Whether they’ve embraced the tech or are still wary of using their fingerprints and faces to access accounts and mobile devices, consumers are no strangers to biometric authentication.
Apple is well known for its Face ID facial scans, and Samsung is exploring authentication based on a user’s blood pressure, but biometrics are being used to safeguard more than just mobile devices. Payments giants Mastercard and Visa have both unveiled biometric-enabled payment cards, for example.
While these companies are increasingly using such authentication methods to safeguard various payment options, others are proposing biometrics themselves as a payment technique. That includes Singapore-based mPOS provider Touché, which boasts a solution that enables a customer to pay for purchases simply by placing his fingers on a biometric scanner. The mPOS identifies him and charges a linked payment card or credential, according to founder and CEO Sahba Saint-Claire.
The idea for a biometrics-based payment method came to Saint-Claire while out to dinner with a friend, after they both realized they’d forgotten their wallets. They had the money, but without the right items — credit or debit cards, cash or smartphones — neither had the means to access it. This awkward encounter gave birth to Touché, which serves as a payment method that users couldn’t possibly leave behind.
“It planted the seed in my mind that we are not what we carry,” Saint-Claire said. “Either of us could have easily settled the bill, but, because we didn’t have the physical cards on us, we couldn’t.”
In a recent interview with PYMNTS, Saint-Claire explained how his company’s mPOS device works to accept payments, what it takes to get consumers and merchants on board with using biometric information and where he sees payments and biometrics heading in the future.
Getting on Board with Biometrics
Saint-Claire acknowledges that some consumers may be concerned about paying with a body part, but he believes biometric payments could catch on with merchants and customers alike.
Authentication technology is increasingly used in everything from immigration processing to home security, he explained, and more widespread use of the tech in payments is nearly inevitable — even if it may take time for attitudes to shift, and for consumers and merchants to be fully receptive and trusting.
“Biometrics is the future, [but] we believe there will be a time lag,” Saint-Claire said. “It takes some time for some people to feel comfortable.”
Touché asks users who do feel comfortable trying biometric payments to register two fingerprints, then link them to payment methods and an online profile. For enhanced security purposes, users’ information is stored on a central server rather than on a merchant’s device. Instead of forcing them to register separately with each merchant’s system, the registration process enables consumers to pay by finger at any business with the mPOS device.
In recognition of some consumers’ wariness toward fingerprint-based payments, Touché’s mPOS devices also accept more traditional methods, such as cards or QR codes. The company has also worked to assuage merchants’ concerns by partnering with larger banks that help give the company an air of legitimacy in each market it enters.
Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI)-certified sensors are also used to ensure security, with technology designed to both distinguish between skin and a fingerprint image and detect if the person is alive. A forthcoming version is slated to include cameras, adding in facial recognition to help differentiate between people with similar fingerprints.
Saint-Claire sees a strict distinction between using fingerprints and faces when it comes to payments, though.
“I never see facial recognition being a primary approval method of a payment,” he said. “That can be dangerous. With our solution on fingerprints, you’re making a deliberate action by touching a sensor to approve something.”
The Lure of Loyalty
In addition to payment capabilities, a large part of the fingerprint solution’s appeal is loyalty program application and the gathering of insightful data, according to Saint-Claire.
Registered users can access purchasing history information via online accounts, and merchants can view customers’ profile information, such as age and gender. What’s more, it can be triggered to apply a specific merchant’s loyalty program discounts when the mPOS device recognizes a consumer’s fingerprints.
“We do payments as part of a much bigger agenda,” Saint-Claire noted. “A lot of [the] discussion we have with major businesses goes beyond actual payments by card or by biometrics. It’s [about] ‘How can you make my loyalty program more effective,’ [or] ‘How can you create an experience?’”
Facilitating reward application removes a headache for companies such as airlines, which see unused miles become a liability, or for hotel bars that must verify a patron’s room number and save the transaction information for years. An mPOS device with built-in authentication and online information storage can alleviate such burdens, Saint-Claire said.
The Future of Payments
Touché’s mPOS device has so far been used in brick-and-mortar locations like middle- and high-end restaurants, SMBs and clubs. The company is currently looking to expand past its native Singapore, while also rolling out solutions for the hospitality, education and medical sectors.
“We are industry-agnostic,” Saint-Claire said. “We create an experience, and the experience is not the same [across industries] because we’re not talking just about payments. We partner with players in each industry to create that experience.”
Despite some lingering wariness, he believes customers will stick with the method once they start using biometric payments. After all, they can use their fingerprints to pay at a variety of venues once registered, which may be compelling enough to make biometric payments a habit.
Shoppers and retailers alike are constantly in search of a better way to complete a transaction. If biometrics can provide an effective and efficient payment experience, it may not be too long before cashiers are asking whether customers would like to pay with cash, card or fingerprint.