Payment by paper and plastic will become relics of the past. Could payment using your own body be the future?

A near infinite number of variations are on your fingers

The end of cash began with the introduction of plastic

For some time now it’s been widely believed that the days of using paper and metal for a transaction are numbered, to be steadily replaced with plastic.

Since the introduction of the first UK credit card by Barclays in 1966, the UK has had a love affair with the plastic wafer that sits so easily inside wallets and purses throughout the land. The use of plastic has only increased since debit cards were introduced by Barclays in 1987 with the introduction of the Visa Delta card under the Connect brand. This was enthusiastically taken up by the public which in turn lead to the development of the Switch debit card launched by Midland, NatWest and RBS in 1988.

New technology has since been introduced to improve the security and usability of our plastic friends, first with chip and pin, and latterly with contactless technology. Now, however, we may be at the pinnacle of card technology and both banks and consumers are clamouring for new, fast, secure and easy forms of payment. Step forward Biometrics.

Biometric identification is already here

The term Biometrics refers to the individual human characteristics which can provide authentication via computers as a form of identification. These biometric identifiers are distinctive characteristics which are used to label and describe individuals by using various body scanning techniques. Some already well-known and used biometric scanners use fingerprint, face and retina recognition and even body odour! It was only a matter of time before the link between biometrics and consumer payments was made, and before long your body could likely also become your bank card.

The UK is one of the first countries in the world to begin trialling payment by fingerprint recognition. Currently, the developer of this technology,  the payments company Sthaler, is conducting testing in supermarkets, cinemas and at music festivals but it’s surely only a matter of time before this technology is found everywhere from the local pub to the corner shop.

The layout of the veins in your fingers is pretty much unique – the chances of you sharing that layout with someone else is 3.4 billion to one – so by analysing those veins, biometric scanners can be pretty sure that you are who you say you are. By linking the details of that vein pattern to a bank card it’s possible to authenticate and make bank payments both simply and securely. Instead of using a contactless card to pay for a round of drinks, you instead use your finger.

The main benefit, of course, is that although you can pop down to the supermarket and forget your wallet, you’ll never forget your finger. However additional biometrics will be needed for situations where a person isn’t able to provide a fingerprint, amputees for example. This is where a mixture of retinal scans could work alongside fingerprint scanning to provide a total biometric authentication solution. It sounds like a scene out of Minority Report, but the technology is already here and it doesn’t look like it’s going away anytime soon.



Personal finance blogger who's fanatical about financial freedom, investing and making money in the UK

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