Mastercard and fintech Square partnered with the Falkland Islands to dramatically expand access to card payments to the South American territory, which has limited financial infrastructure and relies heavily on cash.
The companies will connect small-business owners in the Falkland Islands with bank accounts and Square devices to allow them to take debit and credit cards using Mastercard technology, the payment network said on Tuesday. The islands are home to only one bank and one ATM to serve the 3,400 residents and the roughly 2,000 tourists who visit each year, contributing to their “cash-heavy society,” as described by Tim Waggott, the financial secretary of the Falkland Islands.
“With increasing visitor numbers, we knew we needed to help our local businesses to make the shift to card payments,” Waggot said. “This is a huge step forward which will ensure that our industry is well-positioned to meet future demand and that Falkland Islands businesses are more financially empowered to expand.”
The Falkland Islands have been slow to adopt new technologies, said the San Francisco-based Square, which noted that they didn’t receive mobile phones until 2005. Banking and compliance issues have also kept the territory from more widely embracing digital payments, according to Mastercard, which is based in Purchase, New York.
“Running a business is always hard and these business owners have the added challenge of being in one of the most remote places on earth,” said Square CEO Jack Dorsey, who is also the CEO of Twitter. “Connecting the Falklands is a big step in creating a more inclusive global economy.”
Hattie and Kevin Kilmartin, owners of the tour company Bluff Cove, adopted Square in 2018 and were the first on the islands to use card-payment technology. They currently take in 80% of their annual revenue through Square, which allows visitors to “spend significantly more with us,” Kevin Kilmartin said.
Located near the tip of South America and off the western coast of Argentina, the Falkland Islands are a self-governing territory of the U.K., which manages their defense and foreign affairs. Notably, they are home to several species of penguins, which outnumber the human residents 100 to one, according to Mastercard.
The Falkland Islands’ access to payment technologies comes as the COVID-19 pandemic poses a large threat to its tourism industry. Mark Pollard, a member of the Falkland Islands Legislative Assembly, said in August, “Unless something dramatically changes soon, which is not likely, it is highly likely that the next tourist season in the Falkland Islands will not be able to rely on international visitors.”
The islands experienced 13 cases of the coronavirus, and all of them recovered by the end of April.