Biometric payment cards go mainstream
The secure transactions industry has already been through several evolutions and revolutions along its few decades of existence. However, we have all experienced that what was shown as the latest novelty on a trade show and attracted positive comments from analysts did not always turn into any significant business. The latest change in payment card technology might well be the biometric payment card and, this time, it is on the path to mass adoption.
Several technology companies have been working on fingerprint match-on-card for years. The development of biometrics has led to a boom for fingerprint sensors developers, especially thanks to their now massive integration on mobile phones and computers. This way, fingerprint sensors have improved, gone through all industrialization phases and have the right characteristics for being embedded in a smart card. Also, the mass adoption of fingerprint sensors in mobile phones has led to a greater acceptance by users worldwide.
Smart card vendors have also readied their manufacturing process to develop and industrialize complex cards. Major steps on this evolution have been dual chip cards, dual interface cards, dynamic CVV cards and, now, cards that include a fingerprint sensor. The latest generation of cards with fingerprint sensors not only comply with the ISO7816 standards in terms of flexions and torsions but also have reduced the card power consumption to allow it to be powered only at transaction times both in contact and contactless modes.
The availability and the maturity of biometric cards from all vendors, Idemia, G+D and Thales, as well as smaller ones, translates now in an increasing adoption by leading financial institutions. For instance, major banks such as BNP Paribas (France), CornèrCard (Switzerland), Crédit Agricole (France), IntesaSanPaolo (Italy), NatWest (UK), RBS (UK), Rocker (Sweden) and Société Générale (France), among others, are all introducing biometric cards to significant segments of their clientele.
Biometric card vendors insist on the adoption criteria for cardholders: fingerprint templates are securely stored in the card leading to peace of mind of the cardholder if the card is lost or stolen, it is no longer needed to remember the PIN, although PIN transactions are still feasible, and as the PIN needs not to be typed, this goes even further in the concept of contactless payment, so important in times such as our ongoing health crisis. They also consider benefits for issuers: users love these cards, so they are ready to pay a premium to have them and to make them “top-of-wallet” leading to an increase in transactions. By reducing fraud, they reduce costs for financial institutions while bringing them a more innovative brand image.
Enrollment remains a sensitive step on the adoption path of biometric cards: either cardholders have to go to a bank branch and complete their enrollment on a dedicated reader and in front of a bank clerk, or they enroll their fingerprints at home with a reader dedicated to this sole use.
Biometric cards appear as very attractive, they are on the path to mass adoption, we will see if they reach all markets or remain reserved to some niche segments well-identified by the card issuers’ marketing departments.