Technology is advancing at such a pace that it sometimes feels as if, as soon as you have become familiar with a product, something better is already replacing it.
The contactless debit card may be the next everyday item to be trumped by something more high-tech, as a new type of payment card is being developed which uses your fingerprint to make transactions more secure.
‘Biometric’ payment cards are currently being trialled across the world. They work like a normal contactless card, but they will not release funds without the owner’s fingerprint being placed on a sensor.
The next big thing? Biometric cards work in the same way as the contactless cards we already use, but with the added security that comes with a fingerprint
One of the leading biometric technology developers, Fingerprint Cards AB, claims biometric cards will trump contactless both in terms of security and convenience.
Michel Roig, senior vice president says: ‘When we talk to our customers, the number one reason why they would want a biometric card is to feel safe.
‘The security from having this type of card that comes first and then the second is the convenience – making the user experience easy and frictionless.’
More than 23 pilots of biometric cards have been announced across the world to date, including via NatWest and RBS in the UK.
Michel Roig of Fingerprint Cards AB expects fingerprint payment to become more mainstream next year
‘We see 2022 to be the year where it becomes more mainstream,’ says Roig. ‘We’ve done a lot of pilots, and I think we’ll see more launches happening.
‘I expect we’ll see something happening in the UK next year.’
Biometric technology works with retailers’ existing card machines, which should make it easier to implement than the original contactless cards were.
‘Contactless took eight years to get to a billion cards and it required infrastructure to be upgraded to make that happen,’ Riog continues.
‘The good thing with biometric cards is there is no infrastructure change needed, so we are definitely expecting it to take less than eight years to achieve a similar feat.
‘Our company vision is that by 2026 and beyond, at least half of the cards in Europe, for example, should be biometric enabled.’
That will rely on card providers and banks deciding to use the technology, however.
How do biometric cards work?
A biometric payment card includes a thin and very powerful fingerprint sensor embedded in the card.
Upon receiving a card, the user first needs to enroll their fingerprint using a smartphone. Once the card has power, they will be prompted to touch the sensor several times to install the fingerprint.
When it comes to using the card, it should work like a normal contactless transaction.
When making a purchase, users place their card on a card reader and their fingerprint on the sensor, and in less than one second, the biometric data is captured, and the payment authenticated.
Fingerprint payments are as quick as regular contactless transactions, according to Roger Carrico, head of payment business at Fingerprint Cards AB
The fingerprint sensor draws its power from the payment terminal, just as contactless cards do now, so no additional battery is needed.
And as biometric cards work with any payment amount, shoppers will no longer need to be worried about contactless limits: your fingerprint essentially acts as your new pin number.
However, users will still have a pin which they can use if required, or when withdrawing cash from an ATM.
Roger Carrico, head of payment business at Fingerprint Cards AB, says he has been using the card for nine months and claims he has never had a problem.
‘I’ve almost forgotten my pin code,’ he admits, ‘the card has always worked and there is no delay – you just tap and go.
‘You can have dirty hands from gardening, or wet hands from swimming – I can assure you it makes no difference when you come to pay.
‘I also have a greater sense of security because I don’t need to worry that if I lose my card someone else will be able to use it because they can’t do anything without my finger.’
Is it safe to store my fingerprint on a debit card?
As with any personal information, the idea of registering your fingerprint to a payment service might be off-putting for some.
Responding to these concerns, Fingerprint Cards AB says that a picture of a user’s fingerprint will not be stored on the card, or stored anywhere else for that matter.
Instead, they say it is captured and converted into a binary code – put simply, encrypted 0s and 1s.
Registering your fingerprint to a debit card might seem intimidating for some, but the companies making the cards insist that personal data is secure
Roig says: ‘Storing a mathematical representation rather than an image makes hacking considerably more challenging.
‘The templates are irreversible so the data cannot be reverse engineered to re-create the original fingerprint image should hackers get hold of the data.
‘Using this approach means there is no need for a pin number, and as fingerprint authentication is considered to be even more secure than a pin, you can make a contactless payment for any amount, so limits don’t apply.
‘There is also no cloud storage, so people can rest assured that their data is safe.’
Roig agrees that more needs to be done to convince people the card is safe, particularly in the UK, where their research suggested more than half of Britons remain concerned about the overall security of contactless cards.
‘One of the challenges is educating consumers about the technology, whilst busting myths and misconceptions about biometrics and improving overall trust,’ he says.
But he believes these barriers can be overcome. He points out that many customers already entrust their fingerprints to their mobile phone manufacturers, when they enable their handsets to be unlocked using their finger.
‘The goal is to bring that level of trust to payment cards,’ Roig adds.
It could stop you losing money to card thiefs
Contactless cards enable UK shoppers to spend £45 without entering their pin and from October 15 this will rise to £100.
The Government, banks and retailers say it will boost the economy whilst critics and money experts fear it could lead to a rise in fraud and overspending.
As for shoppers, there are those who will welcome the convenience of rarely having to enter their pin number, whilst others will be more concerned about the potential security implications were a pick pocket to take advantage.
Storing a mathematical representation rather than an image makes hacking considerably more challenging.
Fingerprint Cards believes it offers a solution that could satisfy both camps.
‘Contactless cards could become a lucrative target for criminals, and consumers risk losing hundreds in an instant,’ says Roig.
‘With a biometric payment card, only the authorised card holder can tap and pay, meaning worries about contactless fraud are practically eliminated.’
Will it catch on?
Judging by the number of people who regularly use their phone or smart watch to make payments, there is danger that cards may go the same way as cash.
The number of people who registered for mobile payments increased by three quarters in the last year to over 17 million people, according to UK Finance.
This growth in mobile payment registrations saw over a quarter of all adults using mobile payments in 2020.
But the team at Fingerprint Cards are confident that the biometric card will still prevail.
Its research suggests people still largely have a ‘card-first’ approach to in-store payments with only 2 per cent taking a ‘mobile-first’ approach to paying.
Almost half of UK current account customers would switch banks to get hold of a biometric card, and 43 per cent would be happy to pay for one, according to its research.
Ultimately, the decision to roll out the technology sits with card issuers like the banks.
The latest sensors cost just over £2 per card, and the price will continue to come down as the market grows, according to Fingerprint Cards.
‘Banks are considering these cards as part of their overall card payment and biometric strategies,’ says Roig.
‘The cards’ ability to limit contactless fraud will also add value financially and in protecting their brand.
‘There’s a clear incentive for banks thanks to the ‘cool’ factor and the confidence of added security to help retain and attract new customers.’
Whether his confidence in the public’s appetite for fingerprint spending is justified, remains to be seen.
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