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April 20, 2019updated 02 May 2019 12:33pm

fingerprint biometrics: how Asia is leading the way

By Stan Swearingen

The PIN will soon be a thing of the past. Thanks to advances in biometric technology, the ability to authenticate a payment with a touch of the finger is set to explode across the globe, writes Idex Biometrics CEO Stan Swearingen

While some countries remain conservative in terms of adopting the technology, Asia is one region driving the charge for biometric fingerprint payment cards.

Countries such as India and China have already welcomed fingerprint biometric smart cards into their everyday lives. In its race to become the next Silicon Valley, Asia has positioned itself as a world leader in digital wallet usage via mobile and smart devices.

Driven by demand for quick and seamless transactions, the emergence of mobile payment giants such as WeChat and Alipay has put Asian countries like China light-years ahead of the rest of the globe in terms of payment innovation. But the innovation has not stopped there.

The need for convenient and secure payment methods has increased demand for fingerprint biometrics in Asia’s payment ecosystem. Following successful trials of the biometric fingerprint payment smart card, a number of leading card issuers and payment networks within the region, such as Hengbao, Chutian Dragon and China Union Pay, are working with sensor manufacturers to bring biometric fingerprint-authenticated payments to the Asian market.

In fact, according to ABI Research, the total volume of shipped payment smart cards in Asia in 2017 reached 1.3 billion, and the annual volume is expected to increase to 1.8 billion by 2022.

Underpinned by a culture of acceptance and willingness to embrace new technology, Asia’s pragmatic approach has helped the public embrace fingerprint biometric payment smart cards. But what is it about Asia that has made the adoption of fingerprint biometrics so successful in the region?

Usability, Availability

Having already witnessed a higher penetration rate of contactless payments than other regions, Asia is already well accustomed to contactless spending. Therefore, minimal changes to consumer behaviour or payment infrastructures have been required to adopt fingerprint biometric payment smart cards.

India and Singapore also have national digital identity databases in place, and this has helped consumers become familiar with the concept of using digital technology to prove identity. The amalgamation of contactless payments with digital identity has meant Asia is already primed to implement fingerprint biometrics into everyday payments.

Cost and reduced fraud are the two key differentiating factors to adoption by financial service providers in the region. As a region with some of the highest contactless spending limits – currently £136 ($176) in Japan and £112 in China – the need for a higher level of security continues to be a top priority, and fingerprint biometrics is being increasingly seen as the solution.

While the usability of fingerprint biometric payment smart cards in Asia’s existing payment ecosystem has been pivotal to its success in the region, cost of implementation has also been a key factor. Card issuers and producers of fingerprint sensors have had to work together to reach a price point that allows biometric fingerprint technology to be available and affordable to the mass market.

The need for rigorous testing due to strict certification requirements in Asia’s payment ecosystem has highlighted the need for card integrators and sensor manufacturers to work as one to achieve a streamlined and quick route to market. In some use cases, and depending on the technical capability of the card integrator, further technical support from the sensor manufacturer is required to meet certification standards. From a card manufacturer’s point of view, the fingerprint biometric payment smart card must pass a series of tests to determine its robustness, including severe bending and the application of varied pressure to the card’s surface.

From a biometrics perspective, the card will be tested in terms of false accept rate (FAR) and false reject rate (FRR). A card that regularly rejects the correct fingerprint would be incredibly inconvenient and not acceptable for day-to-day use; on the other hand, a card with a high FAR would compromise security and leave consumers vulnerable to fraud. For mass market adoption to be possible, card issuers and sensor providers must work together to strike the correct balance between security and convenience by ensuring FARs and FRRs are kept to a minimum. Being able to respond quickly to challenges throughout the testing process will be key to building momentum across the globe.

While Asia currently leads the way for fingerprint biometric payment smart card innovation, global adoption is imminent. Pilots in the Middle East, South Africa and the UK have highlighted consumer demand for fingerprint biometrics within payments, and thanks to the use of fingerprint scanning within smartphones and tablets, consumers are already comfortable with the concept.

According to research conducted by Idex Biometrics, 60% of UK consumers surveyed had heard of fingerprint biometric methods of authentication, and more than half stated they would trust the use of their fingerprint to authenticate payments more than their PIN.

Next stop: the world

While the future for fingerprint biometrics is looking bright, to make regions beyond Asia embrace biometric payment smart cards, fintech leaders and card issuers must debunk the security myths that currently surround this technology.

Education will be pivotal. Consumers must be assured that biometric fingerprint data is not stored on central databases anywhere, and rather securely stored on the card itself
therefore limiting potential exposure and risk.

Continued education around fingerprint biometrics, for both consumers and payments operators, will only help to build momentum and clear the route to global adoption.

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