How are banks and card issuers responding towards global adoption of biometric payment cards?

Welcome to the fifth and final post in our series on ‘Are we at the tipping point for global biometric payment card adoption?’ where IDEX Biometrics discusses how banks and card issuers are responding towards global adoption of biometric payment cards.

Banks are discerning customers; they rarely invest in unproven technology, so when they start rolling out debit and credit cards equipped with fingerprint sensors, it will be a landmark seal of approval. However, although several banks are already claiming to be the first to issue them, none have yet adopted them wholesale.

The widespread use of biometrics for identity verification has been a long time coming. In science fiction, voice ID and retina scans have been featured in Star Trek as early as 1966, and in 2001 A Space Odyssey (1968). Iris recognition resurfaced in Blade Runner (1982), face recognition in Robocop (1987), and fingerprint scanners in Back To The Future II (1989).

Real world biometrics took their first shaky steps at the same time. The FBI tried to develop a fingerprint scanner in the late 1960s, gave up in the 1980s, then finally delivered in 1999. A string of patents after Y2K revealed fast progress, but door security and time-keeping devices were still bulky and troublesome.

The watershed came in 2013 when Apple gave the iPhone a fingerprint sensor. That left only a small step into mobile banking. Several banks now allow customers to use fingerprint or voiceprint authentication when logging in from mobile devices. The next step – onto payment cards is the most important. Payment processor TSYS report that only 14% of Americans prefer to use cash, while 80% opt for cards whenever possible.

The many hurdles for biometric payment cards

With losses from card fraud approaching a staggering $10 billion per annum in the US alone, banks have long since needed better security for card transactions. Incorporating fingerprint biometrics into the transaction is an appealing solution but there have been challenges to overcome. As well as miniaturization, there are questions of power consumption, mechanical resilience, production cost, personal privacy and data security. Banks add an additional requirement – customers must be willing to use them.

Technical issues have been overcome and trials of biometric cards are already underway in several countries including Société Générale in France, RBS/NatWest in the UK, the Bank of Cyprus and Cornèr Bank in Switzerland. Both Visa and Mastercard are also involved. Furthermore, a recent survey conducted by Visa found that 86% of Americans are interested in trying biometric cards. Altogether, there are more than 20 pilot issues of fingerprint-enabled cards in progress.

Unexpected boost

For hygiene reasons, Covid-19 has greatly accelerated contactless payments. These are normally capped at a low level because of their inherent insecurity, but with fingerprint ID built into the cards, those transaction limits can be lifted.

As a result, customer acceptance has probably never been higher – something that will not escape the notice of the leading banks and transaction processors.

The previous post in our series on ‘Are we at the tipping point for global biometric payment card adoption?’ looked at breaking down the cost barrier with enhanced low-cost sensor technology and biometric-system-on-chip ASIC.