US nominates former Mastercard chief as World Bank president

Joe Biden has nominated former Mastercard chief executive Ajay Banga as World Bank president, picking a Wall Street veteran raised in India to oversee the institution’s biggest mission change in a generation.

Banga’s nomination, a week after sitting president David Malpass abruptly resigned, comes as the US and other shareholder nations seek to expand the bank’s development remit to include the fight against global warming.

Biden said Banga had a grasp of the challenges facing developing countries and “critical experience” in mobilising private money to “tackle the most urgent challenges of our time, including climate change”. 

While the US, the bank’s largest shareholder, has traditionally chosen the World Bank president, it requires backing by other member countries. China, Japan, Germany, France and the UK are also major shareholders.

The nomination of the 63-year-old, who once described himself as a “totally made in India guy”, may help win the support of developing nations, some of which are uneasy about a shift in the bank’s focus from poverty to climate change.

But Banga’s emergence as the favourite for the World Bank post comes only hours after the institution’s board said on Wednesday that it “would strongly encourage” female candidates.

G20 finance ministers are expected to discuss the bank’s future at a meeting in Bengaluru on Friday and nominations will close by March 29 ahead of a May start date for the new president.

Banga, currently vice-chair of General Atlantic, a US private equity group, was the chief executive of payments company Mastercard until the end of 2020.

He also serves as chair of the investment holding company Exor, which owns a controlling stake in Juventus football club, and as an independent director at Temasek, Singapore’s state-owned investment fund.

His nomination comes after the bank’s biggest shareholders increasingly agitated for it to incorporate climate into development work and criticised Malpass, who was appointed by the Trump administration, for failing to embrace the agenda.

The pressure on the outgoing president increased after he refused to say whether he believed in human-caused climate change at a conference in September, despite repeated questioning. He later said he had been misunderstood.

US Treasury secretary Janet Yellen this month urged the bank’s leadership to “quickly” put in place reforms to free up more money to address climate change.

A senior US official said Washington was “proud” to put forward a candidate who was born, raised and “spent an early part of his career in an emerging market in India”.

“That is absolutely part of who he is as a professional, as well, and what he will bring to the World Bank,” said the official. Banga is now a naturalised US citizen.

Banga oversaw close to a decade of strong revenue growth at Mastercard and was seen as an advocate of global financial inclusion. He was also among dozens of chief executives who called on governments in an open letter to do more to cut emissions ahead of the COP26 climate summit.

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