In the near future, the use of PIN, signatures, and other traditional forms of payment verification may become obsolete. The payment industry is now envisioning a future where the key to identity and payment verification lies inherently in the user’s biology. Fingers, eyes, voice, and even behaviors are now being considered as the most secure option to determine a payer’s identity. However, adapting to the emergence of biometric payment methods will also come with challenges, as payment companies must revamp both their acceptance and security infrastructures to cope with this innovative authentication strategy.

What Biometrics Means for Payment

Biometric authentication technology refers to any authentication procedure that uses biology for verification. The most popular method currently used is fingerprint scanning, but other emerging methods include retinal scanning, voice or facial recognition. Biometric authentication is growing in response to the increasing rates of fraud among users of Chip & PIN technology, which refers to the now ubiquitous chip (EMV) cards used by many major payment companies. A recent study by Visa showed that 20% of European consumers use the same PIN for multiple cards, leaving them vulnerable to payment fraud. Biometrics promises to be a more secure and reliable payment authentication as it is less prone to fraud than PIN-based verification.

An increasing number of consumers support biometric authentication for payments. Over 68% of European consumers want to use biometric authentication to pay. As of 2016, the most preferred biometric authentication method among European consumers was fingerprint scanning, with 53% of those surveyed preferring this method over other biometric methods. Retinal scans and facial recognition were preferred at lower rates by European consumers, with only 23% and 19% of those surveyed preferring these methods, respectively. One important industry that is incorporating biometrics is mobile phone producers, with about 60% of smartphones shipped in 2017 containing fingerprint sensors for various uses. Examples such as Apple’s Touch ID and Face ID options for unlocking and paying via iPhone are already well known. By 2022, more than 1 trillion annual transactions are expected to be authenticated via mobile biometrics.

But mobile payment is not the only area where biometrics is being implemented. The newest addition of biometrics in the payment industry involves biometric fingerprint scanning incorporated into traditional payment cards. When users stick their card into a card reader, rather than entering a PIN number, they simply press their thumb to the biometric patch on the card for authentication. This type of card has already arrived in Europe. Bank of Cyprus began issuing biometric cards at the beginning of this year which can be used with contactless payment technology. The user simply holds their thumb on the patch while they swipe their card over the reader.

Advantages and Challenges of Biometric Authentication

One of the many benefits of using biometrics in payment lies in its simplicity. Studies show that using biometrics in mobile apps makes consumers likely to use them more frequently, as an easier login process brings a greater willingness to access the app. This would provide great benefits for mobile payment solutions. Offering biometrics also brings better public opinion to the brand. Consumers who see that banks offer a biometrically accessible feature feel more secure using their service and more confident in the brand’s commitment to security. In one US survey, 82% of respondents believed that banks offering biometric authentication were dedicated to mobile security.

Convenience comes along with effective protection for users. Passwords are easy to crack because many people don’t want to bother making a strong, complicated password, and so choose one that is easy to remember, yet comparatively weaker. With biometric authentication, however, there’s no need to remember any code, your access key is part of who you are and can’t be stolen so easily. The added feeling of safety can encourage consumers to use payment methods that they have previously been slow to adopt. For example,  38% of consumers still consider the security risk of contactless card technology too high to use. However, with a biometric chip combined with the contactless card, such concerns would become a thing of the past, and this payment method would become more attractive to a wider range of customers.

What the Future Holds for Biometrics in Payment

The future of biometrics in payment certainly looks promising. It is especially being strongly considered by online businesses, for whom the risk of payment fraud is very high. In order to further boost biometric reliability, a layered security approach may be added, such as combining a biometric verification technique together with the user’s geolocation or mobile confirmation. Several biometric methods can even be layered together. For example, behavioural biometrics is an emerging form of biometric authentication that monitors mobile use patterns of an individual, like key stroke speed, force or scrolling speed, as a form of identity verification. Behavioural biometrics can be easily layered with fingerprint, face or voice options for additional protection.

Another challenge that will need to be addressed in biometric technology is their accuracy. Current biometric methods can produce many errors when attempting to recognize the face or fingerprints of users in everyday conditions. For example, situations with low lighting or movement can cause facial recognition software to not recognize the user. With fingerprint scanning, any dirt or cosmetic product that may be on a user’s finger can cause a verification error, thereby requiring users to make multiple attempts to access their device or payment option. This is a hurdle that biometrics must overcome to become a major payment method and compete in terms of convenience with more traditional authentication options.

Biometric authentication is guaranteed to become a powerful force when it comes to fraud prevention in payments. As customers continue to demand both increased convenience and security from payment providers, biometric innovation will be imperative to provide new forms of payment verification that meet customer demands. The key to the future of payment security is, literally, at our fingertips.