COVID-19 sparks a rise in biometric contactless payment

6th January 2021
Alex Lynn

The COVID-19 pandemic has had ramifications everywhere, for almost – if not all – the industries in the world. Contactless payment existed before coronavirus hit, but it worked alongside cash and chip-and-pin. However, the pandemic has seen a considerable increase in the amount of transactions using contactless payment. Because of this, biometric payment cards – significantly more secure than standard contactless cards – are seeing an acceleration in development and market demand. Electronic Specifier’s Alex Lynn explains further.

When your bank card is secured in your wallet - zipped away in your bag - it can feel fairly secure. If you’re worried about people stealing your money while out and about in your day-to-day life, it has traditionally only been pickpockets that you’d need to guard against. However, people can steal from contactless payment cards without the card ever needing to leave your bag. Known as ‘card skimming’, it is possible for someone to stand close to your bag and use a handheld chip-and-pin machine to steal up to the maximum allowed contactless payment amount – while looking no more nefarious than everyone else in the crowd.

So what is the solution to this? Contactless payment is seeing increased demand as the pandemic has made all of us less inclined to want to touch communal devices – such as chip-and-pin machines – and it has led to quick changes, such as the single-transaction spending limit increasing from £30 to £45. This was a very convenient change – and hopefully helped to stop the spread of COVID-19, at least a little – but it also means that skimmers can now potentially steal more money.

Biometric contactless cards offer a neat solution, as only the fingerprint of the card owner can enable payments to be made. However, they are not commonplace in our wallets just yet.

Assessing the market

NXP Semiconductors, together with Linxens and Giesecke & Devrient, worked with Goode Intelligence to run a survey to discover what the market demand was for biometric security in contactless payment cards. The data was collected from 13th July to 8th August, when the crisis was well underway, and the results of the survey show how the demand for this sort of added security is rising.

Alan Goode, CEO and Chief Analyst of Goode Intelligence explained: “We’ve seen two things accelerate with payments during COVID; the first is that we’re obviously making a lot more purchases online. But the second is that in person, there is a lot more reticence to touch shared devices.

To offset that the card schemes have increased spending limits on cards around the world.

“To increase safety, security and convenience, biometric contactless cards are equipped with fingerprint sensors, and your fingerprint authorises the payment.”

So, what is the demand from the public for biometric contactless payment cards? The results of the survey highlighted three main areas:

  • 95% of respondents prefer using contactless payment.
  • 76% are less willing to use a shared pin pad as a result of COVID-19.
  • 85% of respondents are now using contactless.

One of the most surprising results the survey uncovered, was that of the people surveyed, 42% were willing to pay between two and five pounds per month for a biometric card with no spending limit. In a country like the UK, where we are not used to paying for our contactless bank cards, this result showed just how keen people are for a secure, contactless form of payment.

It was also found that 88% of respondents want their banks to upgrade their contactless payment cards to support biometrics. So the demand for biometric security on contactless cards is certainly there; but how close is the technology, and why is it more secure?

Increasing security

Jean-François Durix, Business Development and Program Management Director at Linxens explained a little about the technology: “What we are doing is adding a layer of user confidence, because there can be no transaction without the genuine card holder putting their finger on the sensor – and it is very difficult to fake a fingerprint.”

Also, as we are moving into an era of being more conscious of who is storing our data – and what they are using it for – Sara Ellinger, Marketing Manager for Secure Payments at NXP Semiconductors also explained that your fingerprint can be stored on the card itself, instead of in a central database, and that you can upload the fingerprint yourself. Because of this you know that your data is secure, as well as your contactless payment card.

Ellinger said: “You’re the one uploading your fingerprint – something we’ve called enrolment – and you can do this on your mobile device, or in your bank branch. But whether you do it at home or in branch doesn’t matter, the only interaction is between you, your fingerprint, and your card - and your fingerprint will never leave the secure environment ever again. Because of this there is no chance of misuse or manipulation.”

There are also plenty of other benefits outside of COVID-19 hygiene concerns and security, that biometric cards can provide. For example, they’re faster - getting rid of the need to input a pin; there would be no need for a cap on contactless payments; less chance for card fraud to be committed; increased card usage; and increased customer trust and retention.

Dr Andreas Schauer, Director of Marketing and Strategy Payment at Giesecke & Devrient, concluded: “Biometric cards are a win-win situation, because customers, retailers and banks will all benefit from using them. Usually, the higher the security, the lower the convenience, but with biometric security cards the security has been increased, and the convenience has also been enhanced, which is the perfect situation for the banks. From a retailer point of view, this is a speedier way to pay, which means that the queues will be reduced, and lead to happier customers.”

So how close are we to this technology being readily available to us? According to the experts, and because of the acceleration COVID-19 has caused in the roll-out of this technology, the first commercial launches of biometric payment cards should start to be seen in early 2021.

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