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You’ll Never Guess Who Owns More of MasterCard Than Anyone Else

There is one organization that owns more than 10% of MasterCard (NYSE: MA  ) . Any guess as to who that is?

It's not Warren Buffett. But Berkshire Hathaway (NYSE: BRK-A  ) (NYSE: BRK-B  ) does have a $300 million position in MasterCard. And while some of the biggest names in finance own major shares, it's not a mutual fund, hedge fund, bank or anything of that sort.

I'll give you a hint: It's a name you likely think of immediately when you hear "credit card."

Nope, it isn't Visa.

It turns out, it's MasterCard itself.

The massive owner
So, it isn't exactly the company MasterCard, but in fact The MasterCard Foundation that owns nearly 10.5% of the company, or a staggering 120 million shares. And that would equate to a massive $9 billion position in the company operating at the core of the payments industry.

So, what exactly is The MasterCard Foundation, and how should we feel about it?

Well, it turns out, no matter how you feel about the payments landscape, or what you think of MasterCard as an investment, The MasterCard Foundation's huge ownership of shares should be applauded.

The noble mission
When MasterCard went public in 2006, it issued 135 million shares to The MasterCard Foundation, which equated to roughly 16% of its common stock. Yet this isn't some odd ploy or evidence of corporate misdeeds -- instead, just the opposite.  

The MasterCard Foundation is an independent non-profit organization with a mission that "advances youth learning and promotes financial inclusion to catalyze prosperity in developing countries," and provides a vision to create "opportunity for all to learn and prosper." 

And it doesn't simply have a mission and a vision, but it is acting in remarkable ways to meet those goals. It highlights that its programs currently serve more than 5.6 million people in 46 countries, with a particular concentration in Africa.  

Zambian School Room. Flickr / Steve Jurvetson.

The Foundation provides a Youth Learning Program to scale access to education, including its $500 million Scholars Program that "enables students to complete quality secondary or university education and become catalysts for social and economic transformation across Africa."

It also offers skill development initiatives for those out of school and connects youth to jobs. Considering there are currently more than 600 million individuals under the age of 25 in Africa -- that number will double over the next 30 years -- these efforts will likely be staggeringly beneficial.

But it doesn't just stop there, as it also provides a Financial Inclusion Program to "expand access to microfinance and a broad range of financial services in order to improve the quality of life for people of all ages in Sub-Saharan Africa," with "partnerships [that] are building sustainable financial institutions, improving access to appropriate financial services for young people, and promoting responsible finance."

All of this is to say, it is doing countless things to improve the financial well-being and education of millions.

The important thing to see
It's critical to know The MasterCard Foundation is entirely independent from the broader company, and those who represent it aren't eligible to sit on the MasterCard board of directors. All too often -- and at times, rightfully so -- we view such seemingly honorable causes with skepticism, but all signs point to it being a truly worthwhile and upstanding organization.

And if your focus only comes from a short-term investment perspective -- which is regrettably true of far too many -- then the following point in the latest annual report from MasterCard may alarm you: 

In addition, because the Foundation is restricted from selling its shares for an extended period of time, it may not have the same interest in short or medium-term movements in our stock price as, or incentive to approve a corporate action that may be favorable to, our other stockholders.

And apart from meeting its charitable disbursement requirements, The Foundation cannot sell or transfer a single share until April 2026.

However, The Motley Fool takes the long-term view when considering an investment, so knowing the largest shareholder of MasterCard isn't focused on "short or medium-term movements" because it is restricted from selling stock is indeed a great thing in and of itself.

But beyond that, the reality is that far too often, we -- as individuals and investors -- can be distracted into thinking it's only money that matters.

Yet this purpose of The MasterCard Foundation is commendable, and it displays the reality that bottom-line treasures aren't the only things worth considering.

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  • Report this Comment On June 23, 2014, at 9:55 AM, ChuckXX wrote:

    Then how did they go from 16% to 10.5% if they can't sell any shares until 2016?????

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Patrick Morris

After a few stints in banking and corporate finance, Patrick joined the Motley Fool as a writer covering the financial sector. He's scaled back his everyday writing a bit, but he's always happy to opine on the latest headline news surrounding Berkshire Hathaway, Warren Buffett and all things personal finance.

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