Mastercard unveils biometric payment card, tests underway in South Africa

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Mastercard this week announced a new fingerprint-sensing payment card, combining the security of biometrics with chip technology in an effort to stamp out fraud.

The new Mastercard technology is currently being tested in South Africa at Barclays-owned Absa Bank, as well as local grocer Pick n Pay. Trials are being planned for Europe and Asia-Pacific in the coming months.

To set up the new card, customers register with their financial institution and have their fingerprint converted into an encrypted digital template. The card can then be used at any EMV terminal in the world.

The payment process works mostly like a normal EMV chip-and-pin or chip-and-signature card, but authorization after the card is inserted is accomplished by the user placing their finger on a sensor embedded into the card.

If the fingerprint on the card matches the one saved in the template on the card, the transaction is authorized. In that sense, it could be known as a chip-and-fingerprint implementation of EMV chip security.

“Consumers are increasingly experiencing the convenience and security of biometrics,” said Ajay Bhalla, president, enterprise risk and security, 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.”

Mastercard has been pushing for biometric security in its products, as well as connectivity, to combat financial fraud. Last year, it began rolling out a smartphone-based pay-by-selfie feature in Europe