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Mastercard’s Biometric Payment Card: the Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

cardgifPayments giant Mastercard announced today it is undergoing trials for a new payment card. A first in the industry, the company has embedded a fingerprint scanner inside a Chip and PIN payment card– think of it as Apple Pay for your bank card. Once users insert their card into a chip reader, they set their finger on the embedded sensor, and the card sends the authentication to the bank, which approves the payment.

The good

  • Scanning their fingerprint eliminates the need for a user to enter (and remember) their PIN
  • Bystanders can’t steal your fingerprint as easily as they can peek at your PIN
  • The card defaults to a PIN or signature in the event the user’s finger is too sweaty or greasy to read
  • Users can add up to two fingerprints
  • Merchants can use their existing EMV card readers; no software upgrades are required

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The bad

  • Mobile biometric readers have proven to be spoofable
  • The fingerprint scanner will not work on magstripe-only readers
  • The card does not currently support contactless payment functionality popular in Europe

The ugly

  • In order to use the fingerprint sensor on the card consumers have to register their fingerprint by visiting a brick-and-mortar bank branch or enrollment center.
  • There is no information on what the card will cost, but it’s not going to be cheap. Whether the financial institution chooses to pay for the new card or if they decide to charge consumers for it (more likely), someone will need to foot the bill.

This new concept card has undergone trials in South Africa and will be tested in Europe and Asia Pacific in the next few months. A full rollout is expected later this year. Absa Bank, a subsidiary of Barclays Africa, was the pilot behind the South Africa trials. There’s no word yet on which bank partnerships Mastercard has in place for the full rollout.

This is not the company’s first foray into biometrics. In October 2016 Mastercard launched Selfie Pay, an app that enables users to authenticate by taking a photo of their face. Mastercard last demoed at FinovateFall 2014 and showed off its Developer Zone at FinDEVr San Francisco 2014.