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Biometric debit cards - a revolution in contactless spending?

Biometric debit cards - a revolution in contactless spending?

High street banks NatWest and RBS have just announced that they will be trialing new biometric debit cards, the first of their kind in the UK. Not only will customers not have to bother with their pin numbers, it also means that they are able to spend more than £30 when using contactless payments.

The cards will contain electronic copies of their owner’s fingerprint on the corner of the card, the card will then work by the owner placing their finger on that corner and then waving their card over the payment terminal.

The fingerprint technology will also make contactless payments more secure. If one of these cards were to get stolen, the thief would be unable to use it because the payment will only get authorised when the user’s fingerprint matches the data on the card.

The technology, which was developed by the Dutch company Gemalto has already been trialed in Cyprus and Italy, and overall, the idea of biometric technology being used in banking has proved to be popular. In a survey carried out by Fingerprints, a biometric company based in Sweden, 42% of respondents said that they would like to see fingerprints replacing the pin number and 50% said that they would be happy to pay a premium for a biometric bank card.

However, like with all new technology being introduced, there are some stumbling blocks with the biometric bank cards. In an interview, Gemalto Director of Biometrics Fred Martinez said that they were happy with how everything has gone thus far but there will be challenges with such a complex product.

He told Biometric Update: “It is the most complex product we have developed for a bank card. You have lots of components inside, lots of connections, and all of it must fit into the ISO format of the banking card, which is very challenging”

There is also the issue of obtaining the data if NatWest and RBS decide to roll out this new technology to all their customers. NatWest said that they would require customers to come into the branches to take a copy of their fingerprints, but they are currently working on a way to obtain the fingerprints remotely.

The final issue would be the reliability of the technology. Although the general consensus is that consumers are keen on the idea of biometric bank cards, many have expressed concern that it might not work as well as it should. In a survey that Gemalto ran on the UK consumer, 4 out of 10 said that they were worried that it wouldn’t work as well as it should and a third believed that their data could be compromised.

Google Pay and Apple Pay already use similar technology in their smartphones but in practice, many have found it frustrating to use, so they will already be cynical towards such technology being used in their bank cards.

Gemalto have addressed the concerns regarding the security of the card: “the fingerprint information is only stored on the card. It is never sent to the bank or collected by a third party. Inside the chip of the card, the fingerprint data is encrypted; no one can access them.”

This technology is still in its early stages, so obviously there’ll be some loose ends that need tying up, but once it matures, it’ll make contactless payments more secure and work more efficiently.

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