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Home Business Payment: 10 questions about the biometric bank card, a booming product

Payment: 10 questions about the biometric bank card, a booming product

Surfing on the fear aroused by the health crisis and the raising of the ceiling to 50 euros, contactless payment by bank card is appealing to the French. In 2021, this use represented a little less than one in two so-called “proximity” purchases (46%) according to data from the Banque de France, an exponential increase over the past 5 years. And contactless payment continues to progress since it now represents 57% of on-site purchases during the first half of 2022.

A craze that the banks have grasped. Driven to innovate to compete with payment fintechs, traditional establishments have moved into new territory: biometric payment. After a test phase, BNP Paribas was the first to promote this tool on a large scale from the summer of 2021. Although it has been delayed since its announcements last year, Crédit Agricole has started the movement anyway. Its Touraine and Poitou fund offers its customers such a product. Large-scale commercialization should follow. As for Société Générale, it is still in the study phase and has not yet set a launch date. But the urge is very real.

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Supposed to be more secure – although the CB is only defrauded up to 0.061% in 2021 – and above all more accommodating, this product allows all customers who have chosen to be able to pay for their purchases without contact, even at beyond the payment of 50 euros. Here are the answers to the 10 questions raised by the biometric bank card.

What is this new biometric bank card used for?

Difficult to innovate on an object of a few square centimeters. However, like the dynamic cryptogram that has appeared in recent years, the bank card embeds more and more electronics. Above all, the biometric sensor simplifies payment. With this tool, all purchases are made contactless using a fingerprint, even over 50 euros. To do this, simply place your thumb on the sensor embedded in the card, then present the card to the payment terminal. Until then, only mobile payment made it possible to pay without contact beyond the limit of 50 euros.

It is also an innovation for payment security, since the user no longer needs to type in his PIN code, and therefore avoids attracting prying eyes. This system will also allow French people who want to respect barrier gestures to pay without having to touch the merchant’s payment terminal. Thales therefore describes the product as a “hygienic solution against viral spread”.

How does it work?

Until then, biometric cards were equipped with a battery to recognize the user’s fingerprint. Things have evolved since the end of 2021 and the obtaining of certification by Visa and Mastercard, recalls Vincent Mouret, in charge of the certification of payment products at Idemia. “The second generation uses energy from payment terminals (TPE) to operate, making the product more environmentally friendly”. More precisely, this high-tech bank card transforms the electromagnetic waves of the TPE into energy to power the sensor and the chip. A necessary step, because reading fingerprints requires a lot of energy.

Is the biometric CB secure?

Once your fingerprint has been registered in a branch or at home (see below), all the data remains confined to the chip on your card. In other words, no external bank or commercial database will collect your personal information. “And even if someone stole the card, he couldn’t read the data because it’s encrypted,” warns Frédéric Martinez. More precisely, the digital sensor calculates the fingerprint vectors. Even stolen, these vectors are unusable. “Older generations of national identity cards included our fingerprints and no one was afraid of them. With biometric card technology, the experience is 100% secure, so there’s nothing to worry about,” promises Vincent Mouret. A figure will eventually reassure the most pessimistic: the certification issued by Visa and Mastercard requires reducing the chances of fraud to 1 in 50,000, where this rate is only 1 in 10,000 with a PIN code.

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In case of cuts or slight changes in the fingerprint, the bank card automatically updates the biometric data. Sordid detail, which further confirms the reliability of the device: if someone were to cut off your thumb to use your CB, the scheme will not work because a finger that is no longer irrigated by blood is not recognized.

Does it work everywhere?

Yes. “If the TPE accepts contactless payment, it also accepts biometric technology”, assures Catherine Boidin, head of means of payment for individuals at BNP, the first bank to have launched the large-scale marketing of biometric cards. This is also one of the reasons why the establishment wanted to distribute this product. “The biometric card only takes over the mobile payment protocol”, specifies Frédéric Martinez. In other words, almost all terminals accept payments made using a biometric card.

How to register your fingerprint?

The model currently in force is that of BNP Paribas. You should go to one of its 1,8000 branches to have your fingerprints registered. For technical reasons, it is impossible to carry out this operation at home. “Enrollment is a crucial moment. All it takes is a wet finger to destabilize this sensor, which incorporates a lot of technology”, emphasizes Catherine Boidin. This is also the time for the advisor to see that you are the cardholder. You are then asked to present your finger 5 times to the sensor, in order to cover all the parts of your fingerprint. The system is similar to Crédit Agricole, except that the bank will allow its customers to enroll from home.

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To finalize the operation, you are asked to make a first purchase using the pin code. Once the operation is finalized, the fingerprint is activated, and all purchases can be made using the finger.

What is the price of a biometric bank card?

This is a paid service, available only to holders of a Visa Premier card with BNP Paribas. In addition to the cost of the card (134 euros per year), the biometric option is marketed for 24 euros per year. The policy is similar to Crédit Agricole, the product will be reserved for holders of a Gold Mastercard or a very high-end World Elite Mastercard, and whose prices, according to our information, should be similar to that of BNP.

Who is this product for?

“When we started with Thales, we thought that the biometric option would be reserved for executives interested in technology,” says Catherine Boidin. We realized that the typology of the clientele was much broader. Young people and seniors also enjoyed it”. During its pilot phase, BNP had tested the product in several regions, through 50 urban and rural branches, with widespread success, the bank assures us… Without the latter being able to communicate a figure that would testify of this success. A source familiar with the matter estimates that 15,000 cards had been produced for the test, and that around 130,000 biometric cards have been sold since the start of large-scale marketing about a year ago.

Which banks offer it?

In addition to BNP, other banks have entered this biometric market. Idemia is thus supporting Société Générale in its test phase. “They hope to launch the product at the time of the effective merger with the Crédit du Nord network”, explains a well-placed interlocutor. The red and black bank is working on the second generation of cards, which are more efficient and functional than the first. Crédit Agricole is more advanced since one of its funds – Tourraine and Poitou – already offers its customers to subscribe to a biometric credit card. And other banks are in the running, according to Frédéric Martinez. “We are talking to a lot of French banks,” he confides. Even smaller structures like Manager.one, the fintech for entrepreneurs, will launch a biometric card offer for bosses by the end of the summer. The latter will distribute cards to their employees to cover their professional expenses.

Can this card replace the CB with PIN code?

The mission will be difficult. “The acceptance of this product will be decided according to its price”, estimates Vincent Mouret, who estimates that a price of 1 euro per month could be the good formula. “Although this is a niche product, I would not be surprised if 10% of bank card holders agree to pay this sum”, he continues. To lower its cost, Idemia and Thales intend to make savings through larger-scale production, and therefore allow banks to in turn reduce billing to their customers.

“During the pilot phases, 90% of customers said they were satisfied with the product, ie an “extremely high rate for an innovative product requiring a change of habit”, says Thalès with satisfaction. The product benefits from the support of behemoths in the sector: “Visa and Mastercard see it as the card of the future which will allow you to avoid typing your code”, explains Frédéric Martinez. But BNP tempers, recalling that contactless payment, launched 15 years ago, took a long time to become a reflex in the population.

Can the product be improved?

It is a niche product, reserved for holders of a Visa Premier card with BNP, a Mastercard Gold or World Elite with Crédit Agricole. BNP management is therefore considering extending it to other types of high-end customers, such as holders of a premium Visa Infinite card. Above all, the hypothesis of allowing the customer to register his fingerprint directly at home (enrolment) is studied.

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