Even with fingerprint readers built into most smartphones and many laptops, there is still a lot of room for innovation in the technology's use for authentication and payments. Banks, technology developers and payment companies are all experimenting with new ways to identify consumers by their unique physical traits, with the ultimate goal of improving security while also streamlining customer onboarding and authentication.
Here are some of the newest ideas being tested with many different forms of biometric authentication.
This listicle is compiled from reporting by PaymentsSource writers including John Adams, Kate Fitzgerald and David Heun. Click the links in each item to read more.
Mastercard brings fingerprinting into the home
In the ongoing quest to replace PINs and passwords, Mastercard has introduced a kit enabling consumers to register their own fingerprint on a biometric card at home, bypassing the need to visit a bank.
When consumers receive an EMV card from their issuer equipped with Mastercard’s fingerprint recognition technology, they may enroll their biometric data on the card using their finger and a special sleeve that accompanies the card.
The streamlined enrollment process is Mastercard’s latest attempt to improve biometric approaches to authenticating card users. Its other biometric card-authentication solutions include smartphone-based “selfie pay” and iris-scanning.
With the new in-home enrollment process, consumers receive an enrollment kit in the mail separately from the card, a Mastercard spokesperson explained. The consumer inserts the card and the battery-powered sleeve activates enrollment, registering the user’s fingerprint on the card’s sensor.
Shoppers undeterred by Face ID's fine print
Although only the high-priced iPhone X has Face ID, that may not limit the biometric authentication system's exposure to the market. The $1,000 iPhone X was the best-selling smartphone in the first quarter of 2018, CNBC reports.
In eliminating the fingerprint sensor to accommodate an edge-to-edge display, Apple had to redesign a lot of the ways its smartphone handles common interactions, especially payments. And while the company touted the strength of its new Face ID system, it came with a few words of caution.
"If you happen to have an evil twin, you really need to protect your sensitive data with a passcode," warned Phil Schiller, Apple's senior vice president of worldwide marketing, in a September 2017 presentation announcing the company's newest smartphones.
When picked up by a stranger, that stranger has a one in a million chance of being able to trick the camera — a huge improvement from the one in 50,000 chance with Touch ID, which Schiller described as the "gold standard" of biometric authentication. The odds get lower when people such as family members share traits with the phone's owner, but it has protections against being unlocked by a sleeping user's face or a photo of the user.
"Face ID also works with Apple Pay," Schiller said. "You look at iPhone X to authenticate and hold it near the payment terminal to pay."
BBVA tests its own facial ID system
BBVA has started testing a facial recognition payment application for employees to use at cafeterias and restaurants at the Ciudad BBVA office and business conference complex in Madrid.
The mobile app is powered through technology from the startup Veridas, which was a joint venture last year of BBVA and Das-Nano. Restaurant partner Sodexo Iberia is also involved in the project.
More than 1,000 employees at Ciudad are using the payments app, which provides the ability to reserve tables and dine without dealing with a bill. Customers inform a waiter they are ready to leave, and the waiter verifies registration in the system and an account linked through facial recognition. The cost of the meal is shown through the app.
BBVA estimates that app users save up to 10 minutes at restaurants, which also benefit through increased billing from table turnover. "With this project, we're eliminating the friction points for customers when they make a purchase in a store," Ignacio Banon, BBVA's head of global payments, said in a March press release.
The next step for the payments app, BBVA says, is to move the facial recognition into practical uses in retail store settings. The application also has a person-to-person feature that allows a registered user with a linked credit card to send funds to others by sending messages directly from the app.
Western Union uses biometrics to bring on new customers
Western Union is testing biometrics to increase security and improve operations efficiency. One approach leverages fingerprints and retinas to enroll customers for the first time, eliminating the need to re-authenticate them on their second visit, said Sheri Rhodes, Western Union's executive vice president and chief technology officer.
One puzzle that’s yet to be solved is finding the best way to store sensitive customer biometric data. “It’s a work in progress,” Rhodes said.
Competition from traditional rivals like MoneyGram, along with swarms of new players and startups, is intense.
“We have the technological muscle, the name recognition with consumers and the physical presence on the ground, and combined with our evolving digital technology I think we have a better shot at gaining new market share than most startups,” she said.
Selfie Pay is coming to Europe … next year
Mastercard plans to deploy its biometric authentication option next year for European consumers to use through their smartphones when shopping online or conducting mobile banking.
Starting in April of 2019, Mastercard says its Mastercard Identity Check — known casually as "selfie pay" — will allow users to authorize transactions through fingerprints, iris or facial recognition at e-commerce checkout when paying with a Mastercard payment card.
Mastercard Identity Check is already available in 37 countries, and Mastercard says the new European Union regulatory requirements on authentication coming into force through PSD2 state that banks across the continent must offer the biometric option by early 2019.
"Biometric technologies perfectly match consumers’ expectations of getting the secure payment solutions of tomorrow, in line with the increased digitalization of lifestyles," Javier Perez, president of Mastercard Europe, said in a January press release. "This can significantly benefit consumers, retailers and banks by improving the purchase experience and better securing the transaction."
Scanning finger veins in the cafeteria
Consumers enrolled in Denmark’s Dankort domestic payments scheme may sign up to make payments using only their finger in a pilot that the payments firm Nets is conducting in Copenhagen.
Nets’ innovation arm, Smart Payments, teamed with Fingopay and the Copenhagen Business School to enable payments via finger vein authentication at the school’s cafeteria where students, faculty and others are making purchases sans any physical payment instrument, Nets said.
Finger scanners are installed at all checkout points in the school’s cafeteria and anyone already enrolled in Dankort may participate with no PIN required, even for higher-ticket purchases.
Finger vein technology is more secure than fingerprint authentication on smartphones because finger vein patterns are almost impossible to replicate and blood circulation is required for payment authentication.
Users may unlink the finger scanning function from their Dankort account at any time, Nets added. Nets, launched in 2009, is based in Ballerup, Denmark.
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