How on time a traveler is for a flight seems to be consistently correlated with how long it will take them to go from the airport’s front door to the boarding area before the doors close. From pre-screening through screening, to that final run through the airport to find the right gate, it’s an exercise and anxiety that no one loves. It’s the least beloved part of the trip, but one that frequent travelers endure often — and for a very good reason, Ken Cornick, co-founder and president of CLEAR, told Karen Webster for this week’s edition of the Monday Conversation.
Airports need to be absolutely certain of who exactly is getting on each airplane that they clear for take-off. The problem, Cornick noted, is that the current cost is an incredibly friction-filled process for the consumer — which they rightly hate, even if they understand its necessity. And though that problem is most apparent in an airport today, that tension is popping up all over the space in an increasingly digital and connected economy.
“Our operating [thesis] is that, going forward, security demands are going to grow, not diminish — and identity is a key element of security,” Cornick told Webster. “It’s not just airports, but any physical environment. We want to build the bridge that connects the gap between the need for security and the need for fiction-free experiences.”
That solution, he told Webster, is to create a portable biometric identity with a fingerprint or iris scan to help travelers board flights more efficiently — or to even allow people to fast-track the entrance at sporting events and concerts, and complete transactions with a quick scan of something every consumer has on them at all times.
Airports: Make It There, Make It Anywhere
To use the CLEAR system, customers first have to submit to an onboarding that is fast (about five to 10 minutes end to end), but robust enough to have passed muster with both the TSA and Department of Homeland Security (DHS). Users first scan their driver’s license or passport via a camera, or via proprietary checks like infrared and UV scanning, among others. Once the document is verified as real, the CLEAR technology extracts the necessary data and uses that as the basis for enrollment.
From there, the consumer is quizzed on various biographical details to be sure the person enrolling in the system is the same as the owner of the ID. Once the system is satisfied that it is dealing with the proper owner of the identifying document, it captures the biometrics. Today, the biometrics in use are fingerprint and iris scans, though the system is lately capturing facial ID data and may expand to include their use, according to Cornick. At this point, he said, the consumer is done. They can take their enrollment and newly created biometric identity to use it anywhere the firm operates, which is currently in about 25 major airports throughout the U.S.
The airport, he noted, is in many ways the ideal starting place for this kind of technology.
“First of all, if it’s strong enough to get on an airplane with, you can use it anywhere,” Cornick said, noting the high bar demanded by the DHS and TSA of any firm with which they work, because of how sensitive it is to get it right 100 percent of the time.
Of course, it solved a massive customer problem at the airport. Instead of that long and miserable time fidgeting in the pre-screening line, where scores of customers bottleneck as one or two TSA employees have to match the IDs they see with the travelers’ tickets, CLEAR enrolled customers can walk up, scan their fingerprint and move directly to the TSA full screening. TSA Pre-Check customers, he noted, can then keep right on moving through their sped-up check-in, which involves keeping their shoes and belts on.
“Pre-Check is ubiquitous, and we aren’t a competing service — we are a complementary service. I would say 70 percent of our customers are Pre-Check. We make it that much easier to walk right through and speed up that journey,” Cornick said.
Speed up, he added, and better plan their trips, because using CLEAR, particularly combined with Pre-Check, means airport security is going to be a five-minute experience instead of a 25-minute experience.
“Predictability,” he said, “is a huge value for customers, as [it is] extra time to work with. That is having breakfast with your family before leaving for the airport or staying longer for a meeting.”
He noted that while airports are the obvious first application, they are far from the last, which is why CLEAR has already embarked on its next journey into stadiums.
Taking Biometric Identity To The Ball Game
The stadium space, Cornick told Webster, was the obvious next place for CLEAR to start playing — pardon the pun — because, in some ways, they have come to resemble the airport venue. There are tens of thousands of customers showing up all at once, looking to gain entrance through very few locations, many of which have additional security protocols built into and around them, like metal detectors.
CLEAR is currently working on pilot programs with the Seattle Mariners and Seahawks that will make it possible for CLEAR customers to use their biometric identities to pay at the concession stand. CLEAR airport users — who pay $179 a year for a subscription to use the service — gain automatic access to CLEAR for sporting events. Customers who want to test drive the service for free can create an account to use at participating sporting venues, as CLEAR adds them outside of Seattle, then upgrade to the paid service if they find they want to unlock the next tier of value.
The opportunity to use its technology to create a better experience for customers at the game, Cornick noted, was an obvious vein to which the data service has access.
“There is a huge opportunity to use biometrics at concession because there is such a huge friction there around consumers who are buying alcohol,” he said. “We can ID them and whether they are over 21 because that data was on the license we have scanned and verified to create their account. If we have an attached payment method, we can make it possible to do that verification and run the transaction almost instantly with a fingerprint scan.”
That speed, he noted, is invaluable when it is the seventh inning stretch and 20,000 people all decided they need a hotdog and beer at once — saving a few seconds per transaction by not checking IDs is a very big deal.
Today, in its pilot form with the Seattle Clubs, CLEAR built its own middle and hardware for the payments using a fingerprint scanner. Going forward, however, the system is built to work with the point of sale (POS) the concession merchant is already using — so it isn’t integrating some new hardware so much as it is just activating a new capability.
Clearing Up Friction Where It’s Found
The applications for having an easily accessible and portable biometrics identity are myriad in what they can do for consumers, merchants and even financial institutions (FIs) going forward, Cornick told Webster. The ATMs of the future, for example, might be better served with quick fingerprint scans, rather than using card readers that can be skimmed and PIN numbers that can be stolen.
“The ATM is a use case, but so is healthcare or smart cities. There are a lot of options here. It is a matter of figuring out what use cases can be matched with consumer experiences that are lacking today — and they [are] leveraging the technology to improve it,” he noted. “Everywhere there is friction today, that is where we want to play.”