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  • Thierry Spanjaard

Biometric cards: mainstream or not?

BNP Paribas, a major French financial institution, has just announced its plans to distribute biometric payment cards that include a fingerprint sensor, to its Premier and Gold customers. The first batch of between 10,000 and 15,000 Visa Premier, which use technology from Thales, Mastercard and Fingerprint Cards, will be distributed to cardholders in the last quarter of 2020.

These cards include a fingerprint sensor that will be used at transaction time as a Strong Customer Authentication (SCA) method, thus allowing cardholders to complete a contactless transaction higher than the floor limit (currently EUR 50 in France) with a fingerprint authentication rather than a PIN.

BNP Paribas announcement comes just over a year after Credit Agricole, another French financial institution, announced the launch of biometric payment cards with embedded fingerprint sensors. Technology suppliers for the project included G+D, NXP Semiconductors, MasterCard and Fingerprint Cards.

Other trials of cards including fingerprint sensors have taken place in bank Intesa Sanpaolo in Italy, Société Générale in France, NatWest in the UK, among many others….

While many analysts in our secure transactions industry find the idea of including biometrics directly aboard the card seducing, the core issue remains the cost of the cards. The banks have been pressuring their suppliers for decades to reduce the cost of cards; smart card vendors have responded with always more innovation both on components and on manufacturing processes. Conversely, biometric cards are said to have costs in tens of euros, thus preventing them from reaching mass markets in the near future. In our electronics industry, cost reduction only comes with high volumes.

However, at the same time, financial institutions’ marketing teams express a need for differentiation: many of them consider they have to offer different cards to different market segments. For instance, banks offer colored core cards, heavy cards and metal cards to their high end customers, leading to increasing the average price a payment card is sold to financial institutions. We have even seen a Russian financial institution offering cards with small diamonds embedded in the card surface!

So is there an answer to the equation posed by biometric cards? Will high end customers be attracted by new features and additional security as they are by status when they choose a heavy metal card? Only the answers to these question will decide the fate of biometric cards!

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