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  • Thierry Spanjaard

Pay with your finger?

Not so often do we see a new technology go fast from the status of novelty to field tests and then to generalization. A year ago, the idea of introducing a fingerprint sensor in a smart card was only seen as a technology feat, or an invention looking for its problem.

Now, major payment card issuers are already launching pilots as demonstrated in the UK by NatWest and RBS experiment with 200 cardholders, who received a debit card integrating a fingerprint sensor. With this card, they can use their fingerprint instead of their PIN to authenticate contactless transactions over GBP 30 (EUR 34.90). The cards are based on Gemalto biometric payment technology. Previous trials had occurred in Cyprus, Lebanon and Italy. According to the company, fingerprints will be quicker to use than the traditional chip and PIN method. Enrolment can be done at a customer’s own home and is secured by the PIN, and fingerprints are stored only in the cards with no transfer to any central database.

In Mexico’s Sonora State, Mastercard and Edenred are issuing a card with an embedded fingerprint sensor focused on state benefits programs. Thanks to the fingerprint sensor, users see their typical purchase transaction simplified and the Mexican state social welfare agency in Sonora gets the assurance cards are used only by the legitimate recipient of social benefits.

In Asia, card issuers and payment networks Hengbao, Chutian Dragon and China Union Pay, are working alongside sensor manufacturers to develop biometric fingerprint authenticated payments. According to Idex Biometrics, Asian regions, including India and Singapore, also have a national digital identity database in place and this has helped consumers become familiar with the concept of using digital technology as a means of proving identity.

MeReal Biometrics, a biometric card maker based in Hong Kong, has launched its Keyper smart fingerprint card that comes will all features: fingerprint sensor, FIDO certification and a tamper-resistant chip. MeReal’s Keyper can communicate via standard contactless and contact-based methods. It also has a sound verification option, which plays an encrypted tune that can serve as a one-time password if played for a smartphone or PC app that is able to decode the audio file.

Card vendors are getting ready to manufacture cards with fingerprint sensors. Besides the traditional Gemalto, Idemia or G+D, smaller players are investing in this technology. For instance , Zwipe is partnering with Inkript, a Lebanon-based digital security provider, to launch biometric payment cards. Nitecrest, a payment card manufacturer in the UK, says it is ready to embed fingerprint sensors in its cards.

However, we all know a new technology only becomes mainstream when it reaches at least similar objectives as the legacy technology in terms of reliability and manufacturing cost. Decisions are not made yet about the appropriate size of the sensor, as, according to Fred Benkley, Chief Innovation Officer at IDEX Biometrics, a larger sensor means the card is able to capture a much greater surface area and therefore a larger proportion of biometric data from a person’s fingerprint, improving accuracy. Smaller sensors make recognizing fingerprint templates more difficult. Fingerprint technology will need to be tested and adjusted in terms of biometrics false accept rate (FAR) and false reject rate (FRR) in order to bring security, reliability and convenience to the cardholder. At a time when everyone strives for seamless payments, making the user experience worse than with a PIN-based authentication may undermine the technology acceptance.

Manufacturing processes will also have to be improved to make the additional cost of including more elements in a card acceptable to issuers.

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