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How Asia is leading the way for fingerprint biometric innovation in the payments industry

April 2019 by Stan Swearingen, CEO of IDEX Biometrics

PIN verification will soon become a thing of the past. Thanks to advances in fingerprint biometric technology, the reality of being able to authenticate a payment with a simple touch of the finger is set to explode across the globe. Whilst some countries remain conservative in terms of adopting this technology – Asia is one region driving the charge for biometric fingerprint payment cards. Countries such as India and China have already welcomed fingerprint biometric payment smart cards into their everyday lives.

In its race to become the next ‘Silicon Valley’, Asia has positioned itself as a world leader when it comes to digital wallet usage via mobile and smart devices[1]. Driven by the demand for quick and seamless transactions, the emergence of mobile payment giants such as WeChat and Alipay has put Asian countries, like China, lightyears ahead of the rest of the globe in terms of payment innovation.

But the innovation hasn’t stopped there. The need for convenient and secure payment methods has increased demand for fingerprint biometrics within 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 alongside sensor manufacturers to bring the concept of 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 units and the annual volume is expected to increase to 1.8 billion cards 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 and availability: the key to success

Having already witnessed a higher penetration rate of contactless payments compared to other regions[2], Asia is already well accustomed to contactless spending. Therefore, minimal changes to current consumer behaviour or existing payment infrastructures have been required to adopt fingerprint biometric payment smart cards. Asian regions, including India and Singapore, also have a national digital identity database in place and this has helped consumers become familiar with the concept of using digital technology as a means of proving identity. The amalgamation of contactless payments with digital identity has meant Asia is already primed and ready to implement fingerprint biometrics into everyday payments.

Cost and reduction in fraud are the two key differentiating factors to adoption by the financial service providers in the region. As a region with some of the highest contactless spending limit, currently standing at £136.34 in Japan, and £111.94 in China[3], the need for a higher level of security continues to be a top priority, and fingerprint biometrics is being increasingly seen as the solution to this. While the usability of fingerprint biometric payment smart cards within Asia’s existing payment ecosystem has been pivotal to its success in the region, the cost of implementation has also been a key factor. Card issuers and producers of the fingerprint sensor have had to work together to reach a price point that allows biometric fingerprint technology to be available and affordable to the mass market.

What can be learnt from the momentum in Asia?

The need for rigorous testing due to strict certification requirements within Asia’s payment ecosystem have highlighted the need for card integrators and sensor manufacturers to work as one to achieve a streamlined and fast-paced 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 surface of the card. 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 for the user and would not be acceptable for day-to-day usage. On the other hand, a card with a high false acceptance rate would compromise the security of the card and leave consumers vulnerable to fraud.

In order 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.

First stop Asia, next stop…the rest of the world

Whilst Asia is currently leading the way for fingerprint biometric payment smart card innovation, global adoption is imminent. Pilots across the Middle East, South Africa and now 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.

Whilst 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 any security myths that currently surround this technology. To do so, educating consumers 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.

The continued education around the concept of fingerprint biometrics, for both consumers and those operating within the payments landscape, will only help to build further momentum and clear the route to global adoption.




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