Touch-Free Payments – The Best Option to Reduce Contact Based Interactions During the Pandemic

In our second post on touch-free authentication, Art Stewart, Global Head of Sales & Marketing at IDEX Biometrics, discusses how touch-free payments are the best option to reduce contact-based interactions during the pandemic.

Airborne or contact surface-based transmission, what is the bigger threat?  The truth is at this point in time, nobody really knows.  What we do know is that as difficult and inconvenient as it seems they both play a part in the spread of Covid-19 and our world is likely changed forever.

The retail industry has reacted definitively in changing the way consumers interact at checkout to maintain adequate separation for airborne transmittal.  The other threat, is touching surfaces previously touched by an infectious person. That is why the WHO warned us in March to avoid using cash, ATMs and payment terminal keypads. However, as lockdowns end, keypad use is increasing, and so are infection rates.

How long do surfaces stay infected?

The New England Journal of Medicine estimated that in comfortable temperature conditions, coronavirus can survive on stainless steel and plastic surfaces for up to three days. Stainless steel is the material of choice in medical and catering environments, while plastics are everywhere. Risk items include milk cartons, detergent bottles, public transport armrests, bags and packaging, light switches, keyboards, doorbells, elevator controls and of course payment terminals and cash.

Nothing circulates through more hands than money, and it is never washed. The virus can survive for days on copper coins but appears to be unpredictable on banknotes; in some cases it dies within minutes while on others it can survive for days.

In Europe, there has been a surge in the use of contactless payments since the pandemic and some stores now refuse to accept cash. In the USA, where contactless cards were only introduced in 2019, use rocketed 150% during lockdown ( Mobile payment options are also available, but remain cumbersone due to inconsistent methods and consumers continue to prefer reaching for their credit cards.

Sterilizing surfaces

Retailers of detergents, hand wipes and disinfectants have had a windfall with the virus, but most of these products have limited effectiveness. The recommended formulation is about 70% alcohol, 0.5% hydrogen peroxide and 0.1% sodium hypochlorite, but even if your product meets those specifications it will probably be no more than 60% effective.

Although businesses were warned to keep “sterilizing” payment terminals, few do so – it is simply impractical to clean an electric terminal after every shopper. A new solution is urgently needed.

Touch-free payments

Fortunately, a practical solution could soon be in everyone’s hands – contactless biometric payment cards. These incorporate a fingerprint sensor so that they only work while being held by the authorized owner. That makes it possible to complete touch-free payments without the risk of fraud or infection. They are also fast, inexpensive, almost unbreakable and don’t bounce around in your pocket.

If common touch points are contributor to infection, and money and point-of-sale terminals are the most touched surfaces, it seems obvious that changing our payment habits should be priority number one if we are going to defeat this virus.  The Biometric Payment Card delivers the most important attributes to payment transaction in our post pandemic world – safety, security and ultimate convenience.

The previous post in our series on touch-free authentication looked at how payments are beginning to return to ‘normal’ and how to deal with the transactions process post-Covid.