Jeff Carter either is either in charge of selling the most transformational technology that will come to banking, indeed to human identification, in recent memory, or he's the most delusional former banker you'll ever meet.
Carter, a former Bank of America executive who once ran the company's partnership with MIT to create the Center for Future Banking, is now Chief Business Development and Strategy Officer at Global Rainmakers, a New York-based biometric firm that is convinced its high-speed, low-cost iris scan technology will be everywhere a decade from now-from identifying consumers at a liquor store to prove they're of age, to entering an office building, to paying for purchases online and at the point of sale. "We see this as being ubiquitous. We want to create a global identity service bureau," Carter says. "We're not talking about evolving, we're talking about a fundamental shift in the way everything takes place."
Given biometrics' continual failure to live up to the promises, it's easy to dismiss the vision. But it's tougher to argue when you see the size and scale of some of Global Rainmaker's early access-control implementations: The Pentagon uses it, Air Force bases use it, Bank of America scans thousands of people per day when they enter the company's headquarters in Charlotte. Last month Global Rainmakers announced that in the city of Leon, Mexico, hundreds devices will be installed to first identify criminals, and later in commercial establishments to identify consumers.
There are also several other high-profile, still top secret implementations that give the product plenty of credibility. Stay tuned for those, in the meantime more bank deployments are not far off. Florida-based Tech Imagine, which has deployed Panini check image scanners in more than 5,000 locations in Latin America, recently announced its intention to pitch the iris scans to its customers, which include Citibank and Banco Santander.
What sets Global Rainmaker's tech apart from the biometric hype of the past is that the company spent the last three years creating high-throughput devices that are scaleable and relatively cheap. An archway style device can positively identify up to 50 people a minute as they walk underneath; participants don't even need to stop-they just look up at the cameras mounted on the crossbeam. The technology uses infrared light to help identify the unique aspects of the iris, which, perhaps surprisingly, have nothing to do with eye color. Iris scans aren't foolproof though, polarized or reflective glasses pose a problem for identification, as does human obfuscation. "Yes, it's true, if you close your eyes it won't work," Carter acknowledges.
But the company believes iris identification technology is superior to fingerprints or other biometrics because the average iris has more than 2,000 points of uniqueness that don't change from birth until death, according to Global Rainmaker's co-founder and CTO Keith Hanna. Global Rainmakers is primarily an intellectual property holding company-19 patents and counting- with plans to license the iris scan technology to consultants and security integrators in the government and corporate sectors, but intends to save the consumer identification space for themselves.
Some patents are related to how the technology tests for "live-ness," others are related to using iris identification to authenticate financial transactions. And that's really where Carter and company co-founder and CEO Hector Hoyos see the technology going. Being part of multi-modal biometric security at the Pentagon is nice, but the company has a bigger vision in mind. They think banks will start with ATMs and in-bank transactions, but by the time the Consumer Electronics Show rolls around next year, Global Rainmakers intends to have the device installed on several cell phone models. The logical extension of that is to use the identification methodology for securing mobile transactions and other forms of payments.
"We're reaching a point with financial fraud and the capability to disrupt massive amounts of people even through small transactions, I feel we've exceeded the capability of all the current technologies that are on the table," Carter says. "All those things are inherently flawed and can be beaten."
As usual, analysts are predicting a robust market for biometrics in financial services and transaction authentication. Recent research by Frost & Sullivan finds the financial services industry will spend $98 million on all biometrics this year, a number predicted to grow to $289 million in 2016, a compound annual growth rate of 19 percent. "The majority of larger financial enterprises such as multinational banks and insurance companies are likely to adopt biometrics in their employee facing applications," Frost & Sullivan analyst Neelima Sagar wrote, adding that the vertical is likely to show steady growth after 2011 in areas including transactional authentication at ATMs, remote banking and mobile payment options. The transaction authentication market alone is only about $30 million this year, but expected to grow to $120 million by 2016, a 25 percent compound annual growth rate.
Sagar sees fingerprint and voice authentication as the most likely to be adopted, with iris and retina scans typically dismissed as too expensive.
Carter disagrees, noting that Global Rainmakers has brought the cost of a high throughput device below $2k. Beyond authentication, Carter envisions iris scans being used to identify customers to target in-store advertisements based on prior shopping behavior. "I see the iris as the point where you fuse your physical and virtual presence," he says, suggesting that the iris could be joined with your search stream on Google, or with your bank's Know Your Customer" data.
Privacy advocates surely will not be on board with this vision of iris scanners everywhere. The company anticipates this, and regularly brings these kinds of folks in for briefings and to hear their objections, Carter says. But fundamentally, Carter believes privacy is "over."
"The fact of the matter is privacy is gone, it's gone for all of us and it's been gone for some time," he says. "There has to be new models of how we look at the world and it's going to be different from before."