Ling Hai has been with Mastercard for just over a decade now (and leading the Asia-Pacific team for half of that time), and in that period, he has made it a point to hire talents from a variety of backgrounds. At the same time, he’s pushed to create a safe environment where differences are embraced so that these talents can flourish.

The Peak chats with Ling Hai (pictured above) on why diversity is important to him, the evolution of the digital payment space, and the leadership lessons he’s learned.

Could you share with me some personal stories of you pushing for diversity and inclusion that had paid off in the future?

Inclusion is intensely personal for me. I grew up in Shanghai in another era and then saw a different side of life when I studied in the United States as a young man. The disparity in income, access and opportunity that I witnessed left me with a lasting desire to pay forward the benefits I’ve received by doing my part to equalize the playing field for others.

That’s why I champion the need to bring as many people and businesses as possible into the formal financial system, not only with my work at Mastercard but also through my involvement with charities that teach entrepreneurship and help small businesses gain access to capital. These initiatives lay the foundation for inclusive growth – and I believe that inclusive growth is the legacy we need to leave our children with.

That said, I think true inclusion cannot happen unless we’re willing to embrace true diversity in all its forms – backgrounds, demographics, perspectives, thoughts, orientations and beliefs. In this area, Mastercard is definitely leading in terms of our efforts and actions. What we’re doing internally reflects on our ethos externally as well. Our future success will be marked by our current strides in embedding diversity in policy and practice into our DNA.

How does Mastercard Asia-Pacific embrace diversity and inclusion within its own company ranks?

Decency, fairness and respect underpin Mastercard’s culture and drive everything we do.

Embracing colleagues who look, act and think differently creates an inclusive environment that empowers everyone to contribute and makes Mastercard a place where the best people want to work. It also helps us to make better decisions, drive innovation and deliver greater results.

We’re proud to be included in the Bloomberg Gender Equality Index and to be recognised by DiversityInc as a top company for people with disabilities, LGBTQ inclusion, board diversity, executive diversity councils, mentoring and sponsorship.

Given the recent tensions and protests around the world, Mastercard has also come out strongly and publicly to reaffirm our commitment to diversity and to condemn discrimination in any form.

(Related: Asian Cultural Symphony celebrates diversity in its performance)

A consumer paying via mobile. <span>Photo by <a href="">Jonas Leupe</a> on <a href="">Unsplash</a></span>.
A consumer paying via mobile. Photo by Jonas Leupe on Unsplash.

Could you tell me more about the different initiatives Mastercard has launched?

Covid-19 has shown the extreme disadvantages faced by small businesses and millions of people excluded from the financial system and the digital economy. Mastercard was committed to financial inclusion long before this crisis but our efforts are even stronger now to ensure access to financial services and technology so people can create savings, build businesses and invest in their futures.

Five years ago, Mastercard set a target to bring 500 million people into the financial system and we’ve accomplished that. We’ve now expanded our commitment by pledging to bring a total of 1 billion people into the digital economy by 2025, including 50 million small businesses and 25 million women entrepreneurs.

Reaching this goal requires efforts including government disbursement solutions, digital payment of wages and scaling up efforts with fintechs to deepen inclusive growth. We’re pursuing many large and small initiatives – typically with committed partners, including governments – to ensure we live up to our vision of Doing Well by Doing Good.

What are some of the projects that Mastercard is working on now that you’re personally passionate about?

Mastercard is working on so many interesting and exciting projects in e-commerce, open banking, payments, cybersecurity, fraud protection, data analytics and business productivity that it’s impossible to highlight just a few.

Especially during these difficult times, my personal passion is about helping people and I’m proud to work for a company that embraces Doing Well by Doing Good.

Beyond our initiatives to foster inclusive growth, we’ve committed $250 million over the next five years to support micro and small businesses around the world because they are the lifeblood of our economies and communities.

Mastercard’s Center for Inclusive Growth also drives financial literacy programs for women and our other efforts to correct the gender bias in Asia include Girls4Tech, which offers a signature STEM curriculum to girls as young as eight years old.

The digital payment space is clearly an important area for Mastercard, but what are some of the other growth areas that you or the company are looking at that you strongly believe will explode in the future?

Mastercard supports new technologies through research, collaborations and partnerships. In our Asia Pacific headquarters in Singapore, Mastercard Labs houses projects that range from robotics, artificial intelligence, unattended retail and contactless technology to wearables, biometrics authentication and solutions that drive financial inclusion.

Our involvement in the cryptocurrency space is also noteworthy as we work with fintechs and other players to enable access to our global network for newer and more differentiated payment options.

In Singapore and around the world, we run incubators, accelerators and partnership programs to support fintechs and build smarter solutions that help merchants and consumers. We also work with banks to provide innovative new solutions for their customers.

“We have committed to having no Covid-related layoffs this year and our people are empowered to decide for themselves where they want to work from and what makes them feel comfortable and safe.” – Ling Hai, co-president of Mastercard Asia-Pacific

How has Mastercard Asia-Pacific changed during Covid-19?

The health and well-being of our employees and their families, our customers and our communities have always been our top priorities. Covid-19 and its impact on everyone and everything has intensified our focus and renewed our commitment to prioritising our people even more.

So we started there – by securing our people, their families and their jobs. We have committed to having no Covid-related layoffs this year and our people are empowered to decide for themselves where they want to work from and what makes them feel comfortable and safe.

Ensuring that our customers, partners and consumers overall were not unduly impacted was our next focus. I’m delighted at how efficiently and quickly we were able to double down on that front too – a testament to our robust business resilience planning.

Being apart physically has brought us even closer together with a shared sense of purpose, connection, humanity and respect.

(Related: Wee Teng Wen of The Lo & Behold Group on leading during a crisis)

What are 3 leadership lessons you’ve learned during the Covid-19 crisis?

The pandemic has been a steep – but rewarding – learning curve for us as an organization and also for me personally as a leader. The most important aspects are to have faith in people that they will get the job done, to trust their judgment about their own well-being and to empower them about what is practical when it comes to managing their work commitments.

I’ve been inspired by how our people have responded in these extraordinary times. They coordinate and communicate as if we were sitting together and they’ve found interesting and innovative ways to adapt to the new normal – all while ensuring our business runs seamlessly to support merchants, consumers and our customers.

There’s no secret sauce. It boils down to showing your humanity and humility while demonstrating leadership to foster inclusivity, connectedness and decency.