Contactless card that stores owner’s fingerprint could mean an end to typing in pin
Bank customers will be able to spend more than £30 using contactless cards and could never again have to remember their four-digit pin if a fingerprint technology trial starting in April proves a success.
The pilot project from NatWest, the first of its kind in the UK, will use debit cards that contain an electronic copy of the customer’s fingerprint on one corner. If the customer places their finger on that part of the card while waving it at a retailer’s payment terminal, it will authorise a contactless payment above £30, and the customer will not have to type in their number.
The first phase of the trial will be limited to 200 customers. If it gets the go-ahead, it will be the next step in the contactless spending revolution that has swept Britain since 2013. Last year more than 6bn payments were made using contactless “wave and pay” technology, but the £30 limit is restricting further growth, particularly for people filling up their cars at petrol stations or doing a large weekly supermarket shop.
NatWest said retailers would not have to make any changes to existing payment terminals to accept the new cards, and it was working with Visa and Mastercard to ensure it would be accepted in all locations.
If a card is stolen, the thief will not be able to use it as a payment is only authorised if the user’s fingerprint matches the data on the card at the point of sale.
David Crawford, whose job title is head of effortless payments at NatWest, said: “This is the biggest development in card technology in recent years and we are excited to trial the service.”
The major stumbling block for the widespread adoption of the card is likely to be how the bank initially obtains the customer’s fingerprint. NatWest said customers in the trial would have to visit their local branch so that the bank could copy their fingerprint, but it is working on ways to capture the data remotely.
The technology has been developed by a Dutch company, Gemalto, which is also behind a similar trial launched in December by Intesa Sanpaolo, Italy’s biggest bank.
Gemalto said: “Fingerprint authentication sweeps away limits on the value of contactless payments, removing the need to enter a pin or sign the receipt. As a result, it simplifies the consumer experience at the point of sale and makes it faster and safer.”
It said that as a security measure the customer’s fingerprint was stored on the card itself, not the bank’s servers.
Users of Google Pay or Apply Pay on smartphones are likely to be suspicious of how widely the so-called biometric payment systems will be accepted by retailers. In theory, mobile users can already authenticate contactless payments above £30 on their smartphones using fingerprint technology, but in practice many have found the process frustrating.
Customers of the digital-only Monzo Bank, popular with millennials, share lists of retailers that allow them to use their smartphones to exceed the £30 contactless limit. They say Sainsbury’s and Morrisons permit the payments but Tesco and Asda do not.
A survey by Gemalto of UK consumers found that young adults would enthusiastically adopt a fingerprint technology card that allowed them to exceed the standard £30 contactless limit. But four out of 10 were worried about whether the technology would work all the time, and a third were concerned that their fingerprint could be compromised.
Gemalto said: “The fingerprint information is only stored on the card. It is never sent to the bank or collected by a third party. Inside the chip of the card, the fingerprint data is encrypted; nobody can access them.”