One in seven billion: Using biometrics to re-connect with our payment cards

By David Orme, senior vice president of IDEX Biometrics

The power of personal

Sadly, our relationship with money and purchases is not as personal as it used to be.

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Gone are the days when people would visit their local banks, queue up at the kiosk and request to withdraw cash from their account via the bank clerk.

Modern technology has positively shaped personal finance in many ways by providing convenience and security through areas such as online banking and payment cards. As a result however, our personal relationships with our money is quickly deteriorating.

After all, we live in a world of personalised experiences. Amazon offers us individual recommendations, Spotify suggests great new songs based on our listening, and Netflix knows what we’ll love to watch. We now expect everything to be unique and tailored to us and our personal preferences. It puts us in control and validates that we are each individuals with our own specific likes and needs; that in a world of 7.6 billion people, we have a voice.

This taps into an innate love of the personal… Something that reflects who we are: from a monogrammed shirt, a personalised number plate, a tailored itinerary for your holiday to simply how you like your coffee.

Yet there are some things in life that have resisted being personalised: credit and debit cards are one such example. They’re all the same. All dull and functional. Generally, the only way to personalise cards currently is to use a PIN with significance such as a birthday, as insecure as that may be.

But as the protagonist from the 60s TV show, The Prisoner, famously shouted “I’m not a number!” None of us are numbers. We are all unique. And what is more unique than our fingerprints?

Biometric intervention

Our society has become increasingly security conscious, in a landscape characterised by the rising skill levels of cyber criminals. With biometric technology already implemented as a security measure in airports, and even on the latest smartphone devices, the idea of fingerprint recognition should not be a foreign concept. Instead, due to it already being a consumer habit, biometric payment cards will be easily adoptable, thus paving the way for a smooth transition.

Traditional methods of authentication such as the Personal Identification Number (PIN) are becoming more and more outdated. Failing to combat fraud, the PIN has seen millions lost to scams ranging from shoulder surfing to lost and stolen, even to opportunist criminals discovering PIN codes written down.

By introducing a biometric payment card, consumers will be far more protected from fraud, which will eventually bring an end to the PIN. By storing a fingerprint sensor directly onto the payment card, as opposed to a central database, there is nobody else in the world that will be able to connect with the card to issue a transaction other than the owners themselves. Thus, creating a far more accurate method of authentication and the ultimate personal relationship between consumers and their cards. With everything else now seemingly moving towards a digital platform, this is the last piece of physical interaction in payments and therefore a much-needed opportunity to build a personal connection and better security to combat fraud head-on.

Specifically, the reference fingerprint can easily be uploaded to the card by the user, at home, and once that is done they can use the card via existing secure payment infrastructures — including both chip and ID and contactless card readers — in the usual way.

Once it is registered and in use, the resolution of the sensor and the quality of image handling is so great that it can recognise prints from wet or dry fingers and knows the difference between the fingerprint and image ‘noise’ (smears, smudging etc.), that is often found alongside fingerprints. The result is a very flexible, durable sensor that provides fast and accurate authentication.

Fingerprint recognition will provide a clearer means to distinguish an individual from everyone else on the planet. This technology will not only assist the financial sector, instead, its benefits will transcend into a range of areas, from bolstering national identification which will help address healthcare and social fraud, assisting financial inclusion and maintaining access to controlled spaces such as government buildings.

How soon is now?

Fortunately, the long-held ambition to add biometrics to cashless transactions has now been achieved. The production and trials of an extremely thin, flexible and durable fingerprint sensor, suitable for use with payment cards, is underway in countries such as Bulgaria, the US, Mexico, Cyprus, Japan, the Middle East and South Africa.

However, we anticipate that each banking customer may deploy as many as 100,000 biometric cards to their account holders by the end of 2018 and that biometric bank card adoption will go into many millions from 2019. Paving the way for payments to become personal once again.

Personal relationships are a key part of life, they offer us a sense of importance and happiness. The time is now for this to extend to our payment cards. Biometric payment cards will create a unique connection, with transactions exclusive to the owner, shunning anyone else on the planet trying to access the sensor. Not only is this integral to creating a personal relationship between the card user and their bank, but the security benefits are therefore more profound as the challenge of forging fingerprints is a far more complex one for criminals

Though biometric technology is already in-place across our society, its potential within payments has yet to be truly discovered. Before this can be achieved, banks need to gain consumer trust and promote the value of biometric technology before its benefits can be realised by us all.

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