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  • Thierry Spanjaard

Are biometric cards becoming mainstream?

The payment industry has continuously been looking at increasing security measures for transactions. At the same time, as biometrics are irrupting in every aspect of our lives, the cost of biometric sensors have been shrinking. Thanks to those two evolutions, some smart minds started to add fingerprint sensors into banking cards, in order to provide strong authentication.

Now, after some time, this technology is on its way to becoming mainstream. Adding a fingerprint sensor in the card brings not only additional security compared to a PIN, but also greater convenience.

Already, in the UK, NatWest and Royal Bank of Scotland (RBS) are launching a pilot with Gemalto, Mastercard and Visa, that consists in adding fingerprint sensors into banking cards. Cardholders’ fingerprints are only stored inside the card. Gemalto is integrating T-Shape

sensors developed by Fingerprint Cards that do not require to add a battery inside the card. The customers participating in the trial won't need a PIN to authenticate transactions worth more than GBP 30 (EUR 34.90), the current limit for contactless payments. For this trial, RBS and NatWest will collect the fingerprints of their clients and store them in their card. However, the first trial will only involve around 200 cardholders. A similar pilot involving card users living in Turin, Milan and Rome, in Italy, happened end of 2018 with bank Intesa Sanpaolo and Mastercard.

Fingerprint Cards T-shape sensors are also part of Idemia’s F.Code solution, the company’s product that consists in including a fingerprint sensor in a payment card announced in 2017. Idemia conducted a pilot in partnership with Toppan Printing, for JCB, in Japan, early 2018, in anticipation of new developments triggered by the Tokyo Olympics in 2020.

Zwipe also announced they are integrating Fingerprint Cards T-Shape sensors for their payment solution. Zwipe cards are powered only over RF fields of EMV POS terminals and are compatible with standard contactless & contact chip EMV POS terminals. Zwipe also communicates about its pending patent on post placement, a manufacturing technology allowing to add a fingerprint sensor in a card after lamination.

At the same time, Next Biometrics, from Norway, a developer of fingerprint sensor technology, has signed an agreement with Taiwan-based WizCard on the development of biometric smart card solutions. They consider markets including standard payment, public transportation and other smart cards, and add that their technology also allows to combine fingerprints with a dynamic Card Verification Value (dCVV), which provides better security for online transactions than the traditional static CVV2.

SmartMetric, in the US, is also announcing their biometric cards. SmartMetric card sensors combine high resolution and total fingerprint scan along with live detection. The company considers markets including banking, cyber security and building access along with other special biometric secured cards such as a portable medical files card for frequent travellers.

The growth of cards providing fingerprint authentication will drive the industry to reconsider its enrolment processes. For years the trend was to make enrolment as seamless as possible, while complying with KYC and AML regulations, to spread payment cards onto an always wider market. Now, with cards embedding a fingerprint sensor, an additional step will need to be added to obtain the cardholder’s fingerprint without weakening the security of the whole system nor making the enrolment more cumbersome for cardholders. As a part of the security consists in having the fingerprint stored in the card only, but not in the bank’s servers, a strong customer authentication will be need before the fingerprint is enrolled.

Finally, these cards, as they are more complex than regular banking cards will bear a higher cost. Banks have become masterminds in micro-segmentation providing different classes of customers with different banking cards. Biometric cards will only be successful when financial institutions find a means to recoup their costs from cardholders.

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