Last month, biometric payment cards that incorporate fingerprint scanners received a significant boost thanks to the publication of new specifications by EMVCo, the global card standards-setting body owned by Mastercard, Visa, American Express, Discover, JCB and UnionPay.
Among other things, the new EMV Contactless Kernel Specification is intended to accelerate the evolution of biometric authentication for contactless card payments, setting the stage for widespread adoption of the technology.
A Brief History of Fingerprint Payment Authentication
The concept of fingerprint payment authentication first hit the mainstream to verify identity for mobile-based eCommerce transactions.
Although the first mobile device to incorporate fingerprint scanning was the Pantech GI100 in 2004, it wasn’t until Apple introduced the technology in 2013’s iPhone 5S that fingerprint-based biometrics became a viable option for mobile payment authentication.
Once the technology became a standard feature of most smartphones, it was only a matter of time before biometric mobile payments kicked off. For example, PayPal first rolled out limited fingerprint authentication in 2014, followed by a more extensive launch in 2017.
Since then, fingerprint-based payment authentication has evolved into biometric payment cards incorporating a fingerprint scanner into the card, enabling cardholders to make secure contactless payments without reaching for their phones.
And while there have been trials and small runs of these biometric payment cards since 2017, like when Mastercard first showcased the technology five years ago, BNP Paribas is considered the first to pull off a large-scale launch. It combined the security of fingerprint verification with the convenience of NFC tap-to-pay when its biometric payment card was introduced last year.
The product has led to the removal of the upper limit on contactless payments for its cardholders, with fingerprint authentication taking the place of entering a PIN for transactions over 50 euros.
Biometric Payment Card Adoption Gathers Steam
Across Europe, several major banks are either piloting or in the early stages of introducing the technology to their customers. Firms that specialize in the technology are finding themselves in hot demand.
For example, Swedish biometrics company Fingerprint Cards recently announced that it had entered a partnership with card manufacturer Tag Systems to launch the solution for its bank and FinTech customers worldwide.
Collectively, the AUSTRIACard Group companies, to which Tag Systems belongs, manufacture 100 million payment cards each year across Europe, the Middle East and the U.S., with clients that include large European banks, innovative challenger banks, and non-bank card issuers.
As such, the company’s tie-up with Fingerprint Cards sets the stage for biometric payment card adoption to go mainstream.
Another of the biggest players in Europe’s card game, Thales, has also been ramping up its capacity in the biometric payment space.
The technology provider behind BNP Paribas’ fingerprint-enabled cards, Thales has also helped Bank Pocztowy in Poland and the U.K.’s NatWest Group to roll out their own biometric payment cards. And last month, another French bank, Société Générale, also made biometric Visa cards available to its business customers in Morocco.
That same month, the first biometric payment card to hit the United Arab Emirates (UAE) was launched in the form of a Majid Al Futtaim store card issued in collaboration with Idemia, another giant on the European card scene, and First Abu Dhabi Bank.
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