CM Magazine

Biometric Card Growth

Biometric elements on cards continue their growth in the card industry. Cards with fingerprint sensors have been embraced by both Mastercard and Visa, putting a stamp of endorsement, and viability, in the payments industry. Clearly, these kinds of cards are moving beyond wide scale tests to full scale production implementations.

Biometrics on cards offer several advantages to both issuers and cardholders. The most prevalent is the feature of stronger cardholder authentication than signatures or PINs can provide. Unlike signatures and PINs, they can’t be counterfeited or skimmed from a card reader. Nor can they be observed when entered at ATMs or the point of sale (POS).

Many design elements of the card body itself work to assure that the card is authentic and not counterfeit. But signatures and PINs are generally acknowledged as weak cardholder authentication methods.

Biometric elements also offer cardholder convenience along with stronger authentication. They can authenticate the cardholder while the transaction is being authorized, not as a separate step of entering a PIN at the POS or signing a receipt after a transaction is authorized. Instead, the secure element in the chip authenticates the cardholder while the card is being tapped in a contactless transaction or inserted during a contact transaction, and the fingerprint is held on the biometric sensor of the card. The cardholder can also avoid touching any surface of the POS in a contactless transaction, including the act of entering a PIN or signing a receipt—a very important feature to many cardholders in the current COVID environment.

There are also some key technology developments in biometrics that will enable card manufacturers to contribute in the push to adoption of biometrics on cards. No battery is needed to power the fingerprint sensor. Rather, the radio frequency field from the POS or reader device will power the fingerprint sensor just as it does the chip set in the card for a contactless transaction. Chip suppliers have integrated their secure element chips with the fingerprint biometric chips and sensors. Consequently, card manufacturers can purchase single chip sets/modules that have all the biometric functionality built into a single chip package. Coupled with, for example, the biometric EMV solutions certified by Visa and Mastercard, these chips will be loaded with payment applications resident on them. All these features lend themselves to making a seamless transition to biometric card production that is as scalable as current chip card manufacturing processes.

While we are probably still a year or two away from seeing such biometric cards issued in volumes of hundreds of millions, it is not too early to start considering how to implement such cards in our card manufacturing plants. Establishing tweaks to the card manufacturing recipes always takes some development. And perhaps some new supply chains and suppliers will be required. But if the smartphone industry is any indicator of what we can expect to see in the card industry, PINs will be as quaint in cardholder authentication, in the very near future, as they are today in smartphone user identification. Payment and secure ID cards may be first adopters but wider use can also be expected eventually.