Blog: Do consumers dream of biometric payments?
13 February 2015 10:49 GMT

Does iris offer the perfect payment proposition?

By Mark Prior-Egerton, Solutions Marketing Manager at the Logic Group

Not too long ago, I took a good look at Apple’s entry into the mobile wallets/payments market, Apple Pay, and I concluded at the time that it would be a game-changer. A couple of months on, I haven’t changed my mind. Why? Because I think mobile payments aren’t the future anymore; they’re the present – out there today and over time increasingly changing the way we shop.

But if they are ‘the now’ already, what is next?

Recently I was watching Minority Report, a great film based on a short story by Philip K Dick. Anyone familiar with his body of work will tell you that he seemingly had a knack for predicting, to some degree, the tech we would be using in the future. There’s a wealth of futuristic tech on display in Minority Report but one scene in particular jumped out at me: protagonist John (Tom Cruise) walks into a GAP outlet, where his iris is automatically scanned, he then picks out his clothes and leaves. No fishing for his wallet, no queues. The perfect payment proposition if you ask me.

But could this work today? From a payment perspective there is no reason why not. Visa and MasterCard have developed digital wallets which can be configured to work within certain rules, for instance: “charge my Barclaycard when I shop in Tesco.”

In fact, biometric payments are already being used in some markets, albeit not quite as sophisticated as those on display in Minority Report. Fingerprint technology is currently the most common form used for biometrics. In a nutshell, it works by matching the patterns of a fingerprint to a pre-scanned image. The image is never saved, the features are in fact converted into an encrypted token, which in turn becomes a biometric key.  The key, if ever compromised, cannot be re-fractured to produce the original image, making the solution secure.

South African social security payments are verified using fingerprint technology whereas in Vietnam, consumers can register so that they can buy physical goods in store also by fingerprint, without their credit and debit cards. MasterCard and Zwipe also unveiled the world’s first biometric contactless payment card which incorporates an integrated fingerprint sensor.

Biometrics doesn’t begin and end with fingerprints though. Iris scanning (like in Minority Report) and vein technology already exists, and there’s no reason why these couldn’t be applied to verifying or making payments. Likewise for the facial recognition technology used by Samsung in its phones or at airport gates.

For debit and credit card companies, fingerprint technology removes any question of if the customer is actually present for the transaction and is significantly more secure than issuing a PIN. With High Value Contactless payments requiring verification, biometrics offers a highly secure method of verifying those payments.

We’re some way from my perfect Minority Report shopping experience, no doubt, but the way I see it we’re almost within touching distance.