the card at an event in South Africa today. The company is currently testing the technology in the country ahead of a planned global rollout in the future. Two retailers are participating in the trials, supermarket Pick n Pay and Barclays Africa subsidiary Absa Bank.
The new card features a small square fingerprint sensor that you can use to confirm your identity when making a payment. The system is setup when the card is issued by your bank or finance provider. Your fingerprint is encrypted and saved to the card's storage, similarly to assigning a PIN code.
When you're ready to purchase something in a store, you insert the card into the reader as normal. Instead of entering your PIN code, you place your finger on the fingerprint sensor to verify your identity.
If the credentials match, the transaction will be approved. It's a quicker and
more secure process than using a PIN code. You don't even have to remove your hand from the card, preventing thieves from taking it from the PIN reader.
The card doesn't yet feature support for contactless payments where it would arguably be most useful. Currently, payments are authorised by bringing a card into proximity with a reader, enabling criminals to use stolen cards to make small purchases. Mastercard confirmed a future version of its biometric card will support contactless payments, requiring you to press the sensor as you pay.
Even without contactless support, Mastercard is touting a long list of benefits of the new technology. It claims that biometric payment cards will reduce fraud and make transactions safer. The company also asserts that retailers will observe increased customer loyalty and card approval rates. For the customer, payments become quicker and more secure. There's no need to memorise PIN codes and it's more difficult for card theft to proliferate.
"Consumers are increasingly experiencing the convenience and security of biometrics," said Ajay Bhalla
, president of enterprise risk and security at Mastercard. "Whether unlocking a smartphone or shopping online, the fingerprint is helping to deliver additional convenience and security. It’s not something that can be taken or replicated and will help our cardholders get on with their lives knowing their payments are protected."
Cybersecurity experts have welcomed the new card but warned it
isn't infallible. Fingerprint sensors can be tricked using impressions lifted from objects you've touched. While they eliminate the problem of forgetting PIN codes or using weak numbers, once stolen they can be even more valuable. You can't change or reset your fingerprint if cybercriminals obtain the data.
and Absa Bank will now start offering the new card to customers. More trials will be commenced in Europe and Asia later this year before wide availability begins. The cards work with all existing ENV readers so will be accepted almost universally.