How will biometrics change the way we pay?

Marianne Curphey

How will you be paying for your morning coffee in the future? Wearable devices such as watches and wristbands are at the forefront of new and more convenient ways to pay—but could we be paying with our bodies one day?

At present, the use of contactless cards—which allow transactions of up to £30 each—is growing. In the UK alone there are 84.2 million contactless cards in issue (according to the UK Cards Association), and the average amount spent each time they are used is £8.28.

The new research—Contactless Payments: NFC Handsets, Wearables & Payment Cards 2016-2020says that although nearly 9 million Apple Watches were shipped by the end of 2015, there are still far more iPhones currently in circulation which can be used for payment.
 

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A customer pays for their purchase using their Apple Watch. Image via Capital Moments

Looking into the future, however, you might not need a card, or a phone, or a watch in order to make small payments for everyday items. According to Howard Berg, Senior Vice President of payments expert Gemalto in the UK and Ireland, technology is now moving so fast that we could be verifying payments not with wristbands, but with parts of our bodies.

“As the use of contactless cards grows, people are getting used to the fact that they no longer have to swipe a card to make a payment,” he explains. “In the future, we might look to biometrics as a way of confirming that you are the person making the payment from that particular account.”

So in order to verify a transaction, you might in the future have your finger or your eye scanned in order to confirm your identity.

“We would use biometrics in the way that a PIN number is used now,” he explains. “One option is to use finger vein patterns—these are more detailed than a finger print and also don’t have any of the negative police connotations of having your finger prints taken and centrally stored.”

 

 

“We would use biometrics in the way that a PIN number is used now.”

 

 

Finger veins are more secure than finger prints and are already used to confirm identity when very large sums of money are being transferred between accounts. Right now, a chief executive transferring hundreds of thousands of pounds might verify the transaction and his identity using finger veins—but in the future, you might be able to do that in order to buy a cup of coffee.

“Biometrics already exists, it is the implementation of the infrastructure which will take time,” says Howard Berg.

“It needs to be adapted to the wishes of consumers. After all, technology is only useful if it aids consumers in their daily lives.”

Finger vein technology could be commonly used within 10 years, although the speed of its uptake depends on how much consumers are willing to trust it, and how keen retailers are to install the technology and terminals needed in their stores.
 

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Tom Cruise has his eyes scanned in Sci-Fi thriller, Minority Report. Image via Amblin Entertainment

An alternative which is also being developed at the moment is a retina scanning device, although Mr Berg says that there might be some resistance from shoppers who don’t feel comfortable having their eyes read by a laser. There are also issues around making sure that any technology that is developed is accessible for disabled people as well.

The future of biometric payments—which until now we only saw in cyber-movies—may now only be a decade away.

 

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