MasterCard concludes payment system rollout

MasterCard International has almost completed a rollout of a payment processing system designed to simplify data transfers...

MasterCard International has almost completed a rollout of a payment processing system designed to simplify data transfers between retailers, banks and the credit card company's back-office transaction-clearing applications.

MasterCard said 97% of its 25,000 card issuers worldwide had started using the IP-based payment system and that 99% of the member banks in the US had also migrated.

The system uses a virtual private network (VPN) to run a secure messaging service that offers a standards-based format for transmitting purchase authorisation, clearance and settlement data between retailers, banks and MasterCard, said Rob Reeg, senior vice-president of systems development at MasterCard.

MasterCard began the project six years ago and has invested about $296m (£191m) to develop the VPN and build the datacentre. "This is the biggest technology change MasterCard has ever done," Reeg said. "It gives us a globally integrated platform."

But the company still has more work to do to tie together its worldwide operations. Reeg said MasterCard had yet to choose sites for regional IT service centres in Asia and South America.

A European service centre is operating in Belgium, but Reeg said MasterCard was only halfway through a five-year plan to converge its systems with those of MasterCard Europe.

MasterCard announced proposals for the payment processing system in April 2001 and began converting banks to it late last year. The move followed Visa's rollout of an IP-based payment processing network for US banks in late 2000.

MasterCard is using technology from existing vendors such as IBM, EMC, Sun, Oracle and Storage Technology, to support the payment system. "We didn't want to add another layer of complexity into this by changing vendors," said Artie Ahrens, senior vice-president of computer and network services at MasterCard.

Outside the datacentre, MasterCard is using 700 IBM Netfinity servers to function as what it calls "member interface processors". The Netfinity systems, which are located in the facilities of different member banks, direct data traffic from merchants to credit card issuers and then to MasterCard.

The secure messaging service is based on the International Organisation for Standardisation's 8583 message set. Purchase authorisation requests can now be processed in less than 150 milliseconds, compared with about 650 milliseconds using MasterCard's older, proprietary approach.

The messaging platform also lets banks process clearing transactions up to six times a day instead of having to run a single batch job.

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