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Mastercard Debuts Card to Act as ID, Payment for Underserved

Members of underserved populations don’t always have credit cards. City Key is Mastercard’s effort to help cities distribute services and benefits by creating a tool that can act as an ID, payment card or access pass.

Many take for granted that electronic cards are a staple of daily life, whether for payment, identification or facility access. But there are still people who don’t use them, some of whom belong to underserved populations, and Mastercard is launching a new card to help cities address this.

Under the auspices of Mastercard’s City Possible program to help cities develop sharable solutions to common problems, the company announced City Key last month at the annual U.S. Conference of Mayors in Honolulu.

Mastercard Executive VP of Enterprise Partnerships Miguel Gamiño told Government Technology that City Key is an open-standard payment card that municipal governments could give to citizens and then program for a wide range of uses, from paying bills to accessing city services, accessing transit or other mobility options, or even non-financial uses like checking out a library book.

“Not everybody has cards. If you don’t have an electronic payment card, it’s probably very difficult, if not impossible, for you to access some modern services. … As things are being developed, this is a way the city can ensure new services or enhancements are made available to everyone in their community,” he said. “We’re attaching a pre-paid card functionality to this, so it does not require application for credit. That makes it accessible to people. We’re thinking about ways, through partnerships, to unlock a pathway to more holistic financial inclusion. In other words, can this be a pathway to better financial wellness that leads someone to getting a credit card?” 

Gamiño said Mastercard will work with cities to tailor City Key to local use cases as desired, but the general idea is to give municipalities a versatile tool for connecting people to services, especially in the event of a disaster. He said the idea came from conversations with city officials that proved financial inclusion, identification and access to services were common challenges in many world cities.

Gamiño said the city of San Jose is pilot testing City Key this year, although terms of the agreement have yet to be decided.

“City Key platform is something that the city could use to distribute social disbursements or subsidy programs, whether that be housing, transit, general mobility, education — all sorts of things that are disbursements of social aid,” he said. “We’re building a platform. That’s why we refer to it that way, because we’re also not building something that’s overly bespoke to the use case that we understand today, because every time we talk to another mayor, another use case emerges.”

Andrew Westrope is managing editor of the Center for Digital Education. Before that, he was a staff writer for Government Technology, and previously was a reporter and editor at community newspapers. He has a bachelor’s degree in physiology from Michigan State University and lives in Northern California.