Is MasterCard Really Changing The World?

Have you ever noticed that business and news organizations love to compile lists?

The U.S. News and World Report, for instance, draws the attention of the education industry each year with its Best Colleges lists. Forbes generates attention and envy with its World’s Billionaires list. And Dow Jones influences the global markets whenever it changes the composition of the thirty corporations in its Industrial Average list.

Fortune has repeatedly indulged in list compilation activities as well. Its annual Fortune 500 list of the top American companies, for example, has been garnering significant press coverage and scrutiny for decades. And last month, Fortune extended these activities by publishing its first Change The World list.

Change The World? What does that mean? In its Methodology and Credits statement, Fortune explains that the list consists of “companies that have made a sizable impact on major global social or environmental problems as part of their competitive strategy … (and that are) doing good as part of their profit-making strategy … (in order to) improve the human condition.”

That sounds quite noble, doesn’t it? The companies on Fortune’s list should be engaged in extremely impressive activities. And yet, considering its own methodology, at least one of Fortune’s choices may strike us as a bit odd.

Take Mastercard, for instance, which appears at #11 on the list. Along with Visa, American Express, Discover, and every bank that issues debit cards, Mastercard helps people avoid paper currency by paying with plastic instead.

Of course, people have been carrying plastic in their wallets since Diners Club issued the first charge card in 1950, and since Bank of America followed with the first general consumer credit card in 1958. The BankAmericard later went global during the 1970s and was spun off into the firm that became Visa.

But this decades-long progression of e-commerce didn’t deter Fortune from heaping praise on today’s MasterCard for services that simply “distribute social benefits on debit cards … (and thus help people) switch to electronic payments…” In addition, Fortune didn’t mention the ongoing controversies about excessive service fees that some financial institutions have placed on such cards.

To be fair, Fortune does note appropriately that the use of plastic cards in place of paper money can reduce cash theft and deter untaxed “off the books” transactions. But Fortune does not acknowledge that electronic payment systems are often plagued by hackers, thieves, and tax cheats as well.

On the one hand, it might indeed be true that the transition from paper to electronic payment transactions is helping to change the world. But isn’t it a little odd that Fortune has decided to focus its plaudits solely on MasterCard? After all, this is an evolution that has been progressing for well over half a century, and that has been jointly driven by numerous financial institutions.

Don’t they deserve some plaudits too?