Will biometrics be the ‘new normal’ for payments?

Could we be using our voice, our fingerprint or our face for everyday payments in the coming years?

Making technology more convenient and removing friction from interactions has been a key focus for the banking sector in recent times, and one area where major efforts have been made is in authentication. Balancing the need for tough security with the desire to ensure transactions are as fast and smooth as possible is one of the key challenges for the designers of online and mobile solutions.

Frequently, the solution to this is biometrics. Fingerprints, facial recognition or even iris scanning have all found favor among many people for their ability to quickly verify a user’s identity. With more smartphones incorporating this technology – no longer just the top-end devices – is this new the new normal for payment solutions?

“Time is ripe” for biometrics

One organization that certainly thinks so is Mastercard, which has recently announced plans to bring biometric authentication for payments to all European customers by April 2019. The company noted that a combination of factors, such as the increased availability of biometrics on mobile devices, increased customer comfort with the tools, and new EU regulatory requirements demanding strong authentication, mean “the time is ripe for enabling biometric validation solutions for digital payments”.

The card provider highlighted recent research it conducted in collaboration with Oxford University, which revealed 93 percent of consumers prefer biometrics over passwords when it comes to proving their identity, while a similar number of banking professionals (92 percent) want to adopt the technology.

Traditionally, there have been three pillars of authentication: something the user knows (such as a password or PIN); something they possess (eg a payment card or smartphone to which a one time passcode (OTP) can be sent); and something they are (such as their unique fingerprint or voice). Mastercard stated that shifting the focus away from the first two and on to biometrics not only makes the process faster, but also more secure as they cannot be compromised by theft or social engineering.

A better customer experience

Using biometric authentication for payments could also greatly reduce the number of abandoned purchases when people are shopping online, Mastercard claims. It noted that traditional methods of verification can often be complex or time-consuming, particularly if they are reliant on hard-to-remember passwords, which can lead to people leaving a merchant’s website if they get frustrated by this.

Using biometrics can greatly reduce this. Mastercard’s research claimed that this technology can reduce abandonment rates by as much as 70 percent compared to other methods, such as sending an OTP via SMS, which highlights the improved, more convenient user experience.

Is the sector ready for biometrics?

Even though Mastercard’s figures indicate there is great consumer demand for biometrics, there are still a few questions that may need answering surrounding the technology before it’s truly ready to become the new normal.

Security remains a question. There have been reports of hackers being able to fool fingerprint and facial recognition scanners, in some cases with just a photo of the user. While the latest developments, such as Apple’s Face ID, use 3D scanning to minimize this risk, many older devices may not be as accurate. As long as there are reports of the technology failing to work as intended, some people will be wary of biometrics.

Still, there are more than 12 months until Mastercard plans to roll out its authentication tools, which leaves plenty of time for the sector to overcome any remaining hurdles. With the accuracy and ubiquity of biometric-capable mobile devices growing all the time, and the technology even starting to appear embedded directly into payment cards, it may not be long before biometrics are truly the new normal.

Written by Nav Kullar

Nav Kullar

Nav is a marketing manager for Payments at NCR and is based in the UK. She is responsible for the marketing of NCR Payment solutions, with a specific focus on the transaction processing platform Authentic. Nav has over 15 years’ experience in the payments business with previous marketing roles at Visa and Elavon.

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