling said.