Editors' pick: Originally published Oct. 26.
MasterCard (MA) - Get Report is taking payments, the last -- and sometimes, the most painful -- part of shopping into the future, replacing card swipes with robots, artificial intelligence and the ubiquitous selfie.
The steps, including this week's introduction of a chatbot for banks called "MasterCard KAI" that uses artificial intelligence to respond to customer queries via texts or through apps like Facebook Messenger, are vital parts of CEO Ajay Banga's strategy of leveraging technological development to expand the $113 billion company beyond traditional card-based transactions.
To create the chatbot, MasterCard partnered with startup Kasisto, developing a "conversational artificial intelligence platform" that banks and merchants can use to let customers make transactions, monitor their spending habits, check account balances and ask questions, the company said at the Money 20/20 conference in Las Vegas. It will be released in the U.S. early next year.
"This bot enables entirely new experiences, bringing Mastercard benefits and offers to consumers with human-like conversations that are personal and contextual," Zor Gorelov, Kasisto CEO and co-founder, said in a statement. "We're powering conversational commerce, anytime, anywhere -- just as consumers have come to expect."
With Facebook (FB) - Get Report alone, MasterCard can tap into a market of more than 1 billion people who use the social media giant's Messenger chat service each month. Facebook already has more than 10,000 bots, "whicharebasicallymakingitsothatdifferentbusinessescanbuildautomatedwaysto communicatewithpeople," CEO Mark Zuckerberg said on a July earnings call.
Along with those bots, Purchase, New York-based MasterCard will integrate its MasterPass digital wallet with Samsung Pay, Microsoft (MSFT) - Get Report Wallet, and Google's (GOOGL) - Get Report Android Pay, the company said.
And that's not all.
"There's a kind of theme, which we keep coming across, which is payments will start to disappear into the background and become a service," James Anderson, MasterCard digital payments executive vice president, said in a phone interview. "That's very much been true of this whole idea of every device being a commerce device."
MasterCard also announced at the Las Vegas conference that it will partner with Fit Pay, a San Francisco-based company, to work with manufacturers on wearable products, similar to the Apple Watch, that consumers can use to pay for everyday purchases.
While digital payments are still a small percentage of MasterCard's business now, "the fact is, that's where things are going, and we're determined to be at the cutting edge of this," Banga, the CEO, said at a September investor meeting. "You've got to deliver the safe, simple and smart transactions; you can't do that without embracing technology as the core of your business."
Many of the company's futuristic products are developed at its New York City technology hub, a facility in Manhattan's Chelsea neighborhood. One of the newer items there is Pepper, a humanoid robot that can take customers' food orders, give nutritional data and discount information, then use MasterPass to approve the transaction.
For consumers who want a home-cooked meal but prefer to avoid the grocery story, a 'Groceries by MasterCard' app links with a high-tech Samsung refrigerator to select and buy food from partner chains including FreshDirect, MyWebGrocer, and ShopRite.
Finally, using biometric authentication technology, MasterCard created a selfie pay app called "Identity Check Mobile." Launched in 12 European countries, the service lets customers verify their identity with a real-time image of themselves that includes a specified movement to prove the image hasn't been misappropriated.
BMO Financial Group will be the first bank to use the app in Canada and the U.S.
"Making the online payment experience near frictionless and more secure is a priority for Mastercard," Ajay Bhalla, MasterCard president of enterprise risk & security, said in a statement. "Moving this technology beyond the pilot phase is a significant milestone in the evolution of payments."