Mastercard’s Become 2021 highlights innovation agenda of AU-NZ leaders; 68% placing innovation as strategic objective

April 28, 2021 | SYDNEY / AUCKLAND
  • Over half (51%) of AU-NZ organisations are placing innovation as high priority with 47% increasing innovation budgets, compared with 42% globally
  • Seventy-five percent of AU-NZ executives view customer insight as a vehicle for innovation, tracking with their global peers
  • AU-NZ organisations lag global peers in critical areas; 55% measure impact of innovation on business performance, versus 66% of globally

Organisations went from strength to strength amid COVID-19 through a quickened pace of innovation, armed with an awakened awareness of how innovation initiatives play out within their business. In the first AU-NZ edition of the Mastercard and Harvard Business Review Analytic Services Become 2021 report, AU-NZ business leaders from Xero, Afterpay, Optus, Westpac and others, revealed that improving the customer experience is a key motivator for innovation initiatives.

Become 2021, sponsored by Mastercard and powered by the Harvard Business Review Analytic Services Business Innovators Index, provides a roadmap to spark innovation for businesses around the world. Innovation was undoubtedly accelerated during the pandemic, as the research revealed that 75% of executives at AU-NZ organisations view customer insight as a vehicle for innovation.

“As the world continues to emerge from the pandemic’s long shadow, the pace and speed of innovation has brought on new opportunities, but also some challenges. Many organisations have proven they can be fast, agile, and emerge stronger after whatever next awaits, but there are some gaps in what businesses saw as important and what consumers need during and after the pandemic. I believe business and society are now forced to redefine what it means to be innovative. And businesses everywhere should re-evaluate if the new-found velocity and pace of change can be sustained,” said Alex Clemente, Managing Director, Harvard Business Review Analytic Services (HBR-AS).

Privacy and security are paramount to AU-NZ consumers

With an increased focus on customer experience comes the risk of a privacy and data security pandemic. Businesses cannot overestimate the importance of privacy and security to consumers. In fact, 80% of AU-NZ consumers agree it is important that the companies they buy from are using secure technology to make their privacy ironclad. Yet, among AU-NZ organisations, only 35% have or will invest in data privacy and cyber security management to improve CX in the next 12 months.

AU-NZ consumers cite their data being protected and private as the most important element of a perfect customer experience (48%), followed by on-time delivery and products that meet expectations (46%). For consumers, data privacy and cyber security are the innovations they are most excited to see impacting the purchasing experience in the next year and, notably, this is the second most common area (35%) AU-NZ businesses are investing in, after mobile apps (44%).

“This report outlines innovation opportunities for businesses of all sizes, large incumbents and new digital players. Mastercard has invested locally in capabilities that increase the efficiency of connecting buyers and sellers, including tokenisation, AI, biometrics, loyalty, data analytics and fraud solutions. Mastercard’s partnerships continually improve the speed and ease of doing business by offering one conduit for all technology and services for consumers, businesses and government,” said Kallan Hogan, Vice President, Fintech Account Management, Australasia, Mastercard.

Innovation is a deliberate act

According to the global survey, leaders explicitly include innovation among their strategic objectives. This tack is taken by 68% of AU-NZ organisations. Innovation leaders also devote resources, structure, and capital toward discovery. Over half (51%) of AU-NZ organisations are placing innovation as a high priority with 47% increasing innovation budgets.

Those organisations that stand out as the most innovative in AU-NZ, as revealed by the survey, have the following five key traits:

  1. Digital agility: keeping up with accelerated digital adoption and real-time customer needs, especially touchless experiences
  2. Surround-sound analytics: making data-driven decisions the lifeblood of the organisation
  3. Ironclad data security: protecting customers and their data
  4. Strategic investing: taking intentional risks and accepting failure as part of the process
  5. Customer proximity: keeping customers close as a guiding force for innovation

AU-NZ organisations lag behind global counterparts in critical areas

Comparing AU-NZ results to findings from the global Become 2021 report, local organisations lag in a few critical areas; such as measuring the impact of innovation on business performance (55% of AU-NZ organisations, versus 66% of global), and acquiring at least one business for its innovation capabilities in the last three years (41% AU-NZ, 55% global). This gap can be closed by building metrics into their innovation initiatives to ensure accountability, and prioritising acquisitions and partnerships with businesses known for their innovation capabilities.

The report also highlighted another important strategy for embracing innovation that tends to be under-used by AU-NZ organisations. Providing financial or other rewards for recognition of employees’ innovative work; the use of rewards is both “under-used” compared with global organisations (37% AU-NZ vs 47% global), and at 37%, is generally low. Despite the lag with global peers, COVID-19 did little to dampen enthusiasm for innovation for local AU-NZ organisations.

AU-NZ leaders were benchmarked against some of the world’s leading CEOs, including Arvind Krishna, CEO and Chairman of IBM; Ed Bastian, CEO of Delta Air Lines; and Dr Ruth Browne, CEO and President of Ronald McDonald House.

