Biometric technology has become mainstream on smartphones, but is yet to break through onto cards. However, recent research suggests that the majority of UK consumers would use a biometric payment card. Patrick Brusnahan reports
According to digital security firm Gemalto, 54% of UK consumers would use biometric payment cards if their bank offered them.
Conducted by market research business GfK, the survey also found that traditional debit cards could be replaced by the tech. Biometric payment cards would become the preferred method of payment, according to 82% of respondents.
The innovative cards use fingerprint readers to authorise payments, as an alternative to the PIN, similar to authorisation with biometrics-enabled smartphones. Power would not be an issue either: the cards do not rely on batteries, using power drawn from the payment terminal instead.
So why are UK consumers interested in biometric cards now? Speaking to CI, Howard Berg, SVP banking and payment at Gemalto, believes the rise in consumer awareness has been a long time coming.
“Firstly, you have to look at the whole area of biometrics. If you look four years ago, you’d think of fingerprints and you’d think of criminals,” he says. “Of course, biometrics are now good friends with phones, both fingerprint and facial biometrics. I think we’re getting more used to things like electronic airport gates with facial recognition.
“What we’re seeing is biometrics suddenly being seen as acceptable, as opposed to something only seen by policemen; that’s a massive quantum change.”
Security for biometric cards UK
While interest is high, there are some caveats. Most UK consumers – 88% of them – need biometrics solutions to be more secure than the one they currently have. In addition, 79% need them to be provided by a trusted bank, while 69% need the process to be easy and 60% want it to simplify their life.
Why are big banks not offering it already? Clearly there is interest – if perhaps somewhat limited. “I think it will grow,” Berg explains. “We see a massive growth on this in the next few years. It’s a relatively new technology. We had to firstly make sure that it worked and it was secure.”
On the other hand, some consumers held reservations. In particular, 41% were afraid that their fingerprints would not work all the time, while 37% expressed concerns that their details could be compromised.
Berg adds: “One of the things we’ve tried to avoid is a central database. The fingerprint is loaded by the individual to their card. That’s one of the concerns we picked up: can it be used for any other purpose? The technology has to be ready.
“People are getting more aware of the needs of security in all forms of payment,” he continues. “They’re aware how valuable data is – and not because the paper keeps telling you about various data breaches. They’re suddenly thinking: ‘The value for me is if I can keep my data secure, both face to face and online.’
There’s a lot of work online, but in the physical world, we’re relying on a four-digit number – half the time written on the back of a card or somewhere – that has to be remembered. People see this and wonder if it is really the right security for 2018.”
Consumers can ease their fears by with the knowledge that biometrics can be backed up with a PIN; in addition, Berg describes the rate of false-positive authentication as “exceptionally low”.
Fingerprint data is also stored securely on the card. It is never sent to a bank’s server or to a bureau that can be hacked.
Another benefit of fingerprint authentication is inclusion. Stan Swearingen, CEO of Idex Biometrics, says: “Advances in biometric fingerprint authentication mean consumers can be linked directly to their card by their fingerprint alone.
“There is no need for traditional government identification in this case, as individuals will be personally linked to their card, thus providing a solution to the 1.1 billion people worldwide without official identification. This method of authentication will mean that financial institutions can be confident that the person they are extending credit to is the person intended, as ultimately nothing is more secure, or personally identifiable, than a fingerprint.”
Swearingen continues: “Fingerprint authentication will also remove the barriers that face those with literacy challenges, or face difficulty with memory, as card payments will no longer be about what you know, or what you can remember, but who you are. Biometric authentication will be a simple, secure and convenient solution, eradicating the need for passwords and PINs as a form of authentication.”
One question remains: is it too little too late for cards? Many consumers are moving to mobile payments which already provide biometric security.
Berg believes cards still have a future as an instrument of payment. “People used to say that cards would disappear by 2016, but here they are,” he notes. “For us, the card is a form factor that has benefits. At the moment, we are still seeing the huge majority of payments in the UK on card.”
Berg concludes: “If you go forward a few years, you can’t realistically see PIN as being a solution for identity verification for much longer. I think it’s had its day.”