How effective is a single-ownership biometric payment card during this pandemic?

In our third post in the series on ‘Contactless payments in the age of coronavirus’, David Orme, SVP of Sales and Marketing at IDEX Biometrics, discusses the effectiveness of a single-ownership biometric payment card during the pandemic.

Given the Covid-19 pandemic, everyone is looking to protect themselves and their families. But what is safe and what isn’t? Despite all the hours of newsreels, government announcements, and blog publications, most of us are little the wiser. Fortunately, there are some obvious precautions we can take and a biometric payment card is one of them.

Why is there so little advice?

For once using the term unprecedented, which means “never done or known before” is true. Everyone, both politicians and scientists, are learning in real-time.

What we do know is that viruses are invisibly small. The difference between one virus and another can be so vast we don’t always know what we are looking for. Following the course of a viral outbreak in real time is almost impossible; we cannot watch it spread directly. Instead, we have to draw inferences about it after the fact. Coronavirus, the family to which Covid-19 belongs, is particularly difficult. It is smaller than most, mutates rapidly, and can spread in different ways, provoking different symptoms in different people.

What this means is, it could take years to know if the steps taken were sensible, pointless, or misguided. Nevertheless, we have learned one important lesson – not to be complacent – and there are ways we can change things for the better.

One such way is to avoid using cash and Point of Sale (PoS) keypads. Tap-and-go contactless payments are ideal, apart from the lack of security and if your card is lost or stolen, anyone can use it. However, new biometric payment cards aim to solve this.

How does a biometric payment card work?

Biometric devices measure biological characteristics in order to verify a person’s identity. Recently it became possible to embed a fingerprint sensor  into a smart card. By tethering the card to its owner’s fingerprint, it can only be used when in contact with its authorized user. When you combine that with an NFC chip, even a contactless “tap-and-go” transaction is provided with ID verification, something lacking in the past.

What this means is that we can now make a purchase, or verify a card and card-holder, without the need for any physical contact, either between the two partners in the exchange, or with intervening equipment such as a keypad or the card itself. According to some studies, coronavirus can survive up to 3 days on a plastic card or PoS terminal so biometric payment cards provide very valuable protection.

Future proof

Sadly, nobody believes Covid-19 will be the last epidemic. We live in an age of international trade and international travel. More viruses will come and we must be ready. Safe payment cards are an important contribution.

While you wait for them, follow the official guidelines by washing your hands often, and clean payment cards and keypads with a high alcohol sanitizer or disinfectant wipe.

The previous post in our series ‘Contactless payments in the age of coronavirus’ looked at health, safety and security checks while dealing with the payment process.