“Mastercard invested heavily in innovation prior to and throughout the pandemic in three key areas; people, digital capabilities and partnerships. Mastercard has ensured it has talented and committed employees who practice design thinking—putting customers and clients at the centre of strategy. This is the first time we have expanded research with the Harvard Business Review to provide clear leadership insight into Australia and New Zealand. Ultimately, Mastercard partners with Harvard Business Review to ensure it is always at the forefront of innovation trends globally for customers and consumers,” concluded Kallan Hogan.

To download the full Become 2021 reports: Faster Innovation and a Focus on Customer Experience Helping Australia and New Zealand Battle Through Adversity, please visit or Take the Become challenge to see how your organisation stacks up against your peers’.

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Notes to Editors:


Harvard Business Review Analytic Services Business Innovators Index study was conducted during September and October of 2020. A total of 264 respondents, drawn from the HBR AU-NZ audience of readers (magazine/newsletter readers, customers, users), completed the business survey. A separate survey was conducted among consumers aged 18+. A total of 1,002 respondents, drawn from an AU-NZ consumer research panel, completed the consumer survey. Both studies garnered responses from all major regions of the world.

What the CEOs say

Nick Molnar, Co-Founder and Co-CEO, Afterpay said:

  • “We had massive headwinds in front of us. Covid-19 has given us the tailwinds to accelerate investment in our business and double-down on our strategy, including global expansion and expansion into new verticals markets.”

Kelly Bayer Rosmarin, CEO, Optus said:

  • “The pandemic gave us license to eliminate constraints and accelerate change. The necessity-born willingness to do things differently helped us embed improvements without the usual overplanning. People’s acceptance of disruption helped ensure our success and embrace change quickly.”
  • “Data is modern listening. We measure, report, and share our performance on these goals regularly so everyone understands where we are performing well and where we need to improve. One of those measures is revenue from new initiatives—a clear message that innovation is welcome.”
  • “A people-first approach will always be judged favourably with hindsight, and down-on-their-luck customers will remember—and tell others—how they were treated when they are back on their feet again.”

Steve Vamos, CEO, Xero said:

  • “Innovation is not just about having great ideas. I love the saying 'Ideas are a commodity. Good execution isn't'. You have to be really clear about what you're trying to accomplish and create the environment where ideas that align with your purpose and priorities can come from anywhere, at any time and be acted on to change things for the better.”
  • “Aspirations to be customer-centric and to serve the customer better require a holistic organizational capability to embrace change and make it happen. The faster you can iterate in a changing world, the faster you get where you want to go."

Dianne Challenor, General Manager, Global Transaction Services, Westpac said:

  • “The pandemic forced us to be more deliberate about product choices and a forward-looking product roadmap in terms of what we really needed to have to service that customer.”
  • “I think we're ready now for our Internet banking to evolve to a more consumer-based experience, using more chat, AI, and machine learning. For us, it's now full steam ahead in terms of creating a true digital experience.”

Shane Fitzsimmons, AFSM, Head of Resilience NSW said:

  • “We’ve had to really focus on innovating in a very dynamic way. How do we improve our tools and techniques to provide timely, relevant, important information to people needing assistance and support?”

Phillipa Harrison, Managing Director, Tourism Australia said:

  • “Across mobile, digital, and virtual technology, consumers will inevitably want more control of their own data and experiences, and for their data, they will be looking for a more tailored experience. We see identity and data management technologies as key for the tourism industry. Brands that offer strong data management processes and transparency will build customer trust and drive loyalty. We see this as key to building for the future digital user.”
  • “To deliver a really great customer experience, you need to allow and encourage time for innovation and experimentation from a customer-centric point of view. Use the data to find opportunities for improvement, build fast proof of concepts, test and iterate fast.”

Ben Kehoe, Chair, The CEO Institute said:

  • “I get to meet with 17 to 20 CEOs every month, and they're seeing Covid as a great opportunity to redouble their efforts and create more seamless relationships with customers.”

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Harvard Business Review Analytic Services is an independent commercial research unit within Harvard Business Review Group, conducting research and comparative analysis on important management challenges and emerging business opportunities. Seeking to provide business intelligence and peer-group insight, each report is published based on the findings of original quantitative and/or qualitative research and analysis. Quantitative surveys are conducted with the HBR Advisory Council, HBR’s global research panel, and qualitative research is conducted with senior business executives and subject matter experts from within and beyond the Harvard Business Review author community. Email us at

About Mastercard (NYSE: MA),
Mastercard is a global technology company in the payments industry. Our mission is to connect and power an inclusive, digital economy that benefits everyone, everywhere by making transactions safe, simple, smart and accessible. Using secure data and networks, partnerships and passion, our innovations and solutions help individuals, financial institutions, governments and businesses realize their greatest potential. Our decency quotient, or DQ, drives our culture and everything we do inside and outside of our company. With connections across more than 210 countries and territories, we are building a sustainable world that unlocks priceless possibilities for all.

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