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October 3, 2016updated 04 Apr 2017 3:57pm

French banks taking baby steps towards biometrics and mobile payments

French consumers have not yet fully adopted mobile payments, but with a young, tech-savvy generation increasingly demanding safer and simpler authentication, will things change? Jessica Longley speaks to four key French banks to find out how the country is responding to the new technological era

By Jessica Longley

French consumers have not yet fully adopted mobile payments, but with a young, tech-savvy generation increasingly demanding safer and simpler authentication, will things change? Jessica Longley speaks to four key French banks to find out how the country is responding to the new technological era

French consumers are yet to fully accept mobile payments as they are slowly introduced in France. Apple Pay arrived in the French market through banking group BPCE on 19 July 2016, putting mobile payments on French consumers’ radars. EPI set to find out just how quickly banks were adapting to change and innovation by speaking with four French banks: BNP Paribas, Banque Populaire, La Banque Postale and Soon, Axa’s online bank.

Biometrics not top priority

According to CCM Benchmark’s 2016 research, mobile payment solutions in France are not as popular as we might be led to believe. It found that only 7% of digital buyers had used smartphones to ‘tap and pay’ in a store. Although it seems that 27% were ready to do so, more than half (56%) said they were not prepared to pay this way with a mobile.

French consumers, however, and specifically the young tech-savvy generation, are increasingly demanding a safer and simpler authentication process.

Many believe that the process of entering their bank details over and over again is troublesome and  time-consuming, while others are worried about transaction security when PINs and bank details are no longer required. With La Banque Postale leading the biometrics revolution by being the first to introduce voice authentication as a way to pay remotely, several other banks are bound to follow.

Having received approval from the Commission Nationale de l’Informatique et des Libertés in February 2016, Thierry Meric, in charge of the mass market hub at La Banque Postale, explains how it plans to roll out this new security method, called Talk to Pay, by the end of this year.

“We have invested in biometrics and have been working on voice authentication since 2012. It has now been tested and I am proud to say it is fully operational.

“Planning to be launched by the end of this year to customers, we are also looking into fingerprint authentication,” Meric explains.

On the other hand, BNP Paribas, Crédit Agricole and Crédit Mutuel Arkéa have joined forces with Banque Accord to test fingerprint authentication provided by National Security as a payment solution.

It seems that biometrics is a topic of interest for many French banks, but that very few have actually made the leap. Some are concerned with the security of these new payment solutions, where a password can easily be changed or recovered compared to the loss of a fingerprint; if your fingerprint is hacked it becomes difficult to protect that data, revealed one bank.

Raphaël Krivine, director of Soon, says: “Although biometrics is a subject that we are discussing, we have no announcements to make at present.”

Security at the forefront

French banks are preoccupied with having in place a strong authentication process to respond to customer demands. Meric says,

“We need to simplify our clients’ day-to-day activity while keeping in mind that security is primordial. Biometrics is only part of the answer when it comes to security. We have implemented other forms of security measures.

“For example, we have services that will generate a different card verification value (CVV) code for every interaction. “This means that if you have had to give the CVV code to a hotel, they cannot reuse these numbers as the transaction will not go through.”

 “We are really looking for maximum security. We have put in place solutions through the PayLib system which allows clients to shop online via PayLib using a single password for all online shopping, without once entering any bank details. The client’s bank then approves the transaction,” Meric continues.

The PayLib service is not reserved for La Banque Postale’s customers: HelloBank, Boursorama, Crédit Mutuel Arkea, Crédit Agricole, BNP Paribas and Société Générale also offer customers the option to pay remotely via PayLib. Similarly, BNP Paribas has created a digital secure key to ensure transfers are 100% safe and secure, reveals Vincent Duval, director of pricing and marketing of retail markets at BNP Paribas,

“There is a high demand from clients for the simplification of the authentication process. For that reason, we have launched a digital key, supported by the mobile, which allows clients to access more sensitive operations with the help of two different devices: the password and the mobile.”

En route to mobile

Although contactless is slowly taking off in France with banks such as BNP Paribas now offering contactless cards, mobile payments have not quite taken off yet. However, the future looks bright for the mobile payments market, and a recent Capgemini report shows that mobile payments will grow at an annual rate of 32.2% until 2020 in France.

French consumers are largely unaware of the existence of mobile payments, Jean-Philippe Van Poperinghe, director of the retail market at the BPCE group, tells EPI, revealing the astonishment of French consumers as he used his phone to make a payment.

“We have just officially launched in July the possibility to pay with Apple Pay, and the experience is incredible,” he explains.

“I was the one testing the product and the shopkeepers were bluffed each time I used my phone to pay. The people behind me in the queue could not believe their eyes, and were asking me which bank I banked with, what you had to do to be able to pay with your phone.

“We are really proud to be the first banking group in France to offer Apple Pay to our customers. And there is no doubt that this new mobile payment solution will attract new customers.”

Indeed, the BPCE group was the first to introduce ApplePay in France, but there is no doubt that others will follow. As Meric confirms: “We at La Banque Postale have very big interests in mobile payments.”

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