Visa and Mastercard biometric payments push could transform credit card security in 2018

By Tom Watson ·

Australians are well versed in the art of tapping to pay - whether with their credit cards or, for the savvy few, by using their smartphones or wearables.

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But in the same way many consumers have traded away swiping or inserting in favour of tapping their cards, the days of entering a PIN and passcode may soon be numbered - courtesy of the emergence of biometric payments.  

In 2017, payment giants Mastercard and Visa both announced plans to launch biometric authentication technology in Australia, with Visa suggesting in December that the technology would be common in Australia within a year.

RELATED: Visa’s new ‘biometric payment’ strategy to stop fraud with a fingerprint

"Five years ago, the idea that entering a PIN could become a rare experience would have been almost unbelievable," said Visa Asia Pacific’s Head of Risk, Joe Cunningham, in an interview with the SMH.

"Yet how we pay is changing fundamentally and security needs to move at the same speed. Biometrics are a crucial part of the future. Some devices that use these new standards have just entered the market and we expect it to become commonplace within the next year.”

To selfie or not to selfie: what is biometric authentication?

If you own a newer smartphone model, you’re probably already familiar with the option to set up security on your home screen with your fingerprint.

This is a form of biometric authentication, and one of the several possibilities - including voice and facial recognition (aka. a selfie) - that could be used in the future to replace PINs and passcodes as a form of security when you go to pay.

Biometric payments have been posited as both a more secure and convenient authentication alternative, allowing consumers the option to forgo having to remember multiple PIN codes and passwords for their various cards.   

It’s also possible that instead of replacing PINs altogether, biometric authentication could be part of a more secure two-step (also known as two-factor) verification security process in combination with an existing pin.         

How will biometric authentication integrate into the existing payment landscape?

As it stands, the companies looking to introduce biometric payments have suggested that the technology will be used in conjunction with credit cards which can be stored in a mobile wallet - currently only used by a fraction of Australians as a payment method - rather than with a physical credit card.

While mobile payment systems such as Apple Pay, Samsung Pay and Android Pay are becoming an increasingly popular way for Australians to make purchases, they still lag behind traditional options such as cash and card, with figures from the 2016 RBA consumer payments survey suggesting they only represented around 2% of in-person card payments.

Cunningham, in a statement released in December, described the use of biometrics as just one of the security initiatives in Visa’s future payments landscape.

“Visa has a principle of responsible innovation. We need to balance security with customer experience, ensuring no innovation compromises the integrity of the ecosystem,” he said.

RELATED: NAB and Westpac just made checking your credit card balance a breeze with Amazon Alexa integration

With biometric authentication technology potentially just around the corner for Australians, now could be the perfect time to find a provider who supports a mobile wallet so you can get in on the action.  

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Tom Watson
Tom Watson
Finance journalist

Tom Watson is a financial journalist at Mozo, specialising in fintech, property and business banking. Whether it’s reporting on banking trends or uncovering the latest product innovations, Tom’s mission is to keep our readers up to date with breaking Australian financial news. His work is often sourced in the media and across social media channels. Tom has a degree in Journalism from the University of Technology, Sydney.