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Mastercard's Biometric Card Promises "Apple Pay" Without the Phone

Security experts have broadly welcomed Mastercard’s new biometric card as a sign of things to come, claiming it will help to reduce customer friction and fraud.

The credit card giant yesterday unveiled the new EMV model which it has successfully trialled in South Africa with retailers Pick n Pay and Barclays Africa subsidiary, Absa Bank.

“Consumers are increasingly experiencing the convenience and security of biometrics,” said Mastercard enterprise risk and security president, Ajay Bhalla, in a statement.

“Whether unlocking a smartphone or shopping online, the fingerprint is helping to deliver additional convenience and security. It’s not something that can be taken or replicated and will help our cardholders get on with their lives knowing their payments are protected.”

New users are asked to enrol their card with their bank and hold their finger to the biometric reader, whereupon the unique fingerprint will be stored digitally on the card’s EMV chip.

When paying, they simply insert the card as usual while placing their finger on the sensor and if the biometrics match, the transaction will be approved.

Mastercard believes the innovation will improve the customer experience further, fostering loyalty, while rooting out fraud; lowering chargeback costs for its clients.

Trials are planned for Europe and APAC and a contactless version is also on its way, according to the firm.

Payment expert Pinar Ozcan, of Warwick Business School, said the future of authentication is biometric.

“The real question is, what will [the] device be? A phone, a biometric ring, bracelet or watch? All of these payment devices already exist today through large technology firms and start-ups,” she added.

"In my opinion, a phone that allows you to communicate, handle business, use entertainment, and make payments is the most complete option of all as a wallet replacement. But when these new payment devices will truly replace our wallets depends on how widely the NFC point of sale devices are established, allowing users to make payments no matter where they go."

ESET IT security specialist, Mark James, argued that while security of the new biometric system was important, a move away from PINs should be welcomed.

“Biometrics are a good way to secure our everyday items that need that extra layer to keep our data safe,” he added.

“There are measures that can be used to protect the storage of the biometric data and of course proof of concept will dictate that someone somewhere has the means to copy your fingerprint, through ‘finding’ a mug that you have used and duplicating your fingerprint and use it with your card. I for one welcome the extra security and would embrace any method of moving away from an antiquated four-digit code.”

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