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NatWest biometric payment cards: the next big thing in your financial world?

Remembering countless PIN codes for a variety of debit and credit cards can be tricky. As such, a trial by NatWest of biometric payment technology on its debit card could be highly significant for many consumers.

Around 200 of the bank’s customers are currently taking part in a three-month trial where they will be able to verify their card purchases using their fingerprint instead of a PIN code.

Let’s take a closer look at what this could mean for you.

What is a biometric card?

A biometric card uses a combination of embedded microchips, which are currently used in debit and credit cards at payment terminals, and fingerprint technology.

The process of using a biometric card is fairly simple, with there being a small scanner located within it where the cardholder places their finger when they wish to use it to purchase a good or service. The payment terminal provides the card with sufficient power to read a fingerprint and check it matches that of the cardholder. If it does, the payment goes through, with the process taking a matter of seconds to complete in real-time.

What are the advantages of a biometric card?

Perhaps the biggest advantage of the technology is its improved security versus using a PIN code. It is possible to obtain another person’s PIN code and use their card to purchases goods and services. However, a fingerprint is unique and cannot be duplicated, which means there is no value in seeking to obtain them illegally.

Furthermore, since fingerprint data is encrypted and only stored on the card itself, there is no central database that can be hacked into. This further improves the security of the card.

Using fingerprints to verify transactions may also be quicker than using a PIN code, with it being akin to the current speed of a contactless payment for all transactions. Since it relies on card readers that are already in use, there is no additional investment required from retailers who wish to start accepting biometric cards.

What are the disadvantages of a biometric card?

The mass adoption of the biometric card could be inhibited by its cost. It is estimated to cost over ten times as much to produce as a card that uses a PIN code. This could mean that while it saves banks and consumers money from its improved security, there is resistance to its significant upfront costs.

There is also competition from other payment methods that may be cheaper and could already have a stronger foothold in the market. Notably, the use of payments through mobile phones and wearables is becoming increasingly popular, with them offering equally strong protection through tokenization. This is where sensitive data, such as your bank details, are replaced with unique symbols to make them secure.

Are biometric cards good for consumers?

From a security and convenience perspective, biometric cards are likely to appeal to consumers. They provide a faster transaction than using a PIN code, are more secure, and do not require you to remember yet another PIN code when you obtain a new credit card.

Whether they become mainstream is difficult to predict, since other forms of technology and their cost may make them somewhat less appealing.

However, the fact that payments are gradually becoming more secure and convenient through new technology is likely to be seen as a good thing by most consumers.

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