Know your enemy: Using data to tackle COVID-19

By on 17/08/2020 | Updated on 21/09/2022

Facing battered public finances and increasing citizen expectations, governments are being required to deliver more with less as the global economic recovery from COVID-19 takes shape. Public-private sector partnerships, leveraging digital innovation and data insights, have a vital role to play.

As countries and communities continue to respond to the COVID-19 crisis many are looking to build more inclusive, resilient and sustainable economies, with the World Bank now estimating that the pandemic will push 71 million into extreme poverty.

Looking into this headwind, strong data capabilities are key to navigating the significant shifts in consumer behavior and the current market volatility being experienced. Up-to-date insight could not be more critical in a moment like this, with the past no longer a reliable guide to future performance, capabilities must be expanded to avoid blind spots. Novel datasets and analytical tools are providing rich insights for governments and businesses. This is enabling the enhancement of operational efficiency, but also critically urgent responses to threats and unpredictable trends by tracking and analyzing information in real time.

So Mastercard is partnering with the public sector and across industries, utilizing timely and highly relevant insights derived from transaction data to work through this crisis and get back on the road to an inclusive recovery. We are bringing global scale, and with unrivalled insight into spending patterns, we can detect changes in consumer behavior that enable our partners to draw learnings and make data-driven policy decisions. Over recent months, our diverse services have provided aggregated and anonymous insights around a range of key sectors and segments to support immediate responses and aid longer-term recovery planning.

Putting data to work

Early on, we worked with governments across the Americas, Europe and Asia to create the ‘Card Journey Heat Map’, showing consumer spending trends across countries, offering analysis down to the postal code level. This helped governments understand overall spending patterns and also identify changes since the pandemic began.

Countries seeking to monitor and ultimately rebound from the crisis have made use of Mastercard’s Recovery Insights—a set of sophisticated tools available to governments and businesses that offer insight into the twists and turns of an economy in crisis. Dozens of cities, states, and national governments are using it: for example, New York City used it to track wild fluctuations in retail spending when the city shut down. For instance, Mastercard Geographic Insights is helping city authorities to diagnose current geographic performance, evaluating areas of the community most impacted by individual industry sectors all the way down to local retail areas, and from there to develop a network strategy response to prioritize geographic areas and industries that are most impacted. It is also helping to identify recovery opportunities and actions by measuring the efficacy of specific policies that have been deployed, to further inform and optimize response and recovery programs.

As another example, insights into consumer spending trends will help the Czech Government rebuild the nation’s tourism industry. Tourism there has seen as much as an 80 percent reduction in consumer spending since international borders closed, with at least 80,000 jobs in tourism at risk. Before the crisis struck, a report developed with Mastercard had shown that tourists almost exclusively spent money in city centers – this allowed the government to fine-tune its marketing to steer visitors towards the countryside, driving money to the national economy’s often overlooked participants. As Czech citizens get back to work and visitors return, it can do so again, as the first country to leverage our Tourism Insights platform in a direct response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Small retail businesses have also been hugely impacted by COVID-19, so we launched in the US and Canada, the UK, Italy and Brazil. This is a mobile friendly tool which provides people with a continually updated place to determine which local shops and businesses are open – including businesses that are reopening their doors after temporarily closing in response to the pandemic. It records a shop or business as open if it has taken a Mastercard payment in the previous seven days, with daily updates.

We are also seeing some interesting trends from a consumer spending perspective, with accelerated adoption and behavioral shifts across a number of areas that will have long-term implications as governments plan around commerce and small business developments. Globally, almost seven in ten consumers say the shift to digital payments will likely be permanent, and nearly half of consumers plan to use cash less even after the pandemic subsides, according to a Mastercard weekly survey launched at the end of April. In Europe, which already had the largest adoption of contactless payments of any region, 64 percent say tap and pay is now their preferred way to pay in-store. And Mastercard SpendingPulse, which measures retail sales across all payment types including cash and check, shows that United States e-commerce spending grew by 93 percent year-over-year in the month of May.

Maintaining trust in data

It is essential that all data-driven activity to support these efforts by governments and the private sector leaves citizens in control of their personal data and confident in their privacy and security. Otherwise it could have severe long-term implications around the ability to leverage data in an effective way.

Businesses need to build accountability and integrity into their data practices, making a commitment to accuracy, quality and innovation and actively working to minimize bias, alongside transparency in how consumer data is being used. That’s why Mastercard launched the Data Responsibility Imperative last year to encourage organizations to work together to safeguard consumer data privacy. This builds on our core set of principles guiding the ethical collection, management and use of data: the consumer owns it, controls it and should benefit from it, while the organization that collects it must protect it.


Throughout this crisis, data-driven insights and analytics have been helping governments identify key trends and learn from them to support decision-making and forecasting capabilities. And so Mastercard will continue to build trusted partnerships with governments to use data to help communities, business and consumers thrive in a fast-changing world.

About the author

Fabrizio Burlando is Executive Vice President for Mastercard Data & Services, based in London. Fabrizio leads Mastercard’s professional services globally, complementing core products for Financial Institutions, Retailers and Governments. His team, with on-the-ground presence in +60 countries, empowers Mastercard partners globally, to make decisions based on data-rich insights. For further information, please visit:

About Knowledge Partner Mastercard

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *