Debit card with built-in fingerprint reader begins trial in the UK

British bank Natwest is testing the use of a new NFC payment card with a built-in fingerprint scanner. The test, which will include 200 clients when it begins in mid-April, will allow its participants to make NFC payments (called "contactless" in the UK) without the need to enter a PIN or offer a signature. The standard limit of £ 30 for contactless payments will not apply when the fingerprint is used.

Currently, anyone can make a contactless payment in the UK by touching their card in the terminal to make a payment. As a result of this lack of security, a limit of £ 30 applies to such payments, and retailers require that you place your card in the card reader and enter a PIN for more expensive purchases (commonly known as "Chip and PIN") method). Although mobile payments require authentication, customers are often subject to the same £ 30 limit.

Fingerprint data is stored locally on the card, which means there is no security information for a hacker can steal from the central database of a bank. It is not infallible: there is always the risk that a sufficiently determined thief can steal and imitate your fingerprint, but it is much safer than a PIN that someone could learn by simply looking over his shoulder when entering.

Biometric authentication has become a standard component of NFC mobile payments, but even though credit card tests were conducted since 2015, they failed to find a home on traditional bank cards. Gemalto, the company behind the biometric technology of the card, did a test in South Africa in 2017, and a pilot with the Italian bank Intesa Sanpaolo last year. However, cards generally require users to visit a bank instead of doing it themselves from home (as they can with mobile payment services such as Apple Pay or Google Pay).

The Natwest trial does not solve this problem. Participants in the trial should visit a branch of their bank. A video produced by Gemalto says he hopes future versions of the system will allow customers to use their own phone to register their fingerprint.

This drawback and the need to carry a separate card raises the question of why biometric cards are necessary when mobile payment functionality is included in so many modern smartphones with fingerprint readers and face scanners. But since bank cards are provided free of charge with a bank account that meets the requirements, this scheme has the potential to be available to people who can not afford a modern smartphone.

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