By Gareth van Zyl
Johannesburg – Forgetting your PIN code could soon be a thing of the past as Mastercard on Thursday announced the launch of biometric bank cards in South Africa by year-end.
The cards combine chip technology with fingerprints to help verify the cardholder’s identity for in-store purchases.
In a video accompanying Mastercard’s announcement, a customer is seen using a fingerprint instead of punching in a PIN code to make a groceries purchase.
South Africa, interestingly, is the first market to test the technology with two separate trials having been concluded with supermarket retailer Pick n Pay and banking giant Absa Bank.
Mastercard is planning a full rollout of the technology in South Africa by the end of the year and additional trials are set to take place in Europe and Asia Pacific in the coming months.
“Consumers are increasingly experiencing the convenience and security of biometrics,” said Ajay Bhalla, president, enterprise risk and security, Mastercard.
“Whether unlocking a smartphone or shopping online, the fingerprint is helping to deliver additional convenience and security. It’s not something that can be taken or replicated and will help our cardholders get on with their lives knowing their payments are protected,” said Bhalla.
The new card builds on fingerprint scanning technology used for mobile payments today and can be used at EMV terminals worldwide, said Mastercard.
Below is an explanation from Mastercard’s press release on how the technology works and the extent of the trials:
How It Works
A cardholder enrols their card by simply registering with their financial institution. Upon registration, their fingerprint is converted into an encrypted digital template that is stored on the card. The card is now ready to be used at any EMV card terminal globally.
When shopping and paying in-store, the biometric card works like any other chip card. The cardholder simply dips the card into a retailer’s terminal while placing their finger on the embedded sensor. The fingerprint is verified against the template and – if the biometrics match – the cardholder is successfully authenticated and the transaction can then be approved with the card never leaving the consumer’s hand.
Authenticating a payment transaction biometrically – in this instance via a fingerprint – confirms in a very unique way that the person using the card is the genuine cardholder.
Merchants can easily maximise the shopping experience delivered to their customers, as the card works with existing EMV card terminal infrastructure and does not require any new hardware or software upgrades.
For issuers, the technology helps detect and prevent fraud, increase approval rates, reduce operational costs and foster customer loyalty. Additionally, a future version of the card will feature contactless technology, adding to the simplicity and convenience at checkout.
The recent South African trials mobilised employees from Pick n Pay and Absa Bank to test the potential ways convenience and security could contributeto the checkout process. Over the next few months, additional trials will be conducted with the biometric card. A full rollout is expected later this year.
Said Richard van Rensburg, deputy CEO of Pick n Pay: “We are delighted that this innovation has been trialled for the first time at Pick n Pay stores in South Africa. Biometric capability will mean added convenience and enhanced security for our customers. The technology creates a platform on which we can further our strategy of personalising the shopping experience in a meaningful way. We have been extremely impressed with the robust and secure nature of the technology.”
For Absa, the biometric card forms part of the bank’s strategy to test and develop sophisticated technology capabilities designed to improve its payment operations and client service, reduce risk, and make banking easier and even more secure for its customers.
“We are very proud to be the first bank in Africa to test – in a real payment environment – the single-touch authentication technology that will unlock the benefits of biometrics,” said Geoff Lee, head of card and payments at Absa Retail and Business Banking. “The technology will effectively enable our customers to rely on their unique fingerprints to make payments in a face-to-face environment. Following the test period, we will make it available to our customers in a way that is affordable, reliable, convenient, and, most importantly, secure.”
Additional trials are being planned in Europe and Asia Pacific in the coming months